June 29, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

The land of the free and the home of the brave?

Cynthia DewesBoth John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two of the founding fathers of our country, died on July 4, 1826. Two extremely different men with different political and spiritual views went back to God on the very anniversary of the important day which they helped make possible.

This fact has always seemed to me to be providential. I take it as a sign of God’s grace that these two patriots went home together on the date that made them both eternally famous for creating a nation dedicated to Christian values. With all their differences in temperament and performance, in the end they will both be judged as instruments of God’s will.

It may seem over the top to some to think of the American experiment as being part of God’s plan, but I do. There are certainly other democracies and humane governments in this world, but ours is the first one expressly founded on principles of human dignity and freedom. Founders as different as Adams and Jefferson worked together to make it so.

And they were different. Adams was a churchgoer, while Jefferson was a deist.

Adams was a faithful and loving husband, without much money, who cared nothing for personal power or social pretense.

Jefferson loved French style, luxury and women, and was in debt to the day he died because of his expensive tastes.

Adams despised slavery, and Jefferson was a slaveholder.

The other Founding Fathers were just as diverse, holding different opinions about everything. They argued about the power of the federal government versus the states, about the structure and need for taxation and other civic responsibilities, and how to respond to overtures or attacks by foreign powers.

Every idea was debatable, every decision was questionable because they were starting something entirely new in the way of governing without adhering to a mandatory and rigid hierarchical structure.

They wanted to go forward without the class system and other prejudicial baggage that existed in the countries from which they came. It’s no surprise that George Washington refused to be addressed as “Your Majesty,” or to be shown obeisance of any kind.

Despite what the prevalent anti-religious faction proclaims so loudly today, this country is indeed founded on Christian values. Not only is “our Creator” mentioned in our public documents, but also the truths which Christians believe about the human condition. “Inalienable rights” follow from being creatures of God made in God’s image.

Today, it is fashionable to sneer at the idea that our country is “the city on the hill,” a divinely inspired force for good in the world. But that is exactly what the Fathers hoped it would be. They envisioned a country in which every citizen had the chance to live life freely, but in a morally responsible way.

Of course, the new “Americans” hoped to succeed economically, but also thought of their country as a place where people could satisfy themselves by serving the common good. Because we’re human, sometimes we’ve failed miserably to achieve this goal.

We can only hope we’re still on the right track since foreigners continue to flock to our shores. On this Fourth of July, this anniversary of flawed men shaping noble ideals into the creation of a new country, we need to return to those founding principles.

We need to keep God on our side as God was in the beginning.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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