August 10, 2018

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Optimism can be truly a Christian virtue; in fact, it’s ‘God-given’

Cynthia DewesAmericans, by and large, are a cheerful bunch. People in other countries admire and sometimes ridicule us for our eternal optimism and what some call naiveté. We tend to look ahead, to seek what is best in people. We always think that there’s light at the end of whatever tunnel we’re in.

Perhaps this American attitude stems from our beginnings as a Christian nation. Christians are hopeful, believing that their God is kind, loving and supportive. They believe their mission is to emulate God in their relationships with other people, thus eliminating selfishness and self-centeredness from themselves.

One of my favorite manifestations of American optimism is their sense of humor. Our neighbor has a “man” in a full suit of armor standing in his yard. He says it’s guarding his house. For years, a large tin man has guarded a home in Greencastle, and there’s a big bull guarding the entrance to a restaurant there. At Christmas time, he sports a holly wreath around his neck.

Out in the country, we often see dilapidated houses with an American flag displayed proudly in their yards. And on the roads, we pass vehicles bearing large weenies on top of them, or gigantic roosters. In our travels abroad, we’ve never seen this kind of humor displayed in public, although I’m sure these folks also have a sense of humor.

The American idea of personal freedom comes in here. We feel free to express ourselves however we wish, as long as we don’t hurt others. We don’t really care about what others think of us, and we tend to dismiss their judgments if they’re based on that kind of evidence. We like to think that we’re beyond this teenage kind of worry for approval.

Sometimes, in our smug view of ourselves, we forget that personal freedom also involves personal responsibility. We alone are responsible for our actions, and we alone should deal with their consequences. We can’t let the idea of freedom make us reckless.

Our optimism as a nation is based on a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution, which create a different beginning than that of most other nations. We’re not the result of the spoils of war or the breakup of city states, so we benefit from a fresh start. Our values are based not so much on self-benefit, but on working together for the benefit of all. And we try to apply this to international as well as national efforts. At least, that’s the plan.

On the fourth of July every year, we celebrate the birth of our freedom. We honor the founders, who wisely laid out the bases for such freedom: the belief that all men are created equal, with a right to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We’ve made mistakes since then. It took a century of Jim Crow and a civil war to finally get on the path to real equality among men. And we made abortion legal in a mindless rush to be fair to women.

We’re not guaranteed to have any of these constitutional rights, but we are given the opportunity to gain them. After all, they are “God-given” rights.

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

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