Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Liberty Loves Company

I have begun to read an interesting little book, Heresies and How to Avoid Them.  One of the editors, writing in the prologue, has this to say:

[T]here is a very good and positive reasons why Christianity has been so concerned about orthodoxy, or right belief.  From its very beginnings, Christianity has said that [details of race, sex, etc.] could ever be a bar to full membership in Christ’s body, the Church.  Anyone could be a Christian . . . What, though, was left to mark a Christian from a non-Christian?  The answer was this:  your faith – what you believed in, as embodied in your practices and confessed with your lips. (p.1)

This most certainly is the case.  Christianity is not ethnic or regional, and thus neither are its boundaries.  This made me think about some parallels with the United States of America.  (I am not trying to suggest some kind of equation of these two, just a particular analogy to make a further point.)

Who can be an American?  The right answer is:  anyone, potentially.  No one here ultimately came from here, as we all know.  (Even, according to most anthropologists, the ‘native Americans.’  But that is another story.)

So what makes, or should make, an American an American?  For too long I think we have slipped into thinking that it is enough just to come here.  I think we need to revise that thinking.

I am no xenophobe.  I think many of the best Americans are ones who came here recently because they loved the idea of liberty, and wanted to explore it and live it.  I have known, and known of, some of these people.

On the other hand, there are plenty of people who have been here for a long time – generations, in fact – who don’t care a rat’s rear end about liberty.  Others, who grew up in American, hate the idea of liberty and work overtime to destroy it.  (Most of the current Congress and Administration come to mind, but they have plenty of allies in the population.)

One deep wish of mine is that those who love liberty would come to America and live it with me.  I would be very glad if many of them were from Mexico and the Middle East.  I don’t really care where they are from if they love liberty.  A companion wish is that those whose families have lived here for a long time but who have grown to hate liberty, or even be apathetic about it, would immigrate far, far from the physical United States.

But in some ways parallel to Christianity, America is a set of ideas.  Perhaps we should say, a set of values.  You cannot think just anything and be an American in this sense.  There are some definite limits to American ‘orthodoxy.’

Those who do not love ordered political/economic liberty may reside here.  They might even be official citizens of the United States.  But they are not Americans.

Those who value coercive social engineering are not Americans.  Those who value enforced collectivism are not Americans.  Those who want the state to be our parent are not Americans.

Perhaps we have too uncritically accepted the idea that, since in a society based on liberty you can say what is on your mind without fear from the government, that all ideas are equal.  But all ideas cannot be equal, not if you value liberty.  Liberty allows anyone to hold his opinion, but it cannot exist if opinions destructive of liberty are imposed on liberty.

This means there must be some parameters of ‘American orthodoxy.’  It could mean that, as free individuals, we have a kind of civic duty to point out, refute, and even denounce heresy in regard to the values of liberty.  This must not be by using the coercion of government – that would violate the values of liberty.  But it could mean refusing to support socially, morally, and especially economically those who seek to undermine ordered liberty.  It could mean socially ostracizing those who dwell among us as aliens to the values of liberty.  It could mean trying, whenever possible, to teach ‘heretics’ to repent and recant.

Liberty is dying, in part I think, because we have become too casual about what it takes to maintain it.  Perhaps it is time to remind ourselves not all ideas are equally valuable, especially in the land of liberty.

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