I love America. Yes, I know that America is not perfect, that we have a boatload of problems, that rights for some Americans have been hard fought, that we have messed up on occasion throughout the world, and every other complaint you hear again and again. Still, I love America.
And the reason I love America is because at its founding it asserted this fundamental truth: Man is created to be free. Yes, I know this makes some Orthodox uneasy. Yes, I know that ultimate freedom comes only through Christ. Yes, I know that this sounds very close to right-wing fundamentalism. Yes, I know all that. Still, I love America.
The Founding Fathers, said Alexander Solzhenitsyn (perhaps the most profound moral thinker of the last half of the last century) understood this about the freedom of America:
Yet in the early democracies, as in the American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted on the ground that man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility.
Think this through for a minute. Freedom is dependent on religion. More specifically, only a moral people could handle the obligations that freedom imposes. Freedom, as the saying goes, is not free. It draws from a higher touchstone, a higher good. Lose that touchstone and freedom is forsaken – often in the name of another freedom that is in fact slavery.
I love America because at its founding, in that cauldron of hardship and sacrifice that forged the narrative that would shape its future, something precious was held that needs to be rediscovered in order to be preserved: Man was created to be free.
In this era of materialist fantasy, where ideologies are as numerous as cereal brands in the grocery store all of which promise a road to the man-made Eden, the claim that man is created to be free is too often heard in the same terms. Accepting all religions as equal is the same as accepting none at all, and as man’s religious responsibility is redefined solely in terms of private sentiment, the awareness of the public dimension of our responsibility grows increasingly dim and the path to freedom is lost.
Don’t think this really matters? At one time it mattered a great deal. In the last century all (yes, all) of the great refugee movements were to shores of America. Yes, imperfect America was a beacon of hope to millions. To some it still is.
Peggy Noonan (Making History) asked historian David McCulloch this question recently: “How did so many gifted men, true geniuses, walk into history at the same time, in the same place, and come together to pursue so brilliantly a common endeavor?” McCulloch’s answer? “I think it was providential.”
I believe this too. I believe that God has his hand in the formation of America. I believe in the truths that are self-evident. And I believe them without apology.
Does this mean we should become political activists? Not necessarily. But we should make our voices heard in the public square. If religion, and especially the religion that gave us the moral precepts through which the precious call for liberty was forged is relegated to private experience and thereby rendered irrelevant, the call to freedom will cease to ring.
Happy Independence Day!