The United States of America is a country about an idea, and as long as that idea resonates in the hearts of men and women, the USA will endure. That first statement is little bit poetic and I think it’s more accurate to say, “We are a country about a couple of ideas: human rights and self-government.”
The first idea is that “all men [and women] are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This quote comes from our founding document, the Declaration of Independence. And maybe when it’s expressed in that archaic language from 1776, it sounds a little bit old and dated. It doesn’t sound new, or hip or cool.
But don’t we all believe that we should be free to be who we were born to be? Or who we choose to be? After a certain age, no one else should be telling us what to think, or what to do, or how to be, or whom to associate with. As long as we aren’t hurting anyone else, leave us alone. Maybe in this day of robo-phone call marketing and social media constantly dinging updates in our iPads, it’s more accurate to say something a little different. Maybe it’s more like this: everyone will try to tell us what they think, what they think we should think, but each of us has the right and responsibility to choose what we do think. Would-be leaders and elected officials and celebrities will constantly bombard us with messages about who they think we should be, but we each get to choose for ourselves. Or to make it up for ourselves, if we happen to be one of Nietzsche’s supermen. Choosing for ourselves, self-government. Being who we chose, human rights.
And this notion of a Creator, is that a little bit dated as well? Hasn’t evolution and cosmology explained the origin of humanity and the entire universe without the need for a creator? Well, let’s stop and think carefully about that for a moment. Even celebrated scientist of the 1970s and 1980s Carl Sagan – the Neil deGrasse Tyson of his time — said toward the end of his life, “Science should not rule out God, until God can be proven not to exist.” And Albert Einstein – the Stephen Hawking of his time – said, “God does not play dice with the Universe.” I can also tell you that Sir Isaac Newton [also the Stephen Hawking of his own time], the man who literally wrote the book on Physics and Calculus [it’s called Principia and I studied from a version of it translated into modern
English]…. Anyway, Sir Isaac Newton actually wrote several books on physics and mathematics, but he wrote more books and essays on faith and Christianity than he did on physics and math. Being a student of physics myself [I hold a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics from West Point], I keep up with these things.
As humans launch bigger and better telescopes higher above the atmosphere, to see farther out and older light than has ever been seen before, the patters that emerge show a beginning. Even in quantum mechanics, the math takes us right back to Planck Time – a fraction of an instant after the beginning of the universe. A few weeks ago, one of those orbiting telescopes finished observations, taken over many years, that prove light bends when it passes a strong source of gravity – proving Einstein and quantum mechanics. Now, does this notion that science does show a beginning, prove that the Southern Baptists are right and God is Jay-zus Kriiist of Nazr’uth (aka Jesus Christ)? Maybe. And the secularists out there are probably wondering who this Hay-zeus Tchryst is anyway [You thought Jesuschrist was just a swear word, didn’t you? Admit it.]. It doesn’t prove that anyone’s interpretation of the Divine is right, or wrong. But it strongly suggests that there is One – a Creator. The rest we have to take on faith and as the Oracle told Neo, “Make up your own damn mind.” Me, personally, I’m not just a man of science, I’m also a man faith, and I do have a faith relationship with the Creator and Yeshua the Messiah, whom God sent. That’s how I’ve made up my own d@mn mind. But you, do your own homework and make up your own mind.
The idea here is that human rights come from Nature and Nature’s God and can be neither created, nor destroyed. They can be debated, surrendered, fought over, and sometimes taken away, missed, or unacknowledged. But like Newton’s Laws of Motion, human rights exist independent of any government’s, or court’s ability to grant or abridge them. Like an electron or a photon of light, human rights need only an observer with a point of view to see them and like static electricity, or sunlight, they are self-evident.
Abraham Lincoln made an observation that each generation must appropriate the founding of America for itself. That is what makes us Americans. Unlike Englishmen (Englishwomen), the French, or the Germans, most of us in America can’t trace our lineage back to the days of tribes. Except the indigenous Native Americans – they can trace their tribes back to 10,000 years ago when they walked across the landbridge from Asia – where the Bering Straights are now, they sea between Alaska and Siberia. Most Americans don’t have those thousand plus years of ineffable French-ness, or Italian-ness handed down in custom and oral tradition to tell us what it means to be American.
I recently spent the better part of a year in part of the world where they have cities that are older than most countries in Europe. I spoke to men from the Pashtun tribes who can trace their lineage back to Biblical Adam, or at least to the Babel event, when languages were confused and families scattered all over the world. The Pashtuns, who lack enforceable borders and a country recognized in the UN, nevertheless, have an e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y well-developed sense of e-x-a-c-t-l-y what it means to be Pashtun. They know who they are and where they came from, and it has been passed down from grandfather to grandson and grandmother to granddaughter since before the beginning of history. Think about that for a moment. The Pashtuns have unbroken oral tradition that goes back father than the Siberian Landbridge. They know who they are. Unmistakably. But Americans tend to lack that ineffable American-ness. Until they appropriate the founding for themselves. Much like the Jewish Passover, when Jews say, “I came up from Egypt,” or “My Creator brought me up from Egypt,” Americans need to appropriate the founding for themselves.
Americans need to understand that we are a self-governing people with home-rule back to 1495. Yes, I’m from Florida. So, I date home-rule back the original town councils in St. Augustine, in Olde Espanish Florida. For the rest of the country, homerule goes back to the Pilgrims in 1620, or in the case of Texas back to 1836. But I digress. Americans need to understand that we have a tradition as old as some city halls in Germany and some cathedrals in France, of making up our own damn minds, of disagreeing without being disagreeable, of winning and governing from the center. We have a tradition debating and losing and waiting until the next election cycle to “throw the bums out.” Or “!!Tida ellos por la calle!!” as they no doubt used to say in St Augustine.
We have a tradition of self-reliance and looking to our friends and families for support, before we look to outsiders. We have a tradition of being self-made men (and women) and work our way up in a chosen profession from the level of page, copy-boy or sweeper-of-floors to being the “Most Trusted Man in America” like Walter Cronkite or the Anchor of NBC Nightly News like Lester Holt. We have a tradition of kindness and generosity like private citizens donating a $1 Billion to relief efforts after the World Trade Center fell, or sending $100s of millions in private relief to islands in the Pacific that were devastated by a Tsunami during the Bush 43 Administration. And we have a tradition of recognizing when we are wrong and changing, like Robert E. Lee taking a knee next to a freed slave at the Meeting House during Reconstruction. No, our history isn’t without injustice or misdeed. But who else sent people to the Moon? Who else could lead the Allies to victory over tyranny in both the European and Pacific Theaters of War during World War II? In what other country would a man like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, take as his examples, both Jesus Christ and Gandhi, walking the path of love and nonviolence, to lead his people? The Rev. Dr. King led his people to vote and politely demand that local councils, state legislatures and the U. S. Congress recognize the human rights they were born with. Yes, Americans have done things we should be ashamed of. But we have also done things that worth of reverence and emulation. As Jason Lee’s character said in Vanilla Sky, “the sweet just ain’t as sweet, without the sour.”
So, the USA is a country about two ideas, really, human rights and self-government. As long as men and women yearn to be free and make of their own lives, what they choose, these two ideas will endure and America will endure with them.
The opinions expressed above are my own, unless otherwise quoted or cited, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U. S. Defense Dept, Texas Military Dept, Dept of the Army, or Texas Army National Guard. Each of these organizations has its own Public Affairs Officer, who should in no way be confused with me.