Subject: America’s Increasing Polarization: The Greatest Threat to Freedom
Isaiah 59:14 “Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off – for truth has fallen in the street”; John 8:32 “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
Can any of us name the guiding principles of the “American Experiment”? There is no curriculum in the majority of our high schools, especially our universities, that teach what it means to be American. This, not immigration, or religious freedom, or racial equality, or gender identity, or political ideology, or gun control, or the host of other polarizing issues, is what is slowly but surely destroying the American way of life.
We are at each other’s throats. And the issue of the day that fuels this hostility keeps moving. Which means the reason for such polarization isn’t necessarily the issue. As that old quote goes, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.” Today, people on the two sides of the divide are not simply viewed as wrong and to be debated. They are viewed as somehow immoral, needing to be silenced or even punished.
We can’t seem to find any middle ground – any place for tolerance of one another’s views. One theory , offered by Professors Ronald Inglehart (University of Michigan at Ann Arbor – Institute for Social Research) and Pippa Norris (Harvard University – Harvard Kennedy School) is that in recent decades, Americans have begun to define their political affiliations less by the traditional issues (economics, state vs. government, etc.) and more by their identity – gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social status. This new stance on “taking sides” does not lend itself as easily for tolerance as economics.
How have we gotten to this position? Oz Guinness, in his book ‘A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future’, provides a perspective on our current cultural crisis that is worth considering, since it can be traced back to some of the greatest civilizations before us and how they ultimately were defeated not by an external enemy but instead committed suicide through internal decay.
The question Guinness asks is “Can freedom – particularly American freedom – last forever?” His answer, based on his research, is no, unless we make some fundamental changes. What is his assessment based upon? Our eroding trust in not only government, but each other, as we fail to appreciate who we truly are as Americans and instead fail to sustain the freedom that was created by our Founding Fathers.
Here’s an excerpt from Guinness: “The Founders did a magnificent job creating our liberty, by winning the Revolution, and ordering our liberty, by giving us the Constitution, which has provided an ingenious system of checks and balances. But that’s not enough, because freedom has an inexorable tendency to undermine itself, because the greatest enemy of freedom is freedom.” What does he mean by this?
Guinness summarizes this to one sentence: “Sustainable freedom depends on the character of the rulers and the ruled alike, and on the vital trust between them—both of which are far more than a matter of law.” In order for us as Americans to rekindle a conviction within us that our Constitutional freedoms we were given are worth sustaining, Guinness begins by explaining the difference between knowledge and truth.
“Knowledge is power but truth is freedom… without truth we are all vulnerable internally to passions and externally to manipulation.” Quoting Walter Lippmann, Guinness says “There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means to detect lies.” True freedom, then, isn’t doing what we want – it is doing what we ought. It is, as Guinness explains, an “ordered freedom.” This sentiment ties together our two verses for this week. In the 59th chapter of the Old Testament book of Isaiah, the prophet explains that the reason justice and righteousness cannot be found in Israel in 730BC was that truth no longer is spoken.
But then, in John 8:32, Jesus Christ defines ‘ordered freedom’ for us: it has its foundation in what is objectively true. But as French philosopher Simone Weil once said, “We live in an age so impregnated with lies that even the virtue of blood voluntarily sacrificed is insufficient to put us back on the path of truth.”
This idea of ordered freedom was foundational to our Founders in creating the “American Experiment.” So, what are these guiding principles I alluded to in the opening paragraph? We will dig deeply into these in the coming weeks, but here they are: 1) God (the Creator) exists. 2) Natural Law (freedom comes from our Creator). 3) Individual Liberty. 4) Individual Sovereignty. 5) State Sovereignty. 6) Federalism. 7) Limited Government. 8) Rule of Law. 9) Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances. 10) Free Markets.
The major failing in our culture today is we are not teaching these foundational truths any longer in our schools about what it means to be American. Maybe we can at least teach them here.
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.