Friday, June 6, 2014

Just What Gives You the Big Idea that You Should Be Free?

My eldest got tired of listening to talk radio yesterday and pulled out an old Adventures in Odyssey cassette to listen to. Boy, did that send me back! My little ones buckled into their car seats behind me and John Avery Whitaker's soothing voice coming through the speakers. Enjoyed those years.

The tape she picked was the story of a boy who gets bonked on the head and goes back to Revolutionary War time (I never said the stories were realistic -- just fun). He ends up in the middle of the Continental Congress session where they are debating whether or not to declare their independence from Britain. John Dickinson from Pennsylvania is arguing vehemently and eloquently against the idea. When he realizes he can't convince them, he graciously steps down from his position so they can proceed with a united front. (Wikipedia tells me he then joined the Pennsylvania militia. Fascinating man.)

Listening to the story made the girls and I wonder: how exactly did the founding fathers, the leaders
who led our country into making this radical and dangerous move, get this all-consuming passion for "freedom"? I don't think any other country in the world had "freedom" in this way. Where did they get the idea from to begin with, and what made them so convinced they had to have it that they were willing to stake their Lives, their Fortunes, and their Sacred Honor on it? People all over the world lived contented lives under governments that controlled much of their lives -- why did the Americans find this so intolerable?

How Then Shall We Live by Francis Schaeffer compared the American Revolution to the French Revolution . . . but he first compares the Reformation to the Renaissance. He sees them both as reactions to the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. In northern Europe, people reacted by separating from the church and forming the Protestant denominations, based on believers reading the Word for themselves and being accountable to God individually. In southern Europe, people reacted by rejecting the premises of Christianity altogether and celebrating the greatness of man on his own -- the Enlightenment and so forth.

The American Revolution grew out of the Reformation tradition, Schaeffer says, and that's why it succeeded. The French Revolution grew out of Renaissance and Enlightenment thinking, and that's why it failed within a few years and Napoleon took over.

Now, this may be a bit simplistic of a view of things (and I haven't read the book in a while -- I may be simplifying it too much), but I do know that even the founding fathers argued that America needed godly principles to keep it going. "Only a virtuous people is capable of freedom," Ben Franklin said. And John Adams agreed: "Our Constitution is made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

We know that the founding fathers were influenced at least some by Enlightenment thinking, and that they were rather mixed and varied in their religious views, some more orthodox than others. But we also know that they all came out of a tradition of Protestantism, and they seemed to operate on a public level as Protestant believers even when their private views were more murky. Am I right in surmising that their passion for "freedom" came from their understanding of their relationship to God? Hmmm.

Listening to Dickinson's arguments made me think a lot of the arguments I hear liberal friends make justifying what conservatives feel is dramatic over-reach of the government. Wouldn't we all love to hear that Constitutional Convention crowd discuss, say, Obamacare? I'd buy tickets for that show.

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