The general principle about birthdays is that they are joyous occasions. The celebration of another year of life and growth is, usually, an intrinsically happy one and is manifested through presents and the like. Who has not been warmed at seeing a child on his birthday, full of the happiness, excitement and importance which his special day brings? In their childlike innocence, they have hit upon the truth that, in some way, birthdays are more personal than other holidays, such as Christmas. This is not to say that a birthday is more important than The Birthday, far from it. But, while Christmas is a holiday for all of us, a birthday creates a special bond between the individual and his special day. Thinking back to my own childhood, I know that I often thought that my birthday was not just one of the most special times of the year but that the day itself held a magic. The day had chosen me, in some sense, as a groom chooses his bride, and, like the bride and groom, it had chosen me because we belonged together.
There is case, however, when a birthday is not a cause for celebration. The child who has grown to be a thief or a liar; the childe who has made evil rather than goodness, his work; or, even the child who has simply wasted his life away in whatever fashion makes his birthday a burden to those he loves. His loved ones are forced on that day to contrast how he once was with how he is now and the comparison between the past and the present reiterates just how far and how much he has gone wrong from his happy and innocent beginning. As the two hundredth and fortieth birthday of the United States comes, I cannot help but feel that the day of our nation’s birth gives rise to the latter instead of the former.
G. K. Chesterton once observed, ” A society is in decay when common sense has become uncommon.” If he was right–and Chesterton had a habit of being right far, far more often than he was wrong–then our American society has ceased decaying; the bones of the corpse are all that are left. Everywhere one looks–or, everywhere one with common sense looks–things have steadily devolved until now our home more closely resembles a lunatic asylum, rather than a home. The United States Congress voted to make women eligible for the military draft, regardless of the fact that women are naturally physically weaker than men and, more importantly, are essentially nurturers, as they bring forth new life from their wombs. This insanity goes atop the fact that the cultural powers that be have declared that there are no longer such things as men and women but that, apparently, it is all relative, as a man can now “feel” that he is a women, a woman can “feel” that she is a man, or, in a further step of insanity, neither male nor female. Homofascists–a term coined by Dr. Robert Oscar Lopez for good reason—burn the American flag, the emblem of our country and the principles upon which she was set. School children are told that they cannot wear shirts with Old Glory on them and the judicial system agrees. Free speech and the free exercise of religion are violated on a weekly basis in service to abortion and the sexual revolt. Millions of aliens are allowed to enter America and no attempt is made to naturalize them into our culture and society; they are even now told that they no longer are required to swear to defend the country which they, assumedly, wish to call home. And the judiciary has become a tyrant.
This present condition of the United States is a far cry from that which existed when she came into existence two hundred and forty years ago, today. In fact, it is very possible to argue that despite protestations to the contrary, we, as Americans, are no longer free men and women. We may still possess some of the trappings of freedom, certainly, such as fireworks on the Fourth and talk of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. We may still feel that we are free when we are allowed to Tweet or post on Facebook or when we go to the church of our choice. But, aside from being fragile, these abilities might be called accidentals and not the true essence of liberty. Unlike what many might think today, the American Revolution and the continuing–and deteriorating–American Experiment, was not about abstract “freedom,” particular as the modern Western world defines it, or “democracy.” Rather, as Russell Kirk argued, the founding of America was inspired by the idea that men could rule themselves. Firmly believing that all men were equal in the sense that all men were creations of God and shared in the imago Dei, the Founders maintained that all men had the potential to rule their own affairs in a republican setting; that they could possess liberty. But, to accomplish this, to possess the freedom to rule oneself, it was recognized that restrictions had to be set in place. As Edmund Burke famously noted:
Men are qualified for liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites,—in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety and understanding is above their vanity and presumption — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
The moral chains which the Founders looked to was Christianity, which was why the United States was founded as a Christian nation. John Adams expressed this belief when he said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” This belief in moral chains, as Burke put it, was the corner stone of the idea of liberty for the Founders for they did not see freedom as the ability to do whatever one wished “as long as one does harm another,” but, rather, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Freedom is the ability to do what one ought, not what one wants.” This all might seem counter-intuitive at first, but that is because we have been conditioned to think of freedom and liberty too narrowly. In our minds, freedom simply means “freedom from,” and “freedom for” has been left in the cemetery. But, as Mark Dooley has said, constraint is necessary for real freedom to flourish. Giving the example of teaching children table manners, Dooley argues that, “(i)f manners and etiquette serve as the basis for all subsequent education, it is because they provide children not only with a sense of a thing’s practical meaning, but also of its worth. As such, they learn that we use objects for a reason, one that is embedded in the very essence of the thing.” Using a hammer as a tool to build a house rather than a musical instrument (to use an ad absurdum example) may seem “restrictive” of our freedom but, in reality, using the hammer for what it is for, expands our freedom since we are now free to build a house.
We in the United States, with the rest of the Western world, sit in an unusual position: the call for licentiousness and atomistic and nihilistic individuality has transformed into a religious mentality. We are told not to chain our passions and if we do so, or if we ask not to be a part in the loosening of other’s chains, we are virtually expelled from society. It is tempting, as such, to close our eyes–or at least attempt to do so–especially on the birthday in which we celebrate independence. But to follow that course is to dishonor the very Founders we profess to be celebrating. They were men with the courage to see facts plainly and to do what was right regardless. Contrary to modern thought, there was no guarantee that the American Revolution would be successfully; indeed, there was, practically speaking, no possible way for the colonists to win and many times it appeared that that truism would come true. 1776, the year of the United States birth was one of the darkest years of the Revolution with the British being thought of as the victors in December. But Washington and the other patriots refused to surrender. Because of their courage and faith, we came to be. Now, it is our turn.