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LIBERTY: Rights & Tolerance | December 25, 2004


An Essay in My Christmas Newsletter

Pointing to the electoral map, the political pundits show how our nation has become apparently stubbornly divided into more conservative, Republican "Red" States -- from the South, through the Midwest, and on into the Rocky Mountains -- and more liberal, Democratic "Blue States" -- on the coasts and around the Great Lakes. Moreover, when looking at individual counties, we see urban islands of blue in a rural sea of red.

Regardless of whether we believe the electronic voting machines (which gave the edge to Red) or the election-day exit polls (which gave the edge to Blue), the population -- our nation -- is pretty much divided right on down the middle.

Good for Al Qaeda, not for Uncle Sam. With the stated goal of "the end of the U.S. as united states", Osama Bin Laden fancies himself some sort of "diamond cutter" -- trying to strike just the right blow at just the right time to cleave the U.S. into two (or more) pieces. But he is just a butcher...and, cutting his own throat, not a very good one at that.

So is there any "common ground" left in the U.S.?  Are these United States still united? Or should Abe Lincoln have let the South secede, and spared a million lives?

Well, as I see it (through admittedly very "Blue" eyes), the Blue and the Red are just the latest answers to a philosophical (not really political) question that has dogged human beings for as long as beings have been human. To most folks in the Blue States, the way to approach life is with reason -- follow your head -- but to most folks in the Red States, the way to approach life is with faith -- follow your heart. Of course, most folks in Blue States have faith, one way or another; and most folks in Red States are reasonable, one way or another. But these are the tendencies that get blown all out of proportion in the heat of political campaigns (a complaint as old as democracy itself).

It reminds me of the flag. Blue symbolizes truth and justice, which the pragmatists and idealists who founded this nation came to know about and write about as part of the Age of Reason. Red symbolizes courage and conviction, which have sustained patriots in faithful defense of truth and justice. Down through history, America has been served by both reason and passion.

But red and blue, by themselves, are inherently unstable. It is a physiological fact of life that the human eye cannot focus on red and blue at the same time; the colors actually seem to vibrate and clash. It is no accident that on the dress uniform of a United States Marine (God bless every one!) there is red trim on the navy blue jacket and sky blue trousers: Looking at that, you cannot help but see action and conflict.

But the flag of our truly United States is not, of course, just red and blue: We must never forget the white. Whether it's the white stars on the field of blue or the white stripes intermingled with those of red, white on the flag symbolizes other, arguably higher concepts: Purity and sincerity. Truth or faith is meaningless if it is not sincere.

And the opposite of sincerity is hypocrisy -- one of the greatest of all sins according to Jesus Christ and contrary to the teachings of every other faith and philosophy ever recognized or devised by human soul or mind.

As long as we Americans of every stripe are sincere in our beliefs and are respectful of others who are sincere in theirs -- regardless of whether those beliefs are in agreement with our own or not -- then Osama Bin Laden will have failed in his goal and every American who has ever loved this country will have succeeded in the goal most famously stated by Abraham Lincoln: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure...we here highly resolve that these dead [at Gettysburg, on 9/11, or in conflicts before or since] shall not have died in vain...that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Each with his or her own faith, reason, and purity of purpose, we are the United States.

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