Stuck in False Narratives That Constrain
Read a good book
This week my public library called to let me know that it was my turn to borrow If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxas. Though only nearing the end of chapter two, I’m prepared to say that every American needs to read this book. Liberals. Conservatives. Moderates. Fiscal this/social that. Greenies. Whatever label that you like to wear so long as you care about the United States of America and freedom, read this book.
If you think we need to rewrite the constitution, then maybe you won’t like this book. But give it a try and decide for yourself. If you are unclear about why and how American liberty is at risk, read this book. If You Can Keep It is the perfect read as we sail toward the upcoming election — not because it is a guide for how to vote, but because it reminds us why America is exceptional and has the role of city on a hill for the whole world.
A call to action
If You Can Keep It is a call to action and a call to hope. Metaxas talks about “keeping” America (preserving and maintaining our liberty). I prefer “save” rather than “keep.” My language is a bit more dire, but not unwarranted given the threats to religious liberty, not just from lobbyists, but from President Obama and his administration, and activist Supreme Court justices.
Metaxas wants to educate, inspire, and remind We the People of our responsibilities to the republic. While Metaxas does not believe all is lost, he does caution that American liberty is a fragile thing that requires work. It’s not something to be taken for granted. While there is no need to wallow in despair over the symptoms of our time (i.e., our choices for president), we must resist the urge to disengage.
What is required of us—of each one of us who are “we the people”—is something we have mostly forgotten. — Introduction: The Promise, p 3
Start a conversation
So start a book club and begin the conversation about how We the People must save America. Now is not a time for political correctness. Americans need to both speak up and listen. Thankfully, for the most part, American liberty is a unifying theme.
No shouting, no name-calling, and no nice-nice
When I say start a conversation, I don’t mean just with people who agree with you, think like you, look like you, talk like you, went or go to the same school or church as you. I’m thinking more along the lines of having a National Politically Incorrect Day (or week or month). On this day America turns of the TV, tunes out the mouths with megaphones that yell, talk at, and name call. Leave off the mass media narratives, and rally the ground troops. Passion is human, but nobody shouts or gets hostile. On the other hand, nobody plays the nice-nice game of self-censorship for fear of hurting someone’s feelings.
One minute of mass media would have us believing that respectful dialogue is impossible. I disagree. The problems of our day are serious, and if we do not work together at the local level to start solving them, We the People will be tempted to look toward the government. Too many already do look to the government as savior. We the People need to step up before the government steps in and intrudes on, or worse, chips away at our liberty, especially the freedom to exercise our religion.
A key point Metaxas makes is that the first responsibility of We the People is self-government. And by that he means not politics, but living lives of virtue. The more we are able to govern ourselves, the smaller and less intrusive our federal government can be.
True freedom must be an “ordered freedom,” at the center of which is what we call “self-government.” …People would not have freedom from government, but would have freedom from tyrannous government, or from government that might easily become tyrannous. — Chapter 1, The Idea of America, p 29
What was required was a virtuous people who were prepared to handle the great freedom being proposed….The founders understood that the more each person governed himself, the less there would be a need for strong government, and by their estimation the American people were ready. The faith and the virtue of the American people made possible the most free nation in the history of the world. — Chapter 1, The Idea of America, pp 36–37
An obstacle to overcome: a critical yet misleading myth entrenched in pop culture
As it is with the myth that faith and science are opposed to each other and incompatible, so it is with the myth that faith and politics, too, must be divorced. Where these myths come from and how are they perpetuated are questions worth asking, but not the consideration of today.
If we are to “keep” this republic, we have to see it afresh and really understand what we’re keeping, must have a clear grasp of what this American republic is and how it works. — Chapter 1, The Idea of America, pp 17–18
A second obstacle to overcome: not everyone wants to have a conversation
I talk politics and religion. I don’t care if we agree; the conversation is often more interesting when we don’t. But respect for self and other is essential. To my dismay, I meet too many people who do not want to have a conversation at all or who are so afraid, they lower their voice, less the PC police come after them. It breaks my heart to see so many caring and intelligent people trapped in fear, more difficult though are those who are unwilling to listen, consider other perspectives, or have their preferred narrative challenged.
When I bring up issues facing our country and try to bring a moral component to the topic, some people quickly pronounce “separation of church and state!” It is a mantra to stop the conversation. Don’t hold me accountable to a standard set by your God. The best strategy I’ve come up with when this happens is to ask the person to explain what they mean by that. Many people do not understand that separation of church and state does not mean that you check your morals at the door, that you can’t pray at school or in the halls of government. It means that the federal government cannot establish a religion and compel the people to join it or support it financially.
When religious liberty falls in America, so America falls
Religious freedom is a foundational concept of American liberty. Everyone should care about this freedom, even atheists. Without the foundation of having the freedom to act or not act in accordance with your conscience, all other liberties are at risk.
But it was impossible for the founders to see where after two centuries the things that were secure in their day would change, that faith could be greatly eroded and then pushed out of the public square via a misunderstanding of the concept of separation of church and state; and that via many things, such as Vietnam and Watergate, trust in the institutions of government could be damaged — and yet how ironically and predictably, the people would increasingly assume the government itself could and would do what was necessary. — Chapter 1, The Idea of America, pp 48–49
Only We the People can save America
The only way to save America is to get involved. Citizen, arise and rediscover your duty as an American. Read a good book. Talk politics. Talk faith. Talk freedom. Release yourself from the censorship of political correctness. Discern how to share your God-given gifts for the common good. Take courage! If someone calls you a mean name, smile, and forgive, because the person you are talking to has run out of intelligent and thoughtful things to say.
As I said, I am just finishing up chapter two, so I don’t know where Metaxas will take me next. But I do know that Christians have a responsibility to bring Jesus to the public square. We are not just trying to preserve America, we also have a mission to bring the Good News to everyone.
Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father. — Jesus, Matthew 10:32–33; Luke 12:8–9
- Watch/listen Eric Metaxas introduces his book If You Can Keep It (Socrates in the City)
- Read critiques of If You Can Keep It
- Gregg Frazer (Gospel Coalition)
- John Fea says Metaxas manipulates the past for a political agenda (Religion News Service)
- A critical review by Warren Throckmorton (Daily Caller)
- Watch/listen Os Guinness discusses A Free People’s Suicide (Socrates in the City)
- Read A Few (Passionate) Thoughts on America (Eric Metaxas’ blog)
- Read Democracy in America (Alexis de Tocqueville, first printed 1835)
- Read Forged in Faith: How faith shaped the birth of the nation 1607–1776 by Rod Gragg, 2010
Let secular France be a warning to us.
We invite catastrophe by sincerely believing that the religious affiliation of a citizen has no political bearing or effect.
- Read Does French Culture Have a Future? (Pierre Manent, First Things, August 1, 2016)