By Tim Reeves, the Country Chaplain
November is the month of thankfulness. From the first Thanksgiving with Pilgrims and American Indians to 1863 when then President Abraham Lincoln signed an order establishing a national “Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to God Who Dwelleth in Heaven” to the numerous harvest celebrations highlighting town and country life, Americans are a nation of people who aren’t afraid to give thanks for their blessings.
But let me ask, for what are you really thankful?
How about simply being thankful for being an American?
Years ago, while editor at the Farm & Dairy weekly newspaper, I interviewed a professor from Belize (one of the poorest countries in Central America) who was spending a year studying Ohio’s 4-H program. Belize had no similar youth program so he was researching how to set up one up in that impoverished country.
We had a great talk and became friends. Near the end of the interview, he looked at me and said, “Can I be honest with you?” to which I replied, “Sure.”
He then told me that in his extensive travels and discussions, he’d noticed how easily Americans tend to take their freedom and liberties for granted.
“As an American, you have the single greatest God-given gift that any person born on this earth has ever received,” he said. “You’ve been given the gift of an American mother which has naturally endowed you with citizenship in the most free, most liberty-loving country the world has ever seen.”
He said that with a slight tear in his eye.
That interview occurred in 1982 and today, I wonder if we’ve become even less appreciative of the freedoms and liberties with which we’ve been blessed. Despite what some folks want to claim today, I believe America IS exceptional — certainly not perfect, but exceptional — and has been right from our birth. For starters, America was imbued with the foundational belief that all people are created equal in the eyes of God. Our founders wanted a society where for the first time in history, individuals would be free to determine their own way in life through their own hard work and initiative, not their family history. Our founders wanted America to be a breath of fresh and free air in the dank and musty, oppressiveness of the old world. We were to be a culture wherein heredity, class and family history would not hamper nor restrict our pursuit of happiness.
Yes, that meant we still had to address such inequality issues as slavery, women’s rights, immigrant status, etc. but our Constitution established the basic rights of all groups of people and we’ve been working on that equality ever since.
Likewise, our founders also wanted a country wherein citizenship was also not based on past history, family heritage or privilege, but where full citizenship could be bestowed upon any individual. To attain that citizenship, one only had to pledge allegiance to the nation.
Lastly, and most importantly, our founders established the principle belief that our rights, privileges and freedoms emanated from God, not from earthly kings, principalities, governments, etc. They knew that whomever bestowed rights/freedoms also had the inherent power to revoke those rights/freedoms at will, but giving that authority to God nullified any earthly power from taking those rights away.
And despite our numerous and un-countable differences as a people, we were united around these basic beliefs in the “exceptionalism” of America. Nearly every government on earth at that time keenly opposed this conferring of personal freedoms and rights. These monarchies, principalities and central governments feared the spread of American-style personal freedom. They wanted no part of American freedom/exceptionalism to spread to the shores of England, Europe, Russia or even the Middle East. However, personal freedom and liberty as lived out and promoted by Americans was infectious and could not be held in check. America was a beacon of freedom in a world still steeped in the darkness of despotism.
America was indeed different, and that difference frightened nearly all of the rest of the world. That exceptionalism (based on the free expression of capitalism) also allowed more people than ever in the history of the world to move out of the bottom rung of poverty and upward along the ladder of economic freedom.
So many critics today (including many Americans!!) want to decry America as being bad. Okay, I would reply, bad compared to what? To which nation? Which culture?
As the professor from Belize so eloquently and passionately pointed out years ago, the United States of America has given more freedom to more people than any other country or culture in the history of the world. I believe the United States of America belongs on the historical list of exalted and contributive cultures/countries because of what we’ve given the world in terms of respect and honor for the rights of individuals as given by God, not governments. Along with those American fathers and mothers who have preceded us, we have fashioned a country that has bestowed more freedom, more liberty, more personal privileges and prosperity upon more people than any other country in the history of the world.
Have we been perfect in this effort? No — but we’re also still working on getting better and, after all, we are only a relatively young 236 years of age. As a nation, we’ve never shirked our role as protector of freedom and liberty, both here at home and also around the world. As a nation, we fought three physical wars in the 20th century alone to protect personal freedom against despotism, communism, Nazism and fascism; we fought a “cold war” to keep communism from enslaving millions of people. And over the past 20 years, we’ve fought six additional wars (Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya) to free Muslims from the freedom-robbing tentacles of radical and oppressive Islamofacism.
How in the world anyone (particularly some of our own American citizenry) could ever conclude that the world would be a better place if the United States of America had never existed is beyond comprehension.
My hope this Thanksgiving season of 2012 is that more Americans will stand up and give thanks for the exceptionalism of the United States of America, a country which has never purported to be perfect, but which still believes in the principle of personal freedom and liberties as being bestowed by a Perfect Creator.
Have a great Thanksgiving.