Twelve score years ago today, the United States of America was founded upon the belief that freedom isn’t multiple choice.
Contrary to what some Americans believe, we didn’t invent freedom. Throughout history, each country has afforded freedoms to some, whether ruling class, or white, or male, or defined by some other category.
Our country, though, was designed to offer freedom to all. Throughout our imperfect history, we have fallen far short of this lofty ideal, but through the King Jrs. and Anthonys and others who have carried the torch of freedom, we have grown as a nation. Marched. Rallied. Legislated. Learned.
America, we have a long way to go.
We still haven’t quite figured out that freedom isn’t multiple choice.
It doesn’t merely apply to those who look like me. Who believe like me. Who talk like me. Who think like me.
It applies to every American. Christian. Muslim. Athiest. Black. White. Arab. Jew.
Freedom doesn’t mean that we need to agree with everything that others believe. Freedom does mean that we need to treat them with the same respect that we expect, that they deserve.
No society has ever existed in which every single citizen believed the same thing on every single issue. What happens when fellow citizens disagree on important issues? Civil war. Bloodshed. Assassinations.
There is another way. It’s called tolerance. Without tolerance, there can be no freedom. Tolerance doesn’t mean agreement. It simply, like the words whose Latin root it shares, means that I need to tolerate the beliefs and ideals of those with whom we share the star-spangled banner, just as they need to tolerate mine.
Freedom applies to everyone. However, it doesn’t apply to everything. Total freedom from laws, rules, and government is called anarchy. It doesn’t work. There’s a myriad of reasons why our democracy, as flawed and failed of a system as it sometimes is, is still in place and still moderately effective at balancing the needs and desires of a diverse country of over 300 million people.
I’m a Christian. I have friends who are athiests, Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons. I learn from them. Their beliefs don’t threaten mine; in fact, they strengthen them. Contrary to popular belief, our country was founded on the separation of church and state, founded by people who were tired of being oppressed for what they believed. This was never meant to be a solely Christian country. Some of our founding fathers, whom many Christians revere, were deists at best. This means that the Muslim TSA agent wearing a hijab is just as American as Baptist Billy Bob and his stars-and-stripes overalls.
I’m not here to pat myself and my high horse of tolerance on the back. I struggle with judging others, too, those who I view as narrow-minded and backward, those on the opposite end of the spectrum from my political views. I even find myself judging judgmental Christians. I have certain presuppositions about different social classes. I think horrible thoughts about homeless people that I don’t dare vocalize. I think men are better drivers than women (although studies actually back me up on this one).
I have a lot to learn.
On this Fourth of July, on our country’s 240th birthday, I’m grateful to be an American. I’m grateful to live in a country that, while flawed, still offers freedom and opportunity to so many. A country that, for every publicized misstep, helps out billions around the world, behind the scenes. A country that, while far from perfect, still strives for the ideals of liberty and justice for all.
This election cycle has stirred up a lot of hate, and has uncovered a lot of evil attitudes that many of us thought were dead and gone. For today, at least, my prayer is that Democrat and Republican, Christian and Muslim, Red Sox fan and Yankees fan, and rich and poor can put aside our differences, celebrate our shared freedoms, and go blow a bunch of money lighting off fireworks.
Happy birthday, America.