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  • Writer's pictureRichard A. Jones

Personal Thoughts As We Celebrate Independence Day


I am thankful to be an American and to live in this country which holds such great potential for good, however, as we approach the 247th birthday of our country, it seems as if America continues to become more and more fragmented and polarized. Economic disparity continues to grow, and the lines are being drawn thicker and thicker between different political views.

“America, love it or leave it,” and “My country, right or wrong” while these slogans were not original in the 1960’s, they were used (mostly by the political right) to taunt the hippies, or to attempt to silence dissenters of America’s involvement in Vietnam.

These slogans seemed to imply that America transcended all accountability: "Don’t question, don’t disagree, don’t raise any issues of morality. If you don’t like it the way it is, then get out.” If this is their meaning, then these catch-phrases are in direct opposition to the founding principles of America.


The First Amendment states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The freedoms of speech, the press, to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, were meant to guarantee the right to disagree with the government and to be free to say so. It is not only our right, it is our responsibility to hold our government accountable and speak out when good is violated. However, this begs a couple of questions, “What is good?” And who decides it?


Our Declaration of Independence states, “...We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness....”

The framers of the Declaration of Independence understood the two-fold foundation of truth, equality, and human rights: Self-evident. in other words, everyone knows this (or should know this). And endowed by our Creator.

If God is removed from our social belief and conscience, then who guarantees human rights? We are left with a dangling morality attached to nothing but human opinion, social consensus, or force. People are, therefore, only held accountable by themselves, social convention, or those in power forcing their will on others (Anarchy, a fickle society, or a dictatorship—chose your poison).


Some may say that evolution and brain development have created morality and a sense of human rights. At the risk of over-simplifying and without going into detail, evolution is not guided by any moral imperative. the evolutionary maxim seems to depend on a circular argument. “Through evolution, we are becoming better. What is better? Whatever we are becoming.”

Others would say that individuals must decide for themselves what is good, right, and wrong. Those who say this only mean it, if everybody else pretty much agrees with their own viewpoint. The truth is that If everyone decides right and wrong for themselves, then no one can tell anyone else what to do or not to do. No one can be held accountable to anyone else’s morality. If this is the case, then there is no basis for law. Everyone is a law only to themselves.

Still others tell us that each society must determine its own moral guidelines. If each society determines its own morality, then no society can judge another to be in violation of human rights. Every society, through its own means, creates its own ethical code.

By this view the Inca’s practice of child sacrifice would have been acceptable, as long as it was kept within their society. An Islamic extremist society could kill those they considered “infidels.” And Hitler and German society would have had the right to displace and execute Jews if either the majority or a dictator decide that it was “good” to do so.

Our founding fathers however, believed that human rights are “endowed by our Creator,” therefore, those rights can not be denied by any individual or society. The Nuremburg trials that convicted Nazis of criminal acts appealed to a law that transcended personal opinion or social convention. They judged on the basis of a universal law that they believed applied to all people and all societies.


What does “endowed by our Creator” mean? how are truth and human rights endowed? Where do these truths reside? Writings such as the Christian Bible, the Jewish Torah (First five books), or the Islamic Quran as well as other books considered sacred texts, may contain pieces of these truths and call us toward them, however, the answer also lies in our Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

In the Bible’s book of Genesis, we are told that we are created in the image of God. I believe this not only to be a Christian truth, but a universal truth. I think that this “image-of-God-ness” includes all human beings from all races, all ethnic groups, all tribes, all nationalities.

Within every human heart (spirit, or deepest self) lies the truth: the truth of life, God, right, wrong, good and evil. It resides in our own deepest longings for life, which include the desire for acceptance, peace, love, meaning, freedom, life, equality, and happiness. These longings are part of the universal human condition.

The problem is that by the pull of tradition, culture, upbringing, self-interest experience, and personal choice, these inner truths can become obscured, and Ironically, we can even deny others the very things we desire for ourselves, resulting in injustice, oppression, and abuse.


So what about early American society? How could our founding fathers fail to grant equality and human rights to blacks and indigenous people? Didn’t this violate their own premise for human rights? Yes, it did.

And it also seems that they resolved this delima by dehumanizing these people. In determining state representation, black slaves were only counted as 3/5 of a person, and native people did not count at all. Their rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were denied, as was their right to vote. (Note: Denying rights to women is another story for another day.)

While our founders saw the origin of human rights, they failed to see the full extent of them. I’m sure that there were people who protested these actions, but their voices were not heard or heeded.

We cannot ignore or cover up the atrocities of our country’s history: slavery, the trail of tears, the Sand Creek massacre, and the philosophy of manifest destiny, all of these and other cruel and inhumane acts and ideologies, often sanctioned by our government, can not be overlooked or failed to be identified as the evil that they truly were. These are tragic pages in our country’s history.


Who is guilty?

Martin Luther blamed all Jews for the death of Jesus. In 1543 he wrote, On the Jews and Their Lies. In it he said: “Set fire to their synagogues or schools, Jewish houses should be razed and destroyed, prayer books and Talmudic writings in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them, their rabbis forbidden to teach on pain of loss of life and conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews, all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them.”

Luther was wrong. Just as all Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus, neither were all Germans responsible for the atrocities of the Nazis against Jews.

I don’t think there is any such thing as racial or generational guilt. Simply because I am a white male, does not make me guilty of the crimes of America’s founders. Growing up in this society may have invoked privileges on me that were denied to others. I am not accountable for that either.

I am accountable to hear the truth, entrusted to all humanity by our Creator, and live my life according to it.

I am responsible for doing what is right and true in the circumstances of my own life. I am accountable to treat every human being in my path with dignity and respect, as one created in God’s own likeness.

I must repent of the wrong that I have done, however, It is not mine to repent of the wrongs that the founders of America or those in past generations have committed.

The Hebrew word for repentance is teshuvah. It is not a single act, but a process of turning away from evil and turning toward good. Maybe all insight into good does not come in a blinding flash, but unfolds gradually as I take the next step toward what is good.

None of us can right past wrongs. However, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, or any other race or nationality, for that next step toward good in our own lives, I believe that we are all personally responsible and accountable.

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