When I lived in New England back in the 80s, I first became aware of (and was somewhat taken aback by) the state motto on New Hampshire license plates: Live Free or Die. General John Stark, New Hampshire’s most famous soldier of the American Revolutionary War, was the patriot who wrote, “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils,” as a toast that he sent to an anniversary event of the Battle of Bennington, being too ill to attend it himself (from Wikipedia).
The slogan is so cut and dry, so matter-of-fact and powerful, that it stuck in my memory. Over the holidays, ever since Twitter shut down (albeit briefly) a support thread for Phil of Duck Dynasty fame, the motto has been coming back into my mind. Do we Americans still want to be free–do most of us care enough about freedom to die for it? Many people with connections to our military remind us on bumper stickers that “Freedom isn’t Free”–a true statement reminding us that Americans have died and are dying for our freedom. That alone should give us all pause before we lightly throw our freedoms under the bus (or off free speech platforms, such as Twitter).
One of my favorite authors for kids in the 8-12 age bracket is Margi Preus, who wrote Heart of a Samurai, which I’ve quoted in this blog before (“Everyone is Everywhere”). Her latest book is Shadow on the Mountain, about the Norwegian resistance to the Nazis in World War II. I’ve been reading it during my Christmas break, particularly interested because of my husband’s Norwegian heritage. As the main character, Espen, contemplates an imminent ski contest, Preus writes:
The race was compulsory, of course.
“That’s the way it is with Nazis,” Karl said as they waited for the starting gun. “They want you to do something, so they make it compulsory.”
“Compulsory uniforms,” said Rosa.
“Compulsory propaganda hours for the NS,” Arne said.
“A compulsory order to hang a portrait of Quisling in every classroom,” Rolf added.
Ingrid joined in. “Compulsory visits to Hitler Youth exhibits!”
At the starting gun, the kids dutifully skied the first part of the course, then, after a message had been passed among the entire group, they reached the top of the hill, formed a long line, sang the Norwegian national anthem, shouted “Long live the King!” and then turned and skied away from the Nazi officials and off into the forest, laughing as they went. I haven’t read past this incident yet to find out what the repercussions of such defiance were. What struck me most is that these kids were fighting official, foreign, governmental opposition to the freedoms they had known growing up. They were being coerced to do things that had been a matter of choice before the Nazis showed up.
On the other hand, when a forum for saying anything you want to say in 140 characters or less–a symbol, in some ways, for freedom of speech in the modern world–shuts itself down because people might be offended by the viewpoint being expressed regarding relationships between men and women (keeping in mind that no matter what your perspective is on it, the viewpoint that was shut down has been the dominant view for millennia by most of mankind), what does that say for the state of free speech in the United States? It makes me squirm a little, makes me wonder how long people will be allowed to have different opinions on core beliefs.
Os Guinness, British thinker and Christian observer of the United States, and author of many books discussing the changing state of freedom here, wrote a book last year called A Free People’s Suicide. The title put me off a bit–seemed every bit as blunt as “Live Free or Die,” but with an awful twist. But I read it anyway. I don’t want to believe that he’s right when he says that “In the end, the ultimate threat to the American republic will be Americans. The problem is not wolves at the door but termites in the floor.” The actions of Americans against the freedoms of other Americans over the holidays has me wondering if he isn’t, unfortunately, on to something.
Perhaps his plan for a “civil, global, public square,” (see his newest book, The Global Public Square for much more on this) where people are freely persuaded by others, through conversation and relationship, and not coerced by others (by government or society) to consider or reconsider their core beliefs, is our best hope for being able to hold on to differing opinions while respecting the people who don’t share the same views.
If Os Guinness is right, the enemy isn’t a government edict like the kids faced in the novel: the enemy is us and our own eagerness to impose our views on others.
Fellow Christians, another thing going through my head these days is the song I learned in Sunday school: “They’ll know we are Christians by our Love.” Let’s remember that we belong to Jesus. Maybe if we get Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) stuck in our heads, too, we’ll remember to love even our enemies. We can’t ever forget that Christ loved his enemies enough to die for them–for all who choose His way.