THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Thanksgiving(?) Again

I was maligned today for being Thankful. And I'm grateful; thankful, actually. It offered me the opportunity to think more about America's legacy -- and future.

Specifically, I was attacked for an earlier post as un-American for acknowledging Canada's Thanksgiving celebration, for not celebrating America's and for suggesting that America's intellectual and spiritual origins lie in the Enlightenment rather than The Church.

Rest assured! I fully intend to celebrate Thanksgiving next month as well. There is so much about which to be thankful. And much that must be changed.

I was also accused of failing to understand the influences on our founding peoples of their Judeo-Christian heritage. Of course Americans' founders were products of their times as we are of ours. For many reasons, they actively chose to turn away from much of that context. Away from inquisitions. Away from monarchies. Away from privileged aristocracies. Away from state imposed religion.

Their "times" were those of Inquisitions spanning hundreds of years. Wars of succession; extremes of wealth; oppression of women and entire peoples; and the forced, blood-saturated colonization of huge parcels of the world. Factor in the 100 Years War, the Thirty Years War, the Protestant Huguenots being driven out of France, Puritans from England and Holland, virtually every Calvinist across Europe demonizing Catholics, and two millenia of Jews being driven from pillar to post -- all "quite Western and quite Judeo-Christian in nature," indeed.

And, as this is Columbus Day in the United States, remember that Jews were being forced out of Spain from the same port and at the same time Columbus set sail, though their reasons and destinations were radically different.

James Carse does a splendid job in The Religious Case Against Belief clearly demonstrating how any and all "belief systems" -- grounded in orthodoxy and dogma, relying on force and fear -- diminish and demean us.

The radical notion of the new American nation was not "more of the same." It was the judgment that people could govern themselves, that they had inalienable rights, that the Enlightenment view that reason and evidence were more reliable than bishops and kings and princes and generals.

It was a radical idea then and it continues to be.

Our (American) history is laced with failures and shortcomings, mistakes and ignorance. Slavery is item one, our original "sin", if you will. Yet, through it all, the essential course was set. During the war to expiate that sin, Abraham Lincoln exquisitely summed our history and our destiny:

... It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

"We, The People" are a powerful force for good, particularly when we remember that our "better angels" are always at risk of being brushed aside, scorned and diminished by outdated ideologues who would impose their limited vision on everyone, with particular emphasis on any who dare to disagree.

"A new birth of freedom" is not a destination. It is a process, a quintessentially political process, within which the peoples of every democracy on earth struggle every day. Ain't it swell? It is in this context that the very political decision of the Nobel Peace Prize committee makes perfect sense and we thank them.

I am also deeply Thankful that disagreement is welcomed and protected in the place where one day, "...liberty and justice" may, in fact, be for all. We're certainly not perfect, but we have to keep moving in that direction. Aggressively.