This summer, my wife and I got to see parts of the country we had
never seen before. We were "out west" (at least for us) for a couple
of weeks, seeing the "Bad Lands," the vast open plains, and other
places where once the buffalo roamed. We saw many beautiful sights,
but we also saw indications of the most beautiful thing you can see in
America, a thing you cannot adequately capture with a digital camera.
The song, "America the Beautiful," is one we all love, and those who
pay attention to the words will be taken back by its true message.
Although it speaks of "spacious skies," and "amber waves of grain,"
the song is not primarily about the country's visual beauty. It sings
the praises of our "purple mountains' majesty above the fruited
plain," but its concern is not primarily with the grandeur of the
scenery. The song is about the beauty of character displayed by so
many Americans over the years. The "stern, impassioned stress" of the
Pilgrims beat a thoroughfare for freedom across the wilderness.
"Heroes proved in liberating strife, more than self their country
loved, and mercy more than life." The dreams of patriots saw beyond
the years the gleaming cities we would build "undimmed by human
tears." The character of the Americans far outshined the glories of
the beautiful land they conquered!
This is what I could see, with the help of my imagination, in states
that still bear the footprints of the pioneer settlers that created
them many decades ago. The west (which at one time or another
included most or all of every state in the union) afforded the
opportunity for courageous people to make something better of their
lives. If they did not have the character to make good with this
opportunity, they would not have been able to meet the challenges that
the opportunity brought with it. But many did display such character.
Bravery, self-reliance and hard work made our country. Often the
only help the pioneers received was a promise of owning the land they
settled. This was true of the earliest arrivals at Jamestown and
Plymouth, and it was also true of those who answered the call of
Lincoln's "Homestead Act" both during and after the Civil War. They
faced grave danger and risked everything for the hope of a better
life. As I thought about the people who made America, I was very
proud of them.
The traits of diligence, longsuffering, faith, and courage made most
of them successful. These are the character traits that built our
country. The blight that mars the story of our country (of course) is
slavery, which in one way or another worked against these traits. It
is true that millions of the slaves were people of high principle and
strong character, but slavery did not encourage such things. It was
mostly the Christian religion that elevated the slave to moral
excellence. But slavery gave its victims little reward for displaying
good character or achieving great goals. In this way it undermined
the slave's character. But unrewarded labor was not the only aspect
of slavery that harmed the slave. There was also the terrible blight
of dependence. When men receive no benefit for their efforts and also
depend on others for the meeting of their needs, they tend to be
weaker men. Freedom alone, the American kind of freedom, defined by
individual independence, creates the atmosphere most conducive to
developing good character. Free men are not automatically good men,
to be sure. Another essential to good character is a sound faith, but
those whose lives are guided by faith in the Bible have a greater
opportunity to display their Christian character when they are free to
pursue their own happiness without hindering restraints and corrupting
Our justified pride in the amazing character of those who raised this
nation up causes us to reflect on the decline in American character
that now threatens to tear it down. Americans of this generation need
to be free to strive for their dreams. Such freedom will necessarily
allow the possibility not only of failure, but even of disaster. The
daring and diligence of the pioneers are still needed today. Freedom
and security have always been, and will always be, at odds. But
Americans of our time should be allowed to choose freedom over
security, opportunities over guarantees, equality of rights over
equality of outcomes. Many, I fear, do not see the danger in the new
proposals to expand government regulation and control in our nation.
They are falling for empty promises of a secure environment,
affordable medical care, fairer distribution of wealth, and greater
personal safety, which are being offered by politicians in exchange
for permission to institute a new kind of totalitarianism, which
destroys character as it kills freedom. Total government control is
not accepted unless it is sold to the people. The Fascists sold it
as being necessary for the good of the country. The Communists sold
it as important to achieving equality. Present-day American
socialists are selling it to us for our own good. But all-powerful
government is not good for people. It corrupts their character.
It is amazing how freedom encourages people to solve problems, even
big ones. I have no doubt that the ingenuity of independent citizens,
along with the profit incentive of the free market, will tackle and
defeat the problems we face with high energy costs, troubling climate
effects, difficult housing markets, expensive health care, and rising
unemployment, if the government backs off. America is about people
solving their own problems, and not about government coming to the
rescue. Socialism kills the character that made our country great.
It's amazing, and encouraging, how many good solutions to our big
problems have already been proposed and can be implemented by the
private sector of the economy. It's how America works. And the
American character will meet all these challenges if it is not
corrupted by the "nanny state."
Take another look at how this nation was stretched "from sea to
shining sea" and rose up as "the land of the free and the home of the
brave" (to cite a line from another patriotic anthem). It was by the
sterling character of her people, founded on the rock of good religion
and developed by the rigors of freedom. To move her forward on the
right road, we must be careful to preserve the liberty and faith which
safeguard that character.
"Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people."