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Freedom and the Common Good

Today, we celebrate the writing and signing of a document, a declaration which stated that thirteen of the British Colonies in North America could no longer live under the authority of the British Parliament or Crown.

“The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,…”

The First Continental Congress declared the independence of the Thirteen Original colonies, as “Free and Independent States.”

They fought for that freedom, won it, and established a new and independent government under the Articles of Confederation.

That government failed, for a lot of reasons, most notably too much independence among the states. It wasn’t until 1789 that we established and enacted a new, stable government under the Constitution, and that government still stands today, a testament to the liberty and durability of interdependence.

That’s our history lesson for today, friends: too much freedom kills.

True, life-affirming freedom, true liberty, is found in community. In interdependence. Anarchy and oppression result from total freedom. Limitations and restrictions upon freedom need not be oppressive. Rather, within generous boundaries, we can find safety, creativity, and freedom. Independence is required, in certain aspects of life, but interdependence is the path of healthy families and stable communities.

Community, which comes from the Latin root “communis” meaning “common,” is based upon the idea that we must all work for the common good. As the Declaration of Independence says, the governed give consent to their government, but we must also give our goodwill to one another for society to function. Without a sense of the common good, of finding freedom to live within the community that we mutually serve and submit to, we fall into partisanship, factionalism, tribalism, strife, and war.

That is why it is so important to listen to one another, to listen to our fellow citizens, not those who get rich off our outrage. Listen to each other. Assume the best of one another, even if, on the surface, our actions bely that truth. The greatest threat to the stability and durability of the US has always been and will always be us, our petty politics and our ability to perceive enemies and traitors in our midst. Our country will not stand if we continue to demonize each other, turning the other side into the embodiment of all our fear, prejudice, and hate.

The Declaration, the Constitution, and all the founding documents of this country are just words on paper if we neglect the sense of the common good that unites us. We have no nationality, no common ancestry, no physical ties that bind us. The fabric of our society is not ancient familial ties. Instead, we are made a country according to our adherence to the beliefs and ideologies contain in those documents. Thus, the spirit of the country is tied to the spirit of its people: if we choose to be divided in our hearts, in our loyalties, and our approach to those with whom we disagree, we choose to destroy ourselves.

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