Property and the pursuit of happiness

As we celebrate Independence Day, I’ve been meditating on the inalienable rights that Thomas Jefferson wrote about: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” John Locke, a British philosopher who was a huge influence on the American Revolution, had coined a slightly different phrase: “life, liberty, and property.” So my first question was: why did Jefferson change the wording? Continue reading

David Barton and the conservative rediscovery of integrity

One of the most hopeful things that I have witnessed in recent times was the decision of evangelical Christian publisher Thomas Nelson to discontinue publishing David Barton’s Jefferson Lies. For those of you who are unfamiliar, David Barton is a historical revisionist very popular in the Michelle Bachmann/Glenn Beck circles for trying to advance the claim that America’s Founding Fathers were 21st century evangelical Christians and not 18th century Deists. The reason Thomas Nelson dropped his book is because other conservative evangelical historians cried foul at the way that Barton distorted history to support his ideological propaganda. This is a very significant development because what most turns people off about today’s “conservatism” is actually not the part that is conservative, i.e. its commitment to ancient, timeless truths, but rather the hijacking of conservatism by populist demagogues who reveal their lack of conservatism with their contempt for the truth. So if American conservatism is in fact rediscovering the importance of integrity, this will be much better for its long-term health than continuing to foment short-term political power through fact-free, sensationalist rabble-rousing. Continue reading

When is revolution appropriate?

I’ve been watching the news reports of the Occupy protests this past week wondering how much to criticize and how much to sympathize. In general, I sympathize with the feeling that our society is broken and we don’t know what to do but we want to do something. I’m not sure what blocking traffic accomplishes. If I wanted to be snotty, I could say that I’m part of the 90% who wants to get to work. Ten years ago, I would have been in the streets with my African drum, but these days I’ve generally bought into the assumption that the best way to change the world is through the much less dramatic and spectacular daily actions of millions of people loving God with all their heart and loving their neighbor as themselves. Continue reading

Is Democracy Dying?

I’ve often been cynical about American exceptionalism. Especially on days when I walk into Barnes and Nobles and see the political bestsellers on display in the front of the store. Americans are exceptional? Really? Exceptionally tacky? Exceptionally self-righteous? Exceptionally deaf to opinions outside of our own echo chamber? Exceptionally good at building an industry off of paranoid hate and conspiracy theories?

One of the most exceptional Americans I know about, Mark Twain, famously said that “patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels.” There is something quintessentially American and even partly healthy about his cynicism. At the same time, I’m feeling contrite today about my cynicism and lack of patriotism because a dream and vision for humanity that was exceptional about our country is in the process of dying. Continue reading