Tag Archives: Liberty

Stamp Collecting

Like most awkwardly shy children, I used to collect stamps. Even today a bright one will catch my attention although it’s been years since I actively sought them in a household not really important enough to receive much more than bills. To make up for not getting our own mail, I’d go to the local hobby store (not Hobby Lobby, thank you) and get those cheap packages of cancelled stamps from countries I’d never heard of. Using special strips designed for introverts, I’d mount them carefully over their black-and-white image in my stamp album. Looking at those carefully engraved pieces of miniature art was a way of traveling for a kid in a lower-income family who considered a trip to Pittsburgh the big time. I’ll still save a flashy stamp although the album was lost decades ago.

The other day I saw a Liberty forever stamp. Looking at the headlines, I think the stamp has been lying to me. The idea of liberty doesn’t seem to involve using “Nuclear Options” to stack the Supreme Court after illegally refusing a hearing for the lawful candidate our last true president nominated. Liberty doesn’t involve beefing up security so we can deport those we normally exploit and then firing our missiles at those we personally dislike. No, my philatelic informant seems to be sadly misinformed. Nothing is forever. Indeed, some of the stamps I purchased before the price went down are now more expensive than they need to be. We can always use the surplus to buy more missiles, I suppose. But wait, the price has gone back up! All reprieves are short-lived.

As I daily watch our government dismantle the freedoms we’ve so carefully built over the past two centuries, I glance at my liberty forever stamp and wonder what went wrong. When did hatred of others trump the desire to be free? When did the slimmest of crooked margins become a mandate? When did braggadocio become a sufficient substitute for intelligence? When you place “forever” as the value of a stamp, you no longer know just what it’s costing you. I was born in the age of the 4-cent stamp. Since 1885 the price had never gone over 3 cents. Stamps were more honest in those days. They didn’t say “forever” on them since, it seems, we all knew that nothing lasts forever. Not even liberty.

Founding Principles

That feeling is in the air. Autumn began to stretch its melancholy fingers into August this year. Even before the month was half over the mornings had that chill in them that sparked the trees to begin their slow process of shutting down for the winter. Not wanting to admit that it was time to send my daughter back to college, I resisted what is one of the most compelling senses of self-abnegation that can be known—fall, in all its glory. When I saw a blog post on the Salem Witch Trials, I knew I wasn’t alone. The nights are already longer, and that sunset over summer’s beach comes earlier each day. Salem has a way of bringing that home to me. Innocent people murdered for fictitious crimes. Much of the fear that led to this miscarriage of justice was, of course, inspired by religion. The colonials had a great fear of new religious movements. Although it is difficult to believe, Baptists were such a new religion at the time. Considering how Baptist sensibilities now drive much of the Religious Right, it is difficult to imagine that once upon a time, being a Baptist could lead to accusations of being a witch.

As much as the Religious Right likes to make claims to a primitivism that is completely fiction (Christianity has always been this way), we have lost touch with what it meant to be a Christian in early America. States (still colonies) had their religious preferences, some even established. If you were a Baptist you’d be most comfortable in Rhode Island. If you leaned Quaker, Pennsylvania was for you. When these disparate colonies banded together into a country, it was quickly realized that religious freedom was the only way for them to work together. The government, the state, could not determine matters of individual conscience. Until, that is, that we could declare that the views of particular individuals on birth control—as informed by their religious authorities—could legally deny their employees full health benefits. Oyer and Terminer, anyone?

Freedom is a beautiful idea. It is a concept that only works, however, if it is shared equally. When one faction claims liberty for itself while limiting it for others, we’ve fallen back into times when the Baptist at your door was more dangerous than the Devil in his Hell. And so we revise our history and make claims that America was founded as a Christian nation. Evidence can be ignored, or, failing that, revised. Nothing is written in stone. When you visit Salem, there is a quiet little park, off the beaten path. Under some weary old trees are a set of stone benches against a stone wall. On each of the benches are engraved the names of those executed for being imaginary monsters. The leaves on those trees are, I’m sure, beginning to turn. Soon they will silently fall, and only those who are made of stone will deny that autumn is upon us again.

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Sacred Education

A recent story in the New Jersey Star-Ledger describes the dynastic culture of some of the newer evangelical colleges. Presidents of such “universities” as Bob Jones, Oral Roberts, and Liberty, were drawn from the sons (not daughters) of the founders. Mostly they seem to prefer to name their schools after themselves, it seems. What strikes me as odd is not the dynastic succession—after all that is common in both business and Bible—but that society seems so content to see the explosion of evangelical colleges while holding traditional higher education in a strangle-hold. According to the article by Mark Oppenheimer, combined enrollment (online and in-person) at Liberty is over 100,000. For comparison, the full-time equivalent at Arizona State University (recently the numerically largest university in the country) is shy of 77,000. We bemoan the conservative evangelical impact in government and stop the flow of money to mainstream scholars of religion (among other disciplines) and wonder what’s wrong.

Education is costly. There can be no doubt about it. Still, most academics (apart from a few who’ve learned to sponge cynically off the system) are willing to work for modest wages. We don’t get into this field for the money. No matter how tall they build their towers in New York, or Dubai, some of us will believe it’s all vanity and that the life of the mind is more than a myth. But we will be the ones shouted down by the majority welcomed with open arms at Bob Jones, Oral Roberts, or Liberty. And it’s not with justice for all. Exclusion has always been the name of the game.

Higher education was established (largely by churches) with the premise that an educated society would be a prosperous, forward-looking one. And while some of those church-monied ventures took off (who can catch up with Harvard or Princeton?) they’ve left their Protestant roots far behind. In a society where bigger is, by definition, better, what hopes do universities founded with education in mind really have? You can put Ph.D. after your names whether you studied at Harvard or Bob Jones. Ours is a society of great equalization. Unless you happen to have one of those degrees from a suspect, secular university. You can see pretty far from atop the Mound in Edinburgh. Far off into the Kingdom of Fife and your mind is free to wander far beyond that. You can’t see as far as America’s shores, however, and if you want to get ahead here the safer money is invested in the dynastic colleges of the recently departed.

Evangelist at Arizona State

Evangelist at Arizona State