In April, President Obama stated that we Americans "do not consider ourselves a Christian nation, or a Muslim nation, but rather, a nation of citizens who are, uh, bound by a set of values." This sent the Conservatives into a flurry of panic, some quickly pronouncing that we are a Christian nation, as if this were a defense against an Islamic takeover of our country.
Obama was correct when he said we are a nation of citizens bound by a set of values. But as to what those values are, he hasn't a clue. Sadly, many Americans don't, either. Yet these values are so fundamental that when our country was founded, they set forth an explosion of scientific and industrial advancements that the world had never seen before, and they allowed people from all over the world to come here and live together in safety and peace.
What made the United States unique, and what sets us apart from the rest of the world, is the fact that we value individual rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The United States was the very first country to recognize that each man is an end in himself and not a subject for the king, ruler, or state to dispose of on a whim. Men were finally set free -- set free from...other men! Men were free to live their lives as they wished, provided they did not infringe on the rights of any other man. Because the fear of being controlled by someone else was gone, people lived together in harmony despite their differences.
The United States was not multicultural. It had only one culture -- the culture that recognized that each person was unique, was different, and had his own needs and desires. This one culture united people of different races, countries, customs, religions, and creeds. And this gave them strength.
This is the idea that we need to return to and defend -- that we are not a Christian nation, but a nation based on individual rights. We need to say, as the Founders did so eloquently, that our rights are "inalienable." This means inherent in the nature of man. If we argue that our rights come from a Christian God, then people of other faiths and creeds are excluded. Then we don't have a leg to stand on when we encounter Communists and Socialists, who don't believe in God. A dictator who is an atheist, for example, can retort that since there is no God, we have no rights. But if we argue that rights are inherent by man's nature, everyone is included, we are united and we can stand up to anyone.
If we proclaim that we are a Christian nation, it will divide the Tea Party movement, because people don't want the government to be involved in their personal religion. They are already afraid of the government trying to control our daily lives as it is, let alone our minds, hearts and souls. Let's stick to the real issues. This isn't a matter of one religion versus another; this is an issue of freedom versus slavery. And the only way to end slavery forever is to recognize that each individual has rights and that no one else has a right to any part of another person's life. It is the concept of individual rights that is the basis for freedom and the only protection for religious freedom. If we announce this loud and clear, we won't have to worry about Islam. The morality of their goal to take over our way of life will become obvious to the public.
When I was growing up, we didn't refer to people as African-Americans or Asian- Americans. We were all just Americans. We also referred to the United States as a "free country," not a Chistian nation. Claiming that America is a Christian nation will lead to a form of Balkanization, pitting us against each other at the expense of the cooperative and cohesive union that we had and want again. Our strengths lie in the recognition of our universal individual rights, not in our differences. Let's set ourselves apart from the rest of the world by declaring who we really are and what we really stand for.
Individual rights. This is our pride. This is our glory. Keep it alive.Charlotte Cushman is a Montessori educator at Minnesota Renaissance School, Anoka, Minnesota. She has been involved in the study of philosophy since 1970.