Early in its history, this nation handcuffed itself with inconsistencies. Self-bondage began with the "Declaration of Independence." Thomas Jefferson wrote what the signers said they believed, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." The "rights" were first defined as "life, liberty, and property," then "property" was changed to "the pursuit of happiness."
Even before we got started, we compromised. "Men" should have meant "humankind." It didn't. It meant "white male," and mostly, "white male with property." It did not mean Native American, African American, or women of any description.
Jefferson catalogued England's tyrannies. Among them, he denounced the slave trade. His fellow slaveholders deleted the section but still signed to the "equality" of all men. That planted the seeds of the Civil War, which almost destroyed us.
Believe. Say. Do. It is the prescription for accomplishing goals, rearing children, conducting business and government, knowing God: what Charles Darwin described as "the most complete of all distinctions between man and the lower animals." Whether or not we subscribe to Darwin's evolution theory, he saw the ability and right of individuals to base choices on convictions. Before him, Jesus said plainly: "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching ...He who does not love me will not obey my teaching..." (John 14:23-24 NIV). For him, believing, saying, and doing are inseparable.
Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron cautions: "Never underestimate the inclination to bolt." Running from our stated foundational beliefs brings disaster. A month into the Gulf catastrophe, greed still fights setting stricter environmental standards and developing greater fuel efficiency. Is lunacy a right we want to embrace?
If Jefferson had carried out what he said he believed, free men would have worked his Monticello plantation. Instead, he rationed his slaves' food, enforced dawn to dark labor six days a week, and sold them for money. He spoke of his dislike of the system, but his desires overruled true "pursuit of happiness." What he actually pursued was what he originally wrote: "property." That pursuit backfired. He died bankrupt, having opened the gusher of equality without knowing how to direct it.
Winston Churchill said: "During a long life I have had to eat my own words many times, and I have found it a very nourishing diet." For personal and national health, we must rediscover that unrestrained freedom is bondage. We owe much to Jefferson and other Founding Fathers, especially that they locked us into greatness that is true gain, the kind that demands check-and-balance, even when it hurts, the kind insisting we know our beliefs before we say and do. The Gulf of Mexico explosion is a reminder. Will we heed?
Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If you are a seeker of simple truth, we can find it together - side-by-side.