It’s been quite a month for our country.
The bangs and sparks from fireworks jubilantly celebrating our nation’s independence have been flanked by bangs and sparks from firearms in the streets and at a nightclub, challenging whether we are free after all.
In the midst of all this, I stumbled upon a Focus on the Family online interview that seemed worthy of a pause.
The guest, Eric Metaxas, a well-articulated speaker, radio host and author, engages the culture on “the bigger questions in life.” The discussion sprang from his newest book, “If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty.”
Metaxas feels we’re losing our grip because we’re losing sight of the faith that helped form who we have been at our best moments. And I’d agree.
Without the faith of the people during the Colonial era, he said, there’d be no America, not to mention the abolitionist and civil rights movements.
“Faith from beginning to now has been the thing that has blessed all Americans,” he said.
But Metaxas argued that since the 1960s, we’ve become largely negative about our country. We’ve ignored the great heroes, like Nathan Hale and Paul Revere, and focused on the villains and our collective shortcomings.
In doing so, we’ve fallen out of love with America.
Though Metaxas acknowledged the need to remember the flaws “so we don’t repeat them,” there’s a balance to keep in mind.
He clarified that loving our country needn’t be “a chest-beating jingoism, a nationalistic, ‘We’re great,’ ” a “We’re better than you are.” But neither should we lose sight of our virtue.
“The reason America is great and the reason we need to love our country,” he said, “is because this is really the first country in the history of the world to be a country for others.”
He noted that his parents, both immigrants, met in a classroom in Manhattan where they’d both come to learn English.
Metaxas encouraged beginning with a posture of humility, recognizing we’re all marked with original sin. “So to say I’m better, we’re better, already that’s a lie from the pit of hell. You are no better than anyone before God.”
From there, we can progress.
Reflecting back honestly, we discover the good we’ve accomplished, too, and remember how our founders, back in the 1780s, paved the way for these outcomes by creating “a government that allowed us to be self-critical and to evolve past our worst weaknesses, especially slavery.”
Politics alone can’t solve our crises, he indicated, noting that each side of the political divide bears some blame in misunderstanding liberty; the Left, by believing liberty is license, and the Right, by viewing liberty as easily achieved.
“Freedom is a very fragile thing, and if you think that it’s easy, you’ve got it mixed up.”
He said we’ve got to refocus on God’s idea of liberty.
For this, Metaxas borrows from the thinking of his contemporary and friend Os Guiness, who introduced him to the concept of the “Golden Triangle of Freedom.”
The idea being that freedom, or self-governance, requires virtue — the Constitution fails without it. But virtue requires faith, he said, because people aren’t typically virtuous without believing in something higher.
“That doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as a virtuous atheist,” Metaxas clarified, “but by and large, for a culture to be virtuous, it requires … (in) critical mass, a faith community,” as was evident at our nation’s founding.
Completing the triangle, there is no faith without liberty. “In other words, it goes around and around,” Metaxas explained, noting that the government must grasp that freedom of religion means we “are totally free to live out (our) faith.”
When faith and virtue disappear, so does freedom, he said. “That’s what’s been happening in America in the last 40 years.”
We need to recall how our thriving has blessed others, he said, and that “giving from our largesse is part of our history.” But if we’re a wreck, we cannot be there for others.
Metaxas said when it comes to religious liberty, we’re “fighting for all of America, so that somebody can have the right to be an atheist, so somebody can have the right to live out whatever faith.”
He noted that “The very heart of American liberty depends on religious liberty and freedom of conscience for everyone,” pointing to people like gay activist Andrew Sullivan, who also has been making this case, understanding that “respecting those with whom we disagree, loving those with whom we disagree, is the right way.”
These ideas, he added, are ones that Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson “and the whole gang” also espoused.
By sharing again this story of America, along with the faith that has been so central to its good, Metaxas said he hopes to re-enchant Americans about our common home.
“It doesn’t mean everybody has to become a Christian,” he said, “but it means that if you start pushing (out faith), you’ll lose everything.”
May God bless, and have mercy on, America, every last soul.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on July 30, 2016.]