Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Be a better person than the Pilgrims

"Be a better man than your father"

I heard that line on Fringe some time back and while I have forgotten the episode, story and original context that the quote first appeared in, I have never forgotten the quote itself.  To me it was just so beautifully profound I wanted to translate it into Latin and put it on my family crest.  It's a great motto for any individual and certainly for any family.  Even more so, it would be a great motto for a country to have wouldn't it?.  OK sure, it's a little patriarchal but the sentiment is about more than sons and fathers.  It's about honoring those who came before without living in their shadow.  It's a reminder that each generation can reach higher by standing on the shoulders of the previous one.  It shows no disrespect to your parents and grandparents - if they were bad, you can be better;  if they were good, you can be great.  Instead of stagnation, everyone can move onward and upward, even if it's just by the smallest increment at a time.  "Be a better person than your ancestors".  There, I washed off the patriarchy and now everyone can enjoy it!  Happy?

Well turns out not everyone agrees with me that this is a good motto to live by.  I'm specifically referring to the massive crapstorm that hit the airwaves when President Obama's Thanksgiving proclamation on Youtube failed to explicitly thank God.  I'll let Jon Stewart run you through the story:

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On a day commemorating their history, these Fox News pundits and their fellow umbrage junkies ended up being no better than their forefathers.  Guess it's true what they say about those who do not learn from history!  So lets look back.

Everyone knows that the Pilgrims left England and sailed for America (after a bit of a detour in Holland) to escape religious persecution.  Worth noting though is the nature of this religious persecution.  It's not that these people weren't allowed to be Christians in jolly olde England.  On the contrary, Christianity was compulsory!  What made these Christian Pilgrims feel so persecuted was the fact that they had to be Christians the way the official state church mandated - with harsh punishments for anyone who tried to be a different kind of Christian.  Now interestingly enough it turned out that these Pilgrims weren't really opposed to the idea of religious persecution, they just didn't like being the ones getting picked on!  After settling in the New World they established a system identical to the one that drove them from their homeland, only this time they were the ones deciding how Christianity should be practiced and punishing those who would not conform to their ideas. 

Luckily for everyone, subsequent generations of Americans did turn out to be better men than their fathers.  Over time Americans didn't just embrace religious freedom, they became the example for the rest of the world on what freedom should look like.  Once the First Amendment arrived on the scene, it pretty much set the standard for everyone else to try to live up to.  It's sad then that those talking heads on Fox didn't seem to get the memo.  Instead they still seem to be stuck in the mindset of the Pilgrims, namely that everyone should not only be Christian but that they have to be Christian in a very certain way and anyone who fails to conform must be persecuted as much as possible.  They use the word "freedom" a lot but I don't think they really understand what the word actually means!  I'd like to believe that they represent the exception rather than the rule though. 

Look, I get it.  By its very nature the past will always exert a stronger influence on us than the future could ever hope to.  I don't know about yours but my forefathers invented Apartheid!  I have to live with that legacy and I have to try to do better.  Maybe our forefathers did the best they could with how they understood the world but if we know better then we have to do better. What good parent would not want their offspring to reach greater heights than they did?  If our forefathers are worth the reverence we afford them, would they not want us to exceed them too?  I'm not saying that just because your ancestors were imperfect you have to be perfect in every way.  But if every generation can just take one small step forward, who knows where we could end up going?  

1 comment:

digapigmy said...

Yes, the Puritans main persecution was in the restrictions against their persecution of others. Luckily the Puritans are one of many groups of forefathers that made up this country or we would be in even stranger waters about now.