09 October 2007

The Ever-Filling Glass

Just a random thought after reading an article in the Boston Globe called “A Troubling Turn in American History” this morning. The article, if I followed it correctly, traces an odd path of American “mistakes” which were actually the byproducts of solutions to other problems. No religious freedom at home? Puritans came to America. On the downside, they believed (like so many other religious groups) that their way was the only way; thus religious tyranny. This is just one example in the article.

It seems to me that the author, James Carroll, seems to be mentally reaching for utopia and expecting it to become real. When he doesn’t find it in our past, he is disappointed – or disgusted – in our historical shortcomings. American history is, depending on who is doing the telling, a litany of violence and fear. Or at least that is how Mr. Carroll would have it read. The glass of America seems to be ever emptying for him. And when a great event or person in history, like Lincoln, comes along to fill the glass, Mr. Carroll eagerly seeks reasons to resume the draining.

I’m usually not much of an optimist, but I prefer to think of the American glass as continually filling despite all efforts to drain it. The problem as I see it with the idea of the ever-filling glass is that it must be replenished from within. It must have a source from which to pull endlessly.

In his article, Mr. Carroll says, “’Freedom’ has become our prison.” He means, I think, that the defense and promotion of freedom has lead to a series of unintended outcomes over the course of our history. What he fails to grasp is that, as a human endeavor, freedom and nation will never, never reach perfection. Our best hope lies in what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature” so that we may pursue ideas like true freedom and liberty while knowing that, because we are human, we will never achieve utopia. And that, I believe, is the source of the ever-filling glass.

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