Lin Weeks Wilder

Lin Weeks Wilder

Christianity, faith, politics, public speaking, Writing

Can we handle freedom?

can we handle freedom?
can we handle freedom?

The question, “can we handle freedom?”,

is not mine. Instead, it is taken from a quite remarkable speech by the current Attorney General William Barr given at Notre Dame Law School last month. While reading the speech the first time, I found it eloquent, stirring and an insightful description of America in 2019. And overlooked the import of the question. But no more.

I have reread Barr’s speech six times because of the uproar it has caused among a variety of savants. Each time I did so, I became even more astounded by the virulence of the hyperbole among the critics- both secular and religious- of Barr’s ‘fiery speech’ and claims that Barr’s words signaled ‘the end of democracy’. I am stunned, bamboozled, flummoxed, at the divide between the reaction of these ‘pundits’ and my own. And now seriously wonder, “Can we handle freedom?”

Barr argues that our democracy cannot survive without an overriding belief in God and His commandments. Using ‘practical statesmen’ like Adams, Madison, and Adams, he carefully constructs and eloquently describes the consequences of unbridled license upon persons and society. He frames his rhetorical question- “In this state- protected secular age, ‘What can replace our lost Judeo-Christian morality?’ artfully.

His critics decline to answer his question. Instead, New York Times Nobel-winning Paul Klugman politicizes Barr’s reasoned speech by in a piece he titled God Is Now Trump’s Co-Conspirator:

…Given where we are right now, you might have expected Barr to respond in some way to the events of the past few weeks — the revelation that the president has been calling on foreign regimes to produce dirt on his domestic opponents, the airport arrest of associates of the president’s lawyer as they tried to leave the country on one-way tickets, credible reports that Rudy Giuliani himself is under criminal investigation.
Alternatively, Barr could have delivered himself of some innocuous pablum, which is something government officials often do in difficult times.
But no. Barr gave a fiery speech denouncing the threat to America posed by “militant secularists,” whom he accused of conspiring to destroy the “traditional moral order,” blaming them for rising mental illness, drug dependency and violence.

Lest we think that only the secularists reacted..

Consider Roman Catholic Dean of the Graduate School of Religion at Fordham University’s C. Colt Anderson’s claim that Attorney General William Barr is a “threat to democracy.”

In an interview a few days after the so-called incendiary law school speech, Anderson said after reading the speech, that he believes the Attorney General, in “revealing his devotion to an especially conservative branch of Catholicism-italics mine -“, is a “threat to American democracy” and is functioning as a

“dog whistle” to ultra-conservative Catholics who, he says, have aligned themselves to Donald Trump in a campaign to limit the rights of LGBTQ Americans, immigrants and non-Christians, especially Muslims, and to criminalize almost all abortions. “The attorney general is taking positions that are essentially un-Democratic” because they demolish the wall between church and state…

What is so very strange is

the patent projection of these volatile reactors. Yes, projection…that defense mechanism where we deny a thing in ourselves and attribute it to others…the reason that I read Barr’s words now five times… to make certain that I had not missed “fiery language” or a violation of religious liberty hidden in the words.

I do not think I missed it. In fact, I have liked the speech more each time I read it. For a number of reasons. Here are just a few, taken from the speech:

  • The framers of the constitution ” never thought the main danger to the republic came from external foes. The central question was whether, over the long haul, we could handle freedom. The question was whether the citizens in such a free society could maintain the moral discipline and virtue necessary for the survival of free institutions. Edmund Burke summed up this point in his typically colorful language.
  • “Men are qualified for civil liberty, in exact proportion to their disposition to put chains upon their appetites…. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”
  • So the Founders decided to take a gamble. They called it a great experiment.
  • They would leave “the People” broad liberty, limit the coercive power of the government, and place their trust in self-discipline and the virtue of the American people.
  • In the words of Madison, “We have staked our future on the ability of each of us to govern ourselves…”
  • This is really what was meant by “self-government.” It did not mean primarily the mechanics by which we select a representative legislative body. It referred to the capacity of each individual to restrain and govern themselves.
  • In short, in the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people – a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and man-made law and who had the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles.
  • As John Adams put it, “We have no government armed with the power which is capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”

The need for individual self-control is inarguable,

I thought. Culturally, we understand the dangers of licentiousness- that is why we have laws and penalties for drunken driving, sexual assault, robbery, and murder. The major traditions endorse virtue, integrity, truth-telling and sacrifice.

And must wonder, is it far simpler than what I had first imagined?

Is the reaction against Barr simply because he is in President Trump’s administration?

Are the beauty and truth of his words trumped-pun intended- by his position?

It has been decades since I stopped watching the news or reading it, a long story best told elsewhere.
Therefore, I had never heard of William Barr until happening upon his October speech.
Instead of deciding what you think based on my words alone, do please read his words for yourself, here.

And then decide whether you agree with Paul Klugman when he writes,
“Consider for a moment how inappropriate it is for Barr, of all people, to have given such a speech. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion; the nation’s chief law enforcement officer has no business denouncing those who exercise that freedom by choosing not to endorse any religion. “

Or, like me, are wholly joyous, delighted enough to shout AMEN to read words of a public official in 2019. And believe they mirror precepts you believe are axiomatic to our survival. If so, consider sharing your thoughts with others.

Can we handle freedom?

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notre dame speech, william barr

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Lin Wilder

Lin Wilder has a doctorate in Public Health from the UT Houston with a background in cardiopulmonary physiology, medical ethics, and hospital administration. 

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