Letter to the Editor: Advancing the human spirit, liberty of conscience

Stock image, St. George News

OPINION — I grew up during the ’80s. You and I may have little in common, but if we were sitting alongside each other in an airplane and pop culture was the topic, odds are we could reminisce together about how fortunate we were growing up. If you were born before Millennials, the nostalgia would most certainly include the classic movie, “The Goonies.”

This week marked the 30th anniversary of “The Goonies” release to theaters. One memorable scene is when Mikey implores fellow Goonies not to give up during a hasty retreat. He delivers his passionate speech, with inhaler close by, in the bottom of a damp well. The stakes could not be higher; he reassures them: Guys, we still have a chance. For once in our lives, let’s be masters of our own fate instead of being acted upon. Chester Copperpot had his time, our parents had their time, this is our time!

To quote Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”

I can’t help but wonder what a remake would look like today. Would a modern day “Goonies” cast even show up to the attic and stumble upon the hidden treasure map? Or would the movie simply fade to black after the living room scene while the camera slowly pans out to reveal everyone’s nose buried in a hand-held machine: The end?

Catholic Bishop James Conley said, “The cultural content we consume today is mostly uninspiring, at best. And the media itself — the technology by which we consume content — is very dangerous. While the technology we possess in our cellphones and tablets offers great potential, it can also have the effect of making us shortsighted: hooked on instant gratification, bored without immediate stimulation, lonely for real connections instead of text messages, tweets and Facebook ‘likes.’ When we aren’t careful, our technology can make us flat-souled — very bored and very lonely.”

He goes on to suggest, “But literature — and poetry, music and the fine arts — is the antidote to our flat-souled culture. And it is critical to solving our culture’s real crisis.”

Last year, a local theater produced “First Freedom,” a play retelling the events leading up to the birth of freedom of conscience in America. Midway through the performance, which takes place during the American Revolution, my mind was racing around the thought of how spectacular a national showing would be on Tuacahn’s stage. Spectacular, not by today’s measuring stick to popularize on demand entertainment or fairy-tale stories, but in the rich words that fall from the lips of the actors portraying a pastime nearly extinct today: rational discussion.

James Madison advocated on behalf of all Americans, including those of no faith, to worship how one sees fit or not at all and to live, think and reason in a manner of his or her own choosing.

The longest standing piece of our First Amendment is the right of conscience. This is why Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptists affirming the existence of a “wall” blocking the state from interfering with a person’s belief. Conscience protection is no longer applicable today. Freedom of association (the right to hire) is also out the door. The third and final whammy is the right to free speech to dissent from culture.

“First Freedom” presents a philosophical, as opposed to theological, discussion in an entertaining manner centering around the issue of our rights. Rights are defined as universally applicable to everyone. Are they granted by the state, or are they inborn and innate? Viewers are offered an intimate glimpse into the souls of three of our nations founders as they conclude what a man believes, who he believes and what his belief requires him to do are indeed inalienable. Inalienable meaning government cannot touch it, period. Audiences will leave with a greater understanding of and appreciation for liberty of conscience. A freedom that is uniquely American.

A discussion on rights should not exist without also outlining one’s responsibilities. This is a crucial element, especially when teaching our future generation principles of good governance.

The form of government, a republic, that Benjamin Franklin entrusted each of us to keep was intended to be a grand experiment. As I reflect upon the founders’ numerous accomplishments, I find that, collectively, they can be summarized into a single question: Can man rule himself?

The United States constitution is the supreme law of the land, but there is a second component that Judge Learned Hand (1872-1961) alluded to as a crucial guarantor of our freedoms:

I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much on constitutions, upon laws and upon courts.  These are false hopes; believe me; these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.”

Goonies never say die. May the same persistence be directed towards preserving and protecting liberty of conscience. Not what it’s become, but what it is.

Submitted by Ryan Schudde, St. George.

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them; they do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News.

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9 Comments

  • BIG GUY June 13, 2015 at 10:22 am

    A very thoughtful letter: congratulations and I hope we hear from you again. I especially related to the quotes from Catholic Bishop James Conley and Judge Learned Hand. However, I disagree that the right to hire gives us the right to reject job applicants based on any factor other their ability to perform the work. Discrimination based on race, religion, etc. is unacceptable to me.

  • Roy J June 13, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    Freedom of conscience was not, is not, and never will be, merely a uniquely American freedom. I don’t know why someone would say something like that. Also, there is an awful lot of deep, subtle political commentary that antedates the Enlightenment philosophers from which the Founders derived many of their ideas. I balk at the notion that the political philosophies of Hume, Malebranche, Spinoza, Descartes, Hobbes, Rousseau or Locke (to name only a few) are somehow better than those expounded by Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Suarez, Bellarmine, or Bossuet (to name even fewer). I respect the idea of rational discussion; but I rather suspect that most people have not got the first inkling of the sublime and deep nature of these discussions, their longevity, or their subtlety; and therefore think they have got a enough of a handle on the nature of the difficulties to settle them.

    • fun bag June 13, 2015 at 9:55 pm

      i bet u read lots of books, roy…

      • Roy J June 15, 2015 at 8:44 am

        Sad but true, FUN BAG, sad but true…XD

    • BIG GUY June 14, 2015 at 6:08 am

      ROY J, I didn’t read the letter the same way you did. I didn’t read the author as saying that freedom of conscience was unique to America nor did he use the word “unique.” The sentence that caught your attention only refers to thinking in this country at that time without reference to political thinking or philosophies elsewhere.

      • Roy J June 14, 2015 at 5:47 pm

        BIG GUY,
        I enjoy reading when you post. I went back and reread the article to make sure, and the author does, in fact, use the term uniquely, in reference to the liberty of conscience, and he qualifies this liberty as American. Also, this is the same author who wrote about First Freedom in a previous letter to the editor, with more detail. As for thinking in this country being without reference to political philosophies elsewhere, I am not sure what you can mean, as it is an indisputable fact that the thinking that has been done in this country, (especially the thinking done during the Founding Fathers’ era) was heavily influenced by all of the Enlightenment/Renaissance writers , mentioned above. My difficulty with this letter is simply that it promotes those philosophies (consciously or unconsciously) as being somehow better than those that came before, and it makes that claim without the ‘rational discussion’ that this play was supposed to be about. Whether the writer is aware of what he is saying is moot, those with a frame of reference to judge of the matter are aware of the problems with what he has said.

        • BIG GUY June 15, 2015 at 7:19 am

          ROY J, right you are. I focused on the first reference to America and read right by the second where “uniquely” appeared. Good catch.

          • Roy J June 15, 2015 at 11:53 am

            No problem, BIG GUY.

  • sagemoon June 14, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Good thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

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