by Jim Ray
Americans have learned not to pay much attention to what is said about the United States by our friends across the Atlantic…perhaps because what’s being said often is not very nice. English novelist Frances Trollope once wrote that Americans suffer from a “want of refinement.” Irish poet Oscar Wilde said that “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between,” and Sigmund Freud proclaimed simply that “America is a mistake…a giant mistake.”
Author Os Guinness, who was born in China and raised in England, also has some sharp words for America in his new book – but these criticisms should not be so quickly dismissed. Guinness writes out of love and passion for America, not disdain. And his stark warning is that the United States is on a path of self-destruction.
“A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future” provides an enlightening perspective of the nation’s predicament and issues an urgent call for citizens to protect the precious gift of freedom. Guinness builds on Abraham Lincoln’s caution that “if destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
Anyone with the slightest knowledge of American history understands the maxim that “freedom is not free,” but Guinness also explains convincingly why freedom is not necessarily permanent, but must be actively sustained by its citizens.
And the enemy of freedom, Guinness says, is actually freedom itself. “Freedom requires an order or a framework, and the only appropriate framework for freedom is self-restraint, and yet self-restraint is precisely what freedom undermines when it flourishes,” he told the Christian Post in an interview summarizing his book.
As an example, Guinness says that America’s modern interpretation of freedom has opened the door to chaos, where “any possible relationship is legitimate, so long as you have consenting adults. You can clearly see behind the so-called LBGT coalition…people like polyamorists, polygamists, and even supporters of incest and sex with animals all lining up and saying , ‘we too.’ And there is literally no moral or legal ground from which to deny that claim today.”
Real freedom, however, must be tempered within a framework of truth and virtue. It is not simply the right to privacy or the right to be left alone because, Guinness notes, “an endless proliferation of trivial and unworthy choices is not freedom but slavery by another name. When everything is permissible, no one is truly free, so it is ironic but not accidental that millions in the ‘land of the free’ are in recovery groups from one addiction or another.”
Guinness is not without hope for America. When “religious or political beliefs become tired and lose their vigor, the way to reinvigorate them is not to modernize or rebrand them occasionally…the way forward is to return to the source that gave rise to them in the first place.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt touched on this theme in his 1939 State of the Union address. “There comes a time in the affairs of men,” Roosevelt said, “when they must prepare to defend not their homes alone, but the tenets of faith and humanity on which their churches, their governments and their very civilization are founded. The defense of religion, of democracy and of good faith among nations is all the same fight. To save one we must now make up our minds to save all.”
Today, pray that God grant your leaders and fellow citizens a perspective on freedom that is built upon a foundation of truth and virtue. Everything depends on it. And may Americans also recognize also that the great danger to this nation is not an enemy overseas, but a misappropriation of the freedoms hard-earned by the Founding Fathers. Or, as Guinness says: “The problem is not wolves at the door but termites in the floor.”
Jim Ray is a writer, fundraiser and consultant. He and his wife Stacey have two children and reside in Nashville, TN.