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Ex Uno, Plures

There is an iconic statue in the harbor of New York City. At the base of Lady Liberty are these words:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

These famous words did not come with the Statue of Liberty, which was, itself, a gift of the people of France. The words were taken from a sonnet, entitled New Collossus and penned by Emma Lazarus, and was written as part of the fundraising efforts to build the pedestal upon which the Lady stands. The famous words were added to the base twenty years after she had written them for an auction intended to raise the necessary funds.

The de facto motto of the United States is the Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One. This thirteen-character phrase was first suggested during the Revolutionary War, and was adopted by act of Congress in 1803. The thirteen characters represent the thirteen colonies that joined together to form one nation. From many (13), one. Over the years, the motto also came to represent the union of so many people who immigrated from all corners of the earth and came to America in search of freedom and opportunity. They came looking for the American way of life. From the many, they became one. This phrase is still the motto of the Great Seal of the United States, but its place as the U.S. motto was officially taken by “In God We Trust” upon its formal adoption in 1956.

I am not sure that there ever was a time when there truly was an American way of life, though it surely seemed to be true. Maybe then, the depiction of an American way of life was more a creation of the media of the day, rather than an accurate account of the condition. Maybe Harper’s Bazaar and Horatio Alger wrote of an America they hoped for, an idealized version of a society, economy, and political system that existed only in the imagination. However, I do not think so. They may have accentuated the positives, but I believe there was a collective belief in an American ideal, a land of opportunity for those willing to work for it. Read the accounts of Alexis de Tocqueville, French diplomat and historian who toured early-day America and wrote his famous work Democracy in America in 1835. Here he depicts an America, devoid of the shackles of class and patronage found in Europe, alive with commerce and liberty for all. It was a land for the rugged individual, and not for the privileged few from the right families. It was a nation of unity. E pluribus unum.

Fast forward to today. Today, to claim that there is one, single American way is to deny the diversity of the new American culture. To say that we are to make ourselves one from the many we were is to stifle the desires of those who feel victimized and left behind by what they view as the oppression of the American way. They do not view an America of opportunity, united in heart and purpose. They propose a dis-united America where factions that are opposed to the American way of life are not only allowed, but supported, celebrated, and advanced as totally acceptable alternatives, if not wholly superior.

Americans used to think more unitarily about our nation and our culture. We shared a vision of what our country should be. We thought more didactically, believing there was a right view, and one that was wrong. And, we were not afraid of declaring something that rested outside our shared view of America as it should be as something that was wrong. Today, that way of thinking is about gone. Today, we are to think in terms of plurality – not embracing the singular American way but promoting the value in the many and diverse ways of life rampant in our country today. To declare there is a singular, unitary understanding of the American way, which we once knew to be true, is now considered exclusionary, hateful, and bigoted. The same is true of religion. Today, my religion and my god can be no better than others' religion and god, or gods, or their belief in no religion and no god at all.

Sometimes, telling someone what they need to know and understand, and not what they want to hear, is the higher form of love, not hate-speech as so many are wont to accuse others with differing opinions. Our kids want us to tell them it is fine for them to stay out after curfew, but because we love them, we tell them when to be home. It is not hateful to say that coming home any time after the time expected is excluded from that which is good. Being exclusionary is not inherently bad.

Well, at the risk of being branded a bigot and a hater, I declare these exclusionary truths: We live in the greatest country on earth; one which affords its residents the best opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This nation was founded by men who recognized the dignity of every human being derived from his creation in the image of God, and with that came certain unalienable rights (yes, I know the dignity afforded some members of society did not always match this declaration). Further, it is an exclusionary truth that man was created by God alone. We are a sinful creature who is justified by faith in God alone, which is made possible through Christ alone by His grace alone, and for God’s glory, alone, as revealed through His scripture, alone. There is no other source of truth. It is singular and must be unifying in its truth, or it cannot be true at all. This truth, much like the understanding and belief in a unified view of the American way, is what unites the many into one. To believe otherwise would amount to ex uno, plures (from one, many).


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