As I read about William Whipple receiving a plaque commemorating his role in the signing of the Declaration of Independence and service to our country at that critical time, I am reminded why it is so important we honor and recognize our ancestors and the work they did for us.
My older brother-in-law explained why Koreans spend so much time honoring their ancestors and parents. He framed it in this way. Suppose you want to receive honor from your sons and grandsons. You have to teach them to honor their elders. If you do not teach by example, what will they learn? Therefore, we honor our ancestors so that we are honored.
This is the Golden Rule in Confucian terms.
More importantly, I feel, is the role of remembering our history and the sacrifice that our forebears have made. By understanding the price we are not required to pay, we appreciate the price we do pay for its small measure. By understanding the price they paid, we understand the value they placed on the things they sacrificed for.
For members of the LDS church, our mausoleum of heroes extends whatever national figures our nation, wherever we reside, reveres. Added to the list of people worthy of remembrance are the Saints who persevered through persecution of the worst sort. They were chased out of their homes, churches, and temples by mobs. When we did stand up to the mobs with arms and armies, the Mormons became the target of an extermination order signed by the Missouri governor at the time. And so the Latter-day Saints packed their bags once again to build the city of Nauvoo. After the prophet Joseph Smith was martyred, once again they packed their bags and traveled to the most remote spot they could find, a land whose notable feature was a vast salt lake, and deserts with ground seemingly impossible to farm. The thousands of Saints that joined the church in England had to travel straight through from their homeland to Salt Lake City. These were not people accustomed to frontier life like the first generation of Saints were. These were people who lived in cities and towns, and were familiar with those comforts.
Along the trail, thousands of tiny graves were erected, often with nothing more than a piece of wood with a few initials. I visited the graves of some of my ancestors at the Winter Quarters temple. There was no time to make proper headstones. Oftentimes, a rock is all that marks where the body was buried.
July 24th marks Pioneer Day, the day when the Mormon Pioneers finally arrived at the place that the prophets Joseph Smith and Brigham Young saw in a vision. That’s the day when we celebrate our “Independence Day”, the independence and freedom to worship in a way that pleases us, or rather, the true and living God we worship.
What is most curious about the LDS faith is our reverence towards the same country that drove us out of our homes. We believe, as many people do, that it was not mere chance that the Founding Fathers did what they did. They were inspired by God. To me, July 4th is a religious holiday, a day when I celebrate the fact that God decided it was time to bring freedom to the world, and that he chose the group of people I call my own. I have a sacred duty as an American to protect my freedom and the freedom of my countrymen, as well as to spread that freedom as far and wide as possible.
Their ancestors, political or otherwise, were likewise inspired to do what they did. Who can say what the American revolution would have looked like without hundreds of years of English and European history, the experience of the Greeks, Romans, and others, and countless hundreds of philosophers and scientists?
Where was the roots of all of this? We can name many sources, but among all the most ancient sources, one source of our liberty shines brighter than all the others. Moses, in leading the children of Israel out of Egypt by the hand of God, is our ultimate example and inspiration.
Where does freedom come from? Can it be given, or is it earned? What are its conditions? My experience in this short mortal life is that we live each day, either increasing or decreasing our freedom. The choices we make have a profound and far-reaching effect on what freedoms we enjoy today and tomorrow. Which decisions maximize our freedoms, and which minimize it?
This is what the commandments of God are. They are yardsticks that help us measure our actions in a simple way. When God pronounces blessings for the obedient, and curses for the disobedient, he does so in the natural results of our actions. Violate His laws, and feel His wrath, whether it be by missing out on some of life’s most pleasant rewards, or altering our state and condition, both as an individual and as a society, such that we can never experience the reward.
I give as a simple example, God’s loving commandment “Thou shalt not steal.” By honoring other’s property, our property is honored. We do not have to take measures to protect our property, because our property needs no protections when no one will violate it. We are allowed to enjoy the full benefits of our property, because no one tries to limit our use of it, or claims it as their own.
Another simple example: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” If we are faithful to our spouses, our relationship can grow into the beautiful relationship that we see some older couples enjoy, where their lives have joined into one beautiful union. Our children will honor and respect us, and be more likely to follow our example and raise children of their own, so that we will have grandchildren and great grandchildren to brighten our later years. And we know from scientific studies that those who stay married see their children enter to the upper class, as they are more likely to earn more money and earn more advanced degrees.
Our freedom is predicated on our own individual willingness to obey God’s commandments. No government, no entity or individual, can force us to obey all of them. We can only build a peaceful society if we build it from within by our daily actions, and keep those forces who would destroy that society out. That is why we have government. The moment we no longer have individuals and organizations that try to interrupt our happiness is the same moment when we will no longer need a group of people to actively protect our rights.
Our Founding Fathers understood that our freedom is predicated on our personal righteousness. They knew that each generation would have to learn this for themselves. They knew that should any generation forget this, and embrace some other way besides the Laws of Nature, that we would lose our freedoms.
Today, as it has always been, our freedom is under attack. We don’t have armies of British soldiers attempting to extract taxes, interfering with our commerce if we refuse to comply. We don’t have slaveholders who eat the bread that is grown with slave hands. We don’t governments who oppress the people based on the color of their skin. We don’t face a vast international empire whose sole purpose is to impose autocratic rule in the name of Communism.
We do, however, face threats foreign and mostly domestic. Our national debt is identified by our military leaders as our biggest threat to our freedom. We have those whose lives depend on bankrupting our future set against those who want to end debt financing of our government operations altogether. We have those who believe they need government to survive, versus those who believe government should be a small fraction of what it is today. We have those who believe that they can impose immorality in the forms of abortion and homosexual marriage, and that by destroying the fabric of our culture, our religion, and family, that we will not lose our basic freedoms. And of course, we have a handful of nations who are building weapons that could do us great harm, combined with international terrorist organizations that are plotting to murder us while we live, work, and play.
I propose we do what our Founding Fathers did this July 4th. Let us reaffirm that government exists to protect our rights, not to infringe upon them. Let us reaffirm that our liberties come from God, not government, and depend on our personal righteousness. Let us reaffirm that we rely on God, and pray in faith knowing that he is merciful to those who humble themselves before him. And let us remember that the price of freedom is not cheap, but it requires sacrifice, and that whatever sacrifice we are called upon to make is a small fraction of what our ancestors made.