Godzilla and Gratitude

If you’re like most Americans, Memorial Day is a day for barbecues, pool parties and, this year, watching a ten-story lizard stomp all over Manhattan. Nothing wrong with that. But we also would do well also to reflect on what the holiday means. We should try to understand those who, as Lincoln put it, gave "the last full measure of devotion" to their country and reflect on what motivated that devotion: gratitude. America is unlike any other nation in history. Historically, blood and soil have bound people together. But America was already a polyglot nation—German and English, Christian and Jew—at its founding. Because of this, the Founders declared America to be a novus ordo seclorum, a new order for the ages. That meant that being an American was not a question of race or ethnicity. It was a question of creed. American identity flowed from common assent to a set of moral ideals. These ideals were set forth in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them being the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." These ideals produced a radical experiment in self-government. They created a way of life that was, and still is, the envy of people around the world. I’m not talking about standard of living. I’m talking about freedom—of worship, of speech and of association. The pursuit of happiness means not the pursuit of hedonism, but the pursuit of a virtuous life. Without these ideals, there’s nothing to bind Americans together. It was in gratitude for all those who had given their lives to defend this noble experiment in human liberty that I eagerly signed up to be a marine officer in the Korean War. And I was no different from hundreds of thousands in my generation—or millions, for that matter, who had gone before me. But I wonder today if we still have the kind of gratitude that prompts the kind of sacrifice Memorial Day is intended to honor. If not, a lot of the blame lies with the schools. In many classrooms, the goal seems to be to strip any trace of nobility from our country’s founding. My own granddaughter's history textbook describes the Founders, not as champions of human freedom, but as tyrants who took away the rights of women, blacks, and Native Americans. And a school in New Orleans has even changed its name from Washington to Drew. Why? Because the Father of our Country was a slaveholder. This is nothing but a deconstruction of our nation's history; the result is a lack of gratitude. And as Lincoln understood, it is gratitude for "a nation conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all Men are created equal" that inspires men and women to die for their country if necessary. Christians ought to understand the importance of gratitude better than anyone else, since without Christ's sacrifice, we wouldn't have eternal life. So we should take time this Memorial Day to reflect on what prompts people to give that last, full measure of devotion. And we need to set a good example for kids by voting, serving on juries, and modeling good citizenship. We don't have to give up picnics and swimming parties this Memorial Day—or even going to see Godzilla. But we should remember that while being stepped on by a giant lizard is bad for your body, being ungrateful is bad for your soul—and your freedom.


Chuck Colson



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