editor’s opinion ❘ By BOBBY HALTON
“For God and Country”—that is a phrase we were raised with here in America and likewise around most of the free world. Phrases like it and “God Save the Queen” have summed up why countless patriots have served in the armed services, law enforcement communities, and firefighting services. Oddly, since 1880, roughly 140 years after Nietzsche put the statement “God is dead” shouted by a madman in his book The Gay Science, most folks haven’t given up on the idea of a supreme being or power. Country, nationalist patriotism also is alive and well. But lately, an intolerant few who want everyone to think, act, and speak exactly as they do are actively trying to silence the rest of us in society and the fire service who still find God and country burning in our hearts.
It should be noted that the concept of God in “God and Country” generally represents all the various constructs of the ultimate good, the God of Nature and Nature’s God, the spiritual connection of humanity, for many the One to whom all honor and glory are ultimately reserved. Country represents our home, the actual land millions of our forefathers are buried in, our states, our families, our neighbors, cities, towns, the very collection of places and people itself as a living entity.
As firefighters, we understand what it means to have faith, and that term spans the entire spectrum of beliefs. It is not, especially in the United States, a nation founded on religious liberty; it is restricted not to one religion or even organized religion. And that founding was not perfect; as in many endeavors, the tyranny of the majority was present. As a matter of fact, Catholicism was not permitted to be practiced in 12 of the 13 original colonies at the beginning of our nation; it was legal only in Pennsylvania. Franklin and Washington did much to change that, but Catholics were persecuted well into the early 1900s in America.
One does well to remember nonetheless that we have enshrined freedom of religion as a fundamental principle of our culture. In practice, it means we have the freedom to express our faith whenever and wherever we choose as individuals. We are not restricted or limited in the practice of our many varied faiths including atheism, which an atheist friend refers to as his religion, by any law in the United States.
On May 14, 2016, United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said the following at a commencement address for Hillsdale College: “My words will perhaps seem somewhat vintage in character rather than current or up-to-date. In that context, I admit to being unapologetically Catholic, unapologetically patriotic, and unapologetically a constitutionalist.” Many of us have, on repeated occasions, reused that phrase, inserting firefighter for constitutionalist.
Firefighters tend to be exceptionally proud of their nations—American, British, French, Japanese, Mexican. Regardless of where you go, we tend to be nationalist in our patriotic love of our homelands, customs, values, history, places, and people. We all feel our country is best, our firefighting methods and our firefighters are best (although we all know who is really the best). We also tend to hold fast to our faith; it buoys us in dark times; guides us in uncertain times; and reminds us to be humble, kind, and forgiving.
Maybe it is because we deal constantly with the uncertainty of life that we recognize how fragile it is and how quickly it all can be swept away. We know life isn’t fair, bad things happen to good people, and sometimes you just can’t do anything to change the outcome. Some folks would call us simple because we love America and what she stands for, and we feel good for anyone else who loves their homeland for what she stands for. Some people will call us stupid for believing in an all-powerful God without being able to prove it. We take solace that really smart folks like Nassim Taleb say, “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.”
Fundamentally in America, your right to believe in, practice, and express what your beliefs are is respected and protected from government interference or control. Where it gets interesting today for firefighters is the growing intolerance of religious freedom and practice and the growing intolerance of patriotic expressions of nationalist pride by intolerant radical minorities. Teleb has taught us that an intolerant vocal minority strategically placed can control almost any community.
Firefighters are nationalists, patriots, because we are so connected to the community; we strive unceasingly to be protectors of its people, its assets, its land. Firefighters approach every day focused on helping our neighbors who may find themselves endangered, regardless of the nature of the danger; regardless of the race, gender, politics, religion, or any other consideration, humanity is first and foremost, in all our endeavors, simply humanity.
Ours is a profession that understands its purpose and meaning in our communities. Ours is a profession that recognizes and celebrates the individual; we have sworn to risk our lives for the individual. That commitment alone does much to help understand our religiosity. Ours is a profession that has pledged to take tremendous risk and spend incredible effort to protect our homes, business, farms, and wilderness.
In the face of the current vocalization of intolerance of patriotism, this fad of animosity toward those of faith, it is important that we remember who we are. It is important to remember that the intolerant minority may sound tough, but they are tough only in crowds. The intolerant minority may insult our patriotism, but they hide behind the very protection it provides. Firefighters are vintage in character. Not all of us are religious, and some of us are not very patriotic, but we are all fierce defenders of the right to express it by those who are.
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