On June 21 Catholics in the U.S. will begin observing two weeks known as the “Fortnight for Freedom.” This is the second year that the U.S. Catholic Church is drawing attention to infringements on religious freedom leading up to Independence Day. The movement began after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandated that religious employers fund and facilitate health coverage even if it violates religious beliefs. To understand this pushback for freedom it’s necessary to step back in time for a moment.
George Mason decided not to sign the U.S. Constitution because the document didn’t contain a bill of rights. Mason knew about bills of rights, about the importance of securing freedoms from the imperious growth of government. He’d written the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776 amidst the fever for American liberty. In the declaration, Mason hadn’t neglected religious freedom. He wrote, “[A]ll men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience….”
Later, after Mason and many others refused to ratify the Constitution unless a Bill of Rights was included, the first Congress drew on Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights when writing the Bill of Rights. They protected religious freedom from government in the first two clauses of what became the First Amendment by declaring, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Mason didn’t want to protect religion from the federal government by building a “wall of separation” that pushed all that is holy from public life; he fought for a bill of rights because it assured the people liberty by restricting government power. It isn’t plausible that even a minority of statesmen from the founding period thought monuments inscribed with the Ten Commandments should be banned from courthouses. Nor is it conceivable they would even recognize a country that expels public school students for wearing t-shirts that declare things such as, “The Lord is Our Savior.”
For context, consider for a moment that George Washington and George Mason together helped to choose the site for the Pohick Episcopal Church because they wanted the church to be within riding distance of both their homes, Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall.
The Pohick Episcopal Church is a brick Colonial-style building finished in 1774 that still stands in Lorton, Virginia. Washington situated the church on a gently rolling hill because he liked the biblical image of a city set on a hill: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Given the state of the First Amendment’s protection of religion from the state, it is fitting that the Pohick Church no longer confers the impression of being on a hill, as the growth of the federal government has sprawled through Northern Virginia’s pastures and crop fields creating mazes of sub-developments and office complexes that hem in and overshadow the Pohick Church. Meanwhile, the oaks and cedars surrounding the church have grown thick and tall for two centuries and more as if in a conscious effort to blot out the changes occurring all around its peaceful property.
On Independence Day, Sunday July 4, 2010, I attended the Pohick Church’s 8 a.m. service. It began with a deacon ringing bells and the heels of parishioners stepping up stairs into the historic building. They passed through a doorway surrounded by carvings (mostly initials) left by occupying Union troops during the American Civil War, soldiers who’d used the church as a barracks and only refrained from tearing it down brick by brick to construct parapets, as they had other churches, because George Washington had helped found this particular church.
Prior to the American Civil War the church had fallen on hard times and, according to Reverend Donald D. Binder, was only saved in the 1830s by Francis Scott Key, the author the Star-Spangled Banner, who came to the church’s financial assistance.
Inside, the church has box seating, as Episcopalian church’s historically separated their pews with short walls with wooden doors. George Washington’s box is front and center with his name on a brass plaque in recognition of the money he’d spent to fund the church. George Mason’s family pew is just to Washington’s right. I sat there next to a woman named Grace who joyously explained the service and the room grew pregnant with the idea these two iconic men certainly didn’t bleed and suffer and pray within these walls for a First Amendment designed to strike religion from the American way of life.
We sang the National Anthem—it being the Fourth of July—and while standing in George Mason’s pew the words from First Amendment rang in my head (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”) and you just knew it wasn’t in the words any more than it was in the character of the people during the founding period to eviscerate religion from the public square. They’d fought for freedom, of religion and otherwise, not for a federal government that would be as tyrannical as King George III.
Actually, nowhere in the first two clauses of the First Amendment does it say “separation of church and state.” Nor does the First Amendment refer to a “wall” harshly dividing religion from government.
So then, where does that phrase come from?
On October 7, 1801, the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, sent President Thomas Jefferson a letter congratulating him for winning the election for the presidency which went on to say: “Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor. But sir, our constitution of government is not specific…. [T]herefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights.”
The Danbury Baptists were worried the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause would give the impression that the freedom of religion is government-given (therefore alienable) and not explicitly separated as being beyond the government’s power to regulate (unalienable).
Jefferson replied to the Danbury Baptists on January 1, 1802 by saying in part: Gentlemen, –The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association give me the highest satisfaction…. Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and God; that he owes on account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association assurances of my high respect and esteem.
Jefferson clearly saw the First Amendment as a limitation on government, not on religion. This wasn’t Jefferson’s only mention of religion and the state. Jefferson showed on numerous occasions that he shared the Danbury Baptist’s worry and viewpoint; in fact, in his Second Inaugural Address in 1805, Jefferson said, “In matter of religion I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general government.”
That’s the freedom the Catholics and others are fighting for.
While hunting for gemsbuck in South Africa in early June I heard rock carvings etched by Bushmen who knows how long ago were hidden in the rocks near an ancient waterhole. I’ve seen paintings and etchings from ancient hunters in New York, Utah and New Mexico. Later this summer I’m going to see ancient Spanish cave paintings. As a hunter I feel drawn to this prehistoric art. They say something about the connection hunters have with the wildlife that sustain us. Some think hunters today are trying to prove their manhood by killing. I think they’re right, but that the manhood they’re affirming is much deeper and more honest than killing to establish dominance or control. Hunting honestly is to connect yourself to nature and understand and love its process as you experience it. The ancient rock art and modern photos and more show that those who hunt tend to revere what they hunt. They’re connected to it in a very literal way. The Spanish writer Jose Ortega y Gasset said this well when he wrote, “One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.” I know this from experience and I know this can be very difficult to articulate to someone who only buys their meat and has become very disconnected from where their sustenance comes from. So I asked to see the Bushmen art and found that the etchings are just far enough away from the waterhole to allow the ancient hunters to hide and wait for game to come. The art is how a few Bushmen passed their time as they waited for game they revered to come.
A college chum who edits Tactical Knives magazine sent me this photo of R. Lee Ermey “The Gunny” with my first book. In his column “Gunny Back Talk” in the July issue of Tactical Knives Gunny answers the question, “Do you have a new book for us?” Gunny writes, “I sure do, and it’s one our readers are going to love. It’s called The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting, by Frank Miniter. There’s nothing flaky left-wingers and liberals hate more than hunting, and here’s a book that blows the antis’ viewpoints all to hell. This book shreds every anti-hunting argument to pieces…. If you’re a hunter, you’ve got to have this book to help you tell the next anti-hunter you meet to ‘Shove it!’” Nothing like an ultimate man giving you a nod of approval.
More Americans need to be acquainted with the Beretta man. He shows how millions of Americans see guns. The Beretta man has a shotgun that’s a work of art. It might be an over/under with a grainy walnut stock, blued metal and engravings of a bird dog and maybe a pheasant on its receiver. Or it might be a semi-automatic Benelli (a Beretta-owned company) with a carbon-fiber stock and inertia-driven action. In either case, the Beretta man stands with his back straight and the shotgun in the crook of his arm. He is wearing a shooting vest and shooting glasses. He has class. He is how James Bond would look if he went skeet shooting. He’s sophisticated, but hardly a snob. He has what the Spanish call duende, a characteristic James Michener said is almost indefinable, as it means something with taste, refinement, beauty, perfection and elegance all in just the right proportion and with no showiness at all. He is what the Japanese mean when they use the word shibui, which is something a Samurai tried to embody, but only could manage in fleeting moments when life and art meet before again separating with a bad gesture or misstep.
Of course, he isn’t any more real than James Bond. But what archetype is? He’s an American icon men want to be. He’s an ideal never reached but, if you do everything right, might be you for just a manly moment when you shoot a perfect round and thereby master yourself. In that moment a Spaniard might proclaim, “Gracia.” This is another word that deals not with things but with the essence of things and so is fleeting in an empirical age that trusts science to answer everything for us while disdaining the effervescent quality of philosophy. Though now misunderstood by op-ed writers at The New York Times, even the fashion set is aware of the Beretta man. Beretta, after all, has stores in Milan, Paris, London and New York. Oh, there’s one in Dallas, too.
This image is what President Barack Obama tried to represent when the White House leaked a photo of him “shooting skeet” with a shotgun held too horizontal for skeet shooting and with a choke missing from the bottom barrel (it takes two for skeet)—clear signs the shot was a stunt. Instead of being the Beretta man, Obama became a laughable parody of something he doesn’t understand, but at least on some level he knows such an archetype exists.
What he doesn’t seem to grasp is that, to people who want to be a Beretta man, or a Winchester man, or a Colt man … guns aren’t a negative thing; they’re a manly a thing a real man knows how to use safely and well. And therein lies the political miscalculation of anti-gun-freedom politicians.
For more, see my column at Forbes.com.
In his book Rhetoric, Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) used the term philía to define friendship as Platonic, virtuous love. Aristotle said philía is “wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one’s own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him.” In ancient texts, philos denoted a general type of love, used for love between family, friends and combined with a desire or enjoyment of an activity. Aristotle defined this characteristic to show the importance of true friendship between pals. Could we say this today about most of our Facebook friends? A more honest parlance would be “Facebook acquaintances” or in some cases simply “Facebook fans.” Not that Facebook is necessarily bad. Facebook friendships, rather, simply need to be seen for what they are.
In comparison, consider what C.S. Lewis had to say in his 1960 book The Four Loves C.S. Lewis argued that without a shared experience, a passion for a hobby or really anything that interests us that we share with another, friendship doesn’t grow or last. This is why friendships that aren’t about something are shallow and easily ended. This is why some high school or college pals fade away after graduation, as the shared experience of school is over. This is also why Facebook friends are only acquaintances until you find a shared experience with them.
The Candlelight Vigil for Police Week took place on Monday (May 13) in Washington, D.C.’s Judicial Square. President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation in 1962 to designate May 15th as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week. Police Week’s events have grown over the decades to become a time of celebration, mourning and a great coming together. This year’s Candlelight Vigil was an evening not destroyed by politicians. Thousands of officers and others filled the park. Many came days before to place wreaths and photos commemorating lost officers. An astounding 120 officers were lost in 2012. Though that number is much too high, it is thankfully a 50-year low.
After the event and meeting officers from around the country, I wondered about heroism in America again. Americans have a great capacity for selfless heroism. When the Boston bombers struck, many people ran toward the explosion. On September 11, 2001 hundreds of officers and firemen put themselves in harms way to save people they didn’t know. There are many more everyday examples occurring right now. Sometimes, however, I worry that even though many are heroic today we are nevertheless starting to lose touch with what heroism is. We too often herald the individual’s action, but then fail to equate the heroic act with the fallible individual. By doing so we unconsciously allow the hero’s code, act and even epitaph to fade away, as if a person can’t truly be a hero, but can only for a short time do a heroic thing. This is why today the only people we’re all ready to still call heroes are those who have died trying to do good. This leaves us without living heroes for the rest of us to meet and try to emulate and understand. Conversely, it leaves us without fallen heroes and the examples they give. (Sorry, fictional characters don’t count. Movie characters can help, but in the end they’re too flat-screen thin to be role models.) It seems to me heroes surround us and we need to see them for who they are and hold them accountable when they fail.
All that said, the police, firemen, nurses and more aren’t heroic simply because they wear uniforms that declare they’re prepared to be heroes. They still have to live up to what a hero is supposed to be. And therein is the crux of the problem: if we allow ourselves to lose touch with what makes a living hero, then we could lose true heroism altogether.
Some journalists are now questioning the hubris of our modern political class. Mike Allen does this in Politico, as does Keith Koffler. Not long ago even Tom Brokaw criticized the White House Correspondents Dinner. He even refused to go this year. He explained himself to Politico by saying, “The breaking point for me was Lindsay Lohan. She became a big star at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Give me a break.”
Back in 1978 Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Nobel Prize winning author who’d exposed Stalin’s prison camps and other atrocities at his own peril with books such as The Gulag Archipelago, gave a speech at Harvard that pointed out the underlying reason for current political class’s lack of statesmanship. As a Soviet during the Cold War, people thought Solzhenitsyn would simply sing the praises of Western democracy; he did, but he also shocked his audience by pointing out the shortfalls of overzealous Western legalism by saying things such as, “Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses.”
He accused the West of lacking courage. He said, “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.
Political and intellectual functionaries exhibit this depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in their self-serving rationales as to how realistic, reasonable, and intellectually and even morally justified it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And the decline in courage, at times attaining what could be termed a lack of manhood, is ironically emphasized by occasional outbursts and inflexibility on the part of those same functionaries when dealing with weak governments and with countries that lack support, or with doomed currents which clearly cannot offer resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.”
Sometimes it’s hard for a person or people to clearly see things in themselves. Sometimes it takes a person from afar to point them out. That is what Solzhenitsyn’s speech did. It underlies the foundational reason why so many politicians are losing their statesmen qualities today and becoming shallow egotists. Many don’t think they need to follow a code of honor; instead, they think what matters most is how big a deal they are.
So just six short months after being exposed for having an affair with his biographer, former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus is set to teach a course on public policy at City University of New York. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer took this same path back to public life after he was caught gratifying himself with prostitutes. Meanwhile, former congressman Anthony Weiner is eyeing a run for New York City mayor. If you recall, Weiner destroyed his career by sexting saucy photos of himself to young women. When asked by The New York Times’ magazine why he sexted the photos, Weiner replied, “I wasn’t really thinking. What does this mean that I’m doing this? Is this risky behavior? Is this smart behavior? To me, it was just another way to feed this notion that I want to be liked and admired.” You’d think after having to explain his lewd messages to his wife, a therapist and the public he’d have a better answer than “I really wasn’t thinking.” Especially given that he wants to run for mayor of America’s preeminent city. After all, Weiner didn’t just lie about his Tweets, he called a reporter a “jackass” for calling him out on it.
So when can a man make a comeback? How about when they can not only man-up and admit they’re wrong but also after they publicly apologize to those they publicly attacked—that takes real moxie. And then, and this is really manly stuff, they somehow have to do their damndest to prove they’ve changed. That’s no less than we ask of a 12 year old who cheats on a math test. By that standard, Petraeus has a chance. Now he just has to prove he has changed. Spitzer, however, is still lost on the public-apology part. Weiner, meanwhile, doesn’t even seem to think her erred. He just seems sorry he got caught. He has slid so far down the Machiavellian slippery slope he doesn’t understand he even has to man-up. Someone taught him along the way that the truth is simply where a person’s talent for sophistry stops. So he has surmised that he has such a sharp tongue and a startling talent for spin that he can still obfuscate his way right into NYC’s mayor’s mansion—no need to grow hair on his shaved chest. The most disturbing thing about this is, given the partisan starkness of modern politics and, for that matter that state of manliness today, he just might be right.
When the Boston Red Sox returned to Fenway Park on Saturday (April 20) after one of the men responsible for the marathon bombing was killed and the other caught, David Ortiz, the team’s designated hitter, thanked the public officials and the police before saying to the entire stadium: “This is our fucking city! And nobody’s going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.” The FCC gave it a pass and even the Hollywood Reporter wrote: “If ever there were an excuse for on-air f-bomb, this is it.”
I researched when a man can curse when writing my book The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide: Recovering the Lost Art of Manhood. Ortiz broke most of the rules—cursing in front of minors…—but given the context, I still rate his profanity as manly.
Here’s how and when a gentleman can swear and remain a gentleman in the process. (I won’t touch how a lady can swear or even if they can; I’ll let that question be answered by women.)
1. A gentleman can never swear when a lady is present (notice the use of the word “lady,” as today some women can be cursed around).
2. A gentleman can never swear in anger, as cursing in anger makes a man into a fool.
3. A gentleman can never use profanity around children.
4. A gentleman should swear sparingly, as overuse ruins the effect.
5. A gentleman’s profanity should be imaginative. The film Full Metal Jacket captured this profanity perfectly; for example, Gunnery Sergeant Hartmen (R. Lee Ermey) takes swearing to an art form when he bellows, “Are you quitting on me? Well, are you? Then quit, you slimy f—ing walrus-looking piece of s—…. I will motivate you, Private Pyle, if it short-dicks every cannibal on the Congo!”
6. Does a gentleman have to curse when the situation is right? No. Sometimes the power of the understatement trumps a full flush of profanity. If someone, for example, drops a hammer on your foot, just say, “That’s gonna leave a mark.” It’ll be a lot more memorable than predictable invective.
7. Does a gentleman have to curse someone who deserves it? No, humor is more often a better alternative. One of the best lines in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is the most absurd: “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberrys!” A great example of the humorous though clean retort occurred when John Wilkes, an eighteenth-century English journalist and politician, parried insults with John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. “Sir,” Montagu started, “I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox.” Wilkes responded, “That, sir, depends on whether I first embrace your Lordship’s principles or your Lordship’s mistresses.”
Recently Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead), Amy Chua (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother), Anne-Marie Slaughter (A New World Order), Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo) and more women are questioning, even changing the definition of, feminism—though often in careful and non-combative ways (they are women after all). They’re attempting to redefine or at least deepen the often simplistic and sometimes anti-masculine meaning of feminism, a movement that too often attacks manly men and ignores or belittles successful conservative women (Sarah Palin, Anne Coulter, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Michelle Malkin….). As an author on a book about what makes a man, I find this beneficial. Nothing, after all, influences and even defines masculinity more than femininity. So it was wonderful and enlightening to read an op-ed “Why women should embrace a ‘good enough’ life” in The Washington Post.
Walsh, a former Washington Post reporter, says the debate over feminism “has become twisted and simplistic, as if we’re merely trying to figure out how women can become more like men. Instead, let’s ask: How can women have full lives, not just one squeezed around a career?”
Walsh relates that it’s “hard to grasp now just how intoxicating it was as a young girl to hear Gloria Steinem tell us we could be anything we wanted to be. Or to read, during freshman year at my surprisingly progressive all-girls Catholic school, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, eight years after it was published, saying we could find meaning outside the home.” Friedan was, of course, also opposed to marriage—thinking it patriotically forced women into bondage—and was opposed to men being men. She even propagated a very warped view of men and what men should be. Because of this Walsh says when she “enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley in 1975, I held three truths to be self-evident: I would never marry. I would never have a child. And I would have an interesting job, as a writer or a lawyer.”
She then explains why she did eventually marry, have a child and try to find balance in her life that included the joy of motherhood. She found that though the feminist movement in the early and mid-twentieth century was an important civil-rights revolution, it went too far and became too naive. She doesn’t offer concrete solutions—other than trying to find balance—but essays like hers and the voices of the others mentioned and more are a beginning. Hopefully as this debate evolves more will realize a woman can be feminine and still tough, smart and successful; whereas a man can still be manly without being a chauvinist—because a gentleman opens a door for a lady doesn’t make him a sexist and certainly doesn’t insinuate a lack of moral character, strength or respect. These are deep, philosophical questions we need to honestly ask and attempt to answer in order to become everything we can be.