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It’s been near my lifetime ago that President Franklin Roosevelt gave his Four Freedoms declaration. It is not as dramatic or attractive as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, nor is it used as often as Lincoln’s Address, though that too has slipped in standing as society has come to insist more and more on taking the blindfold from Lady Justice. When the blindfold is removed we are then encouraged to look at specifics that bias conclusion one way or the other; mostly one way. I say “one way” because we are more often in the mixed blessing position of tearing down a hero or ideal to expose its flaws as damning to an entire concept. A pursuit of truth is good, but truth that ends up tearing down without asserting something other than a general value becomes as vague to most as a pursuit of heaven. As stock ideals and heroic forebears are shrunk of tumbled we as a society run the risk of having less and less as common value. Tearing down and tearing down without replacing and rebuilding leaves ruin. If as a culture we are left with football, malt brews, and mass sales as survivors of the social fray I’m afraid that’s simply not enough to hold together a sufficient body of common belief. I doubt “Hail Tailgate Party” has the holding power of “America the Beautiful.”
Funny that the recent thing to get me thinking was hearing of various protests, challenges, and issues provoked by Halloween costumes considered offensive by some. To me a costume is just that, a disguise worn in some form of jest make a point, or whatever. A costume can be clever or not, in good taste or not. Are those things that should bring out law enforcement or bring in a wave of thought police? I think not. But with the blindfold off things that were formerly overlooked for the relative insignificance they were become hot issues where a retailer has to be aware a Casper costume might look too KKK or a certain rubber mask might offend the relatives of particularly ugly dead people. When one never knows what will happen because the blindfold is off the result is either bland pap or an end to a relatively inoffensive tradition such as Trick-Or-Treat and Caroling. I’m not sure what results from tearing out more and more bits of public culture. It seems there would be less and left to enjoy OR learn from (which could be the case, as example, for Halloween if we looked more at cultural history than the modern sense of offense). As public culture erodes there’s less in common to serve as a bond, however fleeting. If less holds us together we become less, or we might find ourselves in the culture of those who come to power being most consistently and loudly offended. I somehow don’t think that culture would be any way preferable to the one it would cast down.
That’s where a look at FDR’s Four Freedoms seems an OK place to pause for a gander. There are only four to consider, so it not too much a burden on mind or time to do so. In fact I think it’s a quite handy number. Do you know which freedom FDR placed first? Many people (for their own reasons) say it is Freedom of Religion when, actually, FDR made a distinction between Worship and Religion by stating WORSHIP and putting it in the SECOND position on his list. I bet there is a reason behind the choice of word and thinking that led FDR to use worship rather than religion as a freedom and place it second. If you have remnants of education from the days before the blindfold came off you’ll sort it out as could many in Junior High if not already guided beyond the “limits” of previously common understanding. I sort it out this way. A person can worship as they wish but that does not grant license as freedom of religion would to practices or the sanctioning of beliefs seen as unfit. Look at it this way; you can worship cannibalism as your ideal, but you cannot practice it as a free religious belief same as any other. You can worship the ideal that males are superior and can have multiple wives, but you will (or should in secular American society) face legal resistance for the practice.
It helps my understanding of the Four Freedoms to see which FDR placed first. That prime spot he gave to Freedom of Speech sometimes broadened to Expression to include artistic or non-language expression. It would be less than equitable of a verbal denunciation of some form of religious supremacy was acceptable and an equally pointed cartoon was not. I believe FDR put Freedom of Speech first because no matter how raucous the debate it is better to have it than to live under the thumb of speech rules determined by the selective application of offense, hate, and blasphemy used to crush debate and exchange. There is no free society without free speech. See Saudi Arabia; it is wealthy and should know little fear, but yet it will flog a man near to death so he can be crucified after he recovers because he insulted the ruler-ship.
I think FDR got it about right. His first two freedoms were freedoms OF. The third and fourth freedoms were freedoms FROM; Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. Freedom from want says we should not toss the unfortunate aside without an effort to help. They are free to reject that effort, but society is obliged to at least do a minimum. Frankly, I’d put the last freedom in the second position because freedom from fear has so often and is today associated with what some wish to pass off as Religious Freedom. Faith turned zealous or from its birth stamped with violence and discrimination aimed at all others. To me Freedom from Fear means curbing Freedom of Worship so it does not become the monster of Freedom of Religion that would be the practice of hatred and sexism.