- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Editor's note: Actor Charlton Heston's recent book on religious freedoms, "The Courage to be Free," was released last month. Here is a portion of the fourth chapter, "How We Lost More Than the Farm," excerpted with permission from the publisher:

Not long ago, I was traveling by car through America's heartland, and I discovered a place I would have sworn had disappeared, at least according to what the news media tell me.
It was an election year with lots of political races to speak at, whistle-stop style. We had started out on our journey early that day, and I was ready for some mid-morning coffee and a chance to stretch my legs. An interstate highway sign held out the hope of a small community just off the four-lane turnpike.
I was eager to slow down for a few minutes and fill my eyes with the sight of foot-high wheat and grazing cattle and perhaps spot a black-and-white heifer grazing in front of a big red barn, a tractor churning up rich loamy dirt, and maybe some fresh white sheets flapping on a clothesline.
I miss such things. These are memories from my Midwestern youth, and I harbor a faith that they still exist in the heartland of America. So, we turned off the well-manicured and sterile lanes of turnpike asphalt and dipped the nose of our car down into a little road without a yellow stripe but richly lined in summer green grass.
The place wasn't big by any stretch, even counting the cows. The sign said the population hovered about 3,150, but I barely saw a soul. The streets were empty. The cafe's neon sign was turned off. There wasn't a tractor in sight. The gas station with its ancient red pumps and spic-and-span restrooms seemed abandoned.
I guess I've spent too much time in a big city, because my first thoughts weren't pretty. My imagination ran along the lines of a mass murder or plague. Then I remembered. It was Sunday morning!
We hooked a right turn onto a side street and there they were: long rows of pickup trucks, some rusty, some shiny new, along with station wagons, minivans, and Fords and Chevys galore, and one motorcycle, all lined up on the parking lot of a place of worship. Then another. And another. One brick, one whitewashed wood, one stucco and glass. Each one proudly standing underneath a cross. The town had gone to church on the Sabbath Day… .
A few minutes later we headed back toward the interstate, where we found a gas station open and hot coffee brewing. I commented that the little town had sure seemed quiet that day. The attendant, an old geezer even older than I, hit me with a hard stare totally lacking in celebrity recognition and snapped back, "It's Sunday morning. What did you expect?"
I answered back, more truthfully than he will ever realize, "Nothing quite so wonderful." …
As you become a more astute observer of the cultural war in which we find ourselves, you will find that the stinking root of most of the conflict grows from a vicious rift between urban and rural American values.
In almost every act of cultural war, it's there somewhere: the fight between the city boys and the country boys. Look past the facts and faces of issues under debate, and you'll see one party calmly chewing on a wheat stalk while the other is flip-phoning 911.
In rural America, the clouds naturally skywrite "No Trespassing." Here prevails the tradition of taking care of one's own, a presumed independence from intrusion, a history of looking after our families, our land and our property, and a culture where we take responsibility for these things personally.
Not so when you cross the big city limits.
In urban America, a different notion thrives: almost complete dependence upon and full delegation of responsibility to others for one's safety and well-being. This is a new concept in our history, but one familiar to European serf descendants… .
City dwellers have come to see the government as the surrogate to take care of one's person and property, much the way serfs relied upon the king's armies to patrol the castle walls.
Thus our nation is increasingly at odds with itself.
Rural residents look at our cities and see uncontrolled crime and blight, and city-slickers who want to deprive them of their rights when they can't even keep the trash picked up on time.
Urban dwellers, in turn, look out at the farmland and see backwards, backwoods rustics too outdated or stupid to understand the "realities" of the modern world. And the media wielded by these urban dwellers reflects this bias brutally.
The result is mutual distrust: Two sides vying for the heart of the nation with little room for compromise… .
Rural youth still reflect a richer time, when boys worked with their fathers and even emulated their walk and talk. Through the years, country boys seemed to grow into men eagerly and early because we gave them the opportunity to do so.
They had to hunt and fish for the table, trap for hides to sell for cash, fix their own brakes and adjust their own carburetors, plow a field when Dad had calves to pull, stretch barbed wire, toss a 75-pound square bale of hay on a truck with everything they had essentially 150 pounds of sixteen-year-old bone, gut, sweat and sinew and learn animal husbandry by delivering a new lamb.
Their sisters grew to womanhood learning to manage, feed and heal the household. Country girls at an early age could run things almost as well as their mothers could, and nobody considered their work a shameful task.
"Housewife," "cooking," and "sewing" were noble words. Women weren't afraid to be strong in their femininity and reach out with unrestrained toughness to hold a family together, often functioning as teacher, preacher and psychologist. Country women were nearly always considered to be a full partner separate but equal and they were proud of their vital role in taming the land and creating a culture of freedom and strength.
They did not insist their men adopt feminine qualities, but jealously guarded those traits for themselves.
Country people carried firearms openly in their farm truck gun racks. They lived behind open windows and unlocked doors. In their communities, rape was an aberration and murder was almost nonexistent… .
So how might we proceed, given the fact that this urban/rural dichotomy exists?
Let me quickly assure you that I know we can't and shouldn't roll America back to the agrarian society that sustained us just a few short decades ago. It's not only unwise, but probably impossible to do so. The movies that are shown, the CDs that spin, and the videos for rent in the country town are the same as those one might find in Miami, Pittsburgh or Atlanta.
Kids who hunt, fish, sew and raise calves for the spring livestock show are also seduced by the Howard Sterns and the Dr. Dres and the bloody violence Hollywood dishes up in five-channel surround sound… .
Be an active part of where you are. Adopt rural neighborliness for your neighborhood. Sponsor block parties. Go to school functions. Support neighborhood children in their school activities. Help elect local representatives who will work for the streets, schools, utilities and law enforcement in the place where you live. Write letters and make telephone calls concerning issues that affect your neighborhood. Most of all, take pride in your street, your block, your neighborhood, your township, your community, your city, your county, and your state in that order… .
We are the neighborhood cop, the local priest and the butcher down at the corner grocery. Learn to know your neighborhood clerks and shopkeepers by name. Greet them with kindness and concern for their families. Our cold, cruel big cities can become a system of warm and friendly small towns if we'll only think of them that way.

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