- - Monday, August 10, 2015

In Berlin, just blocks from where Ronald Reagan gave his famous speech, demanding, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” I was recently enjoying lunch with leaders and diplomats from the former Soviet states. It had been a fascinating conference and I was eager to ask many questions of those attending. The gentleman at our lunch table was a kindhearted, middle-aged Lithuanian. He hadn’t spoken much during the roundtable discussions, so I was eager to hear his story.

“What was it like under Communist rule?” I asked. His answer was non-chalant, “It was different. We didn’t have as much freedom to speak or express our opinions. It was pretty bad, but it wasn’t terrible.”

Curious, I continued my questioning: “Did you have freedom of religion? Were you able to attend church wherever you chose?”

He smiled, “Of course, you could go wherever you wanted, if you didn’t plan to go to college.”

I paused, unsure of what he meant. “I’m sorry. What do you mean?”

“Well, you know,” he replied, “you could of course attend any church you liked, but the police kept track of the names.”

“The names?” I asked, incredulously.

“Yes, the names of those who attended church. You see, we had complete freedom to worship, but those of faith were considered lacking in scientific understanding, so they would not be good candidates for higher education. My parents wanted their children to attend university, so we did not go to church. It was our choice, of course, so we still had freedom, you know? We all had freedom of religion.”

Stunned, I tried to smile and continue the conversation, but my mind would not let go of what he had just shared. It was stated so simply; in such a matter-of-fact way, that it took a while for me to comprehend the full import of what he had just told me. Under the communist, Soviet-rule, people of faith were seen as simple-minded, unintelligent or unscientific; therefore, they did not meet the state-approved criteria for being considered for higher education. The system was set up to give people the illusion of freedom of religion, while at the same time disqualifying those who were “too religious” from higher education. According to a 2014 report by the Pew Research Center, “During the Soviet period … people who publicly professed religious beliefs were denied prestigious jobs and admission to universities.”

Appalling? Shocking? Just typical Soviet behavior, right? Really?

Think about it. Are we that far removed from such a situation in modern America? Are there not politically correct requirements imposed on every person who wishes to publicly participate in scientific, political or educational debates in America today?

We’re not too far a cry from imposing social standards as precursors to educational opportunities. Do you think scientists who believe in Intelligent Design are given the same respect as Evolutionists in our public arena or school text books? Are university professors known for promoting an economy of free thought in their classrooms? Or is there an atmosphere of disdain for those who do not recognize the “superiority of progressivism” or the “facts of climate change” or the moral necessity for “redistribution of wealth?” Is there not a state-approved list of criteria for acceptance in “educated” American society today?

No, we don’t have police keeping running lists of church attendees, but we do have “thought police,” limiting public dialogue on college campuses, threatening open expressions of faith in the work place and demagoguing those who dare to speak in defense of religion in the public arena.

Have we so soon forgotten the lessons of the past? Have we so easily erased from our memory the great thinkers, scientists, explorers, truth-seekers and philosophers who fought for progress while being hindered at every turn? As Americans today, are we not being categorized according to our ethnicity, religion, place of residence or financial status? Are we so far down the road of putting people in neat little boxes that we can’t see the potential for disaster?

It’s time to return to the gold standard. The value of our civil society is only increased as we allow the currency of truth to have free reign in our hearts and minds. However, truth will only stabilize our society when we allow it to be heard. The Economy of Free Thought is based on the gold standard: truth backed by proven facts and unfettered public discourse. As John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things,” and it is that very stubbornness that makes facts a stable basis for currency. In recent years, the counterfeit currency of offense and emotional reasoning have been in circulation so much that it’s becoming rare to find an authentic note of fact or truth. We hear words like “fair” and “equal” and “justice” and they sound so good. The problem comes when those words are valued, traded and defined by our leaders and not by the individual citizen.

When one person’s definition of “fairness” is imposed on others and presented as a dire necessity that must be implemented by the state, truth is lost in the mire of emotionalism. Those who trade in the false currency of offense and guilt know exactly how to leverage their power. They know that our eagerness to prove our goodness blinds us from seeing that fairness means different things to different people. Too easily we forget that equal opportunity is the only achievable equality; that there’s no such thing as a fair outcome for everyone because everyone’s potential is different. We must realize that by agreeing to “fair” outcomes, we make ourselves subservient to the person defining what “fair” actually means. “Fairness” is relative to the one defining it, and that person ultimately becomes our dictator, defining our liberties as well as the outcomes we will be allowed to achieve.

You see, in an Economy of Free Thought, ideas are exchanged, opinions are expressed, truths are tested, facts are proven and lives are empowered. Truth leads by inspiration and personal experience, not by dictatorship. When truth is freely presented without fear or intimidation it results in a clarity of purpose; it creates stability in society. People are free to express their beliefs and opinions and are also free to be challenged by a reasoned debate. In contrast, a state controlled dialogue limits the potential of a society because it only allows a one-sided view. The full-spectrum of viewpoints is lost, and thus the full potential for success is lost as well.

An Economy of Free Thought is not always pretty, but it is always better. Remember, the debate of ideas should not be viewed as an argument, but as an exercise of reason; a treasure hunt for truth; the practice of finding what is real and lasting. It encourages independence and self-reliance because it respects every opinion. It is diverse, multifaceted and always successful. It brings every perspective to the table for equal opportunity and allows them to strive to find the best way forward individually and collectively.

So, I’m “Just Sayin’,” let’s determine to search for truth, welcome dialogue, seek freedom in our discourse and return to the gold standard: an Economy of Free Thought.

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