We live in a world where everybody has opinions but few are prepared to think. We need to rediscover old truths, writes John Smith.

John Smith
John Smith

This world is besieged by words. Talk radio, talk fests, talk back - a constant flow of competitive opinions flood the marketplace of ideas. But sheer volume of words does not guarantee wisdom or enduring concepts. One of the obvious problems of democratic politics is the level of opinionative outbursts versus the level of serious thinking and thoughtful reflection.

One of the most celebrated combinations of oratory and wisdom in modern times is Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address. Given at a graveyard dedication at the location of the most decisive battle of the American Civil War, it was an attempt to honour the fallen as well as to somehow re-unite a devastated, divided and demoralised American population. The keynote speaker was Edward Evert - a diplomat, orator and clergyman. His lengthy speech contrasted with the president's brief afterthought of a mere 269 words. The Chicago Times initially ridiculed Lincoln's effort as, "silly flat dishwater". But Evert wrote to Lincoln, "Dear Mr President, I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes."

It's neither the amount of verbage nor the emotionalism of its delivery which determines the value of our words. The final sentence of Lincoln's mini-speech, though disregarded by much American political pragmatism, remains a great democratic ideal which has affected the whole earth with the international acceptance of its basic principles by many nations: "We here highly resolve...that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

If we have reason to fear that democracy is faltering in its capacity to unite and liberate the people for a resolute commitment to common faith values and loving humanity, it is not for the lack of the many words uttered in the 20th century.

A lack of resolve, of commitment, of respect for ancient wisdom and care for the future has produced a flippant, wordy but mindless fascination with the immediate, the selfish and the individualistic. The concept of a nation or a people under God is now at best quaint and at worst regressive to many of the spokespersons of our age.

While clearly seeing the folly of enlisting God as the promoter of "man's inhumanity to man", Lincoln rose above sectarianism as one of the most secular of all American presidents to see the wider issues of destiny and moral foundations to our national lives.

Tragically, our over-secular society, for all its art of words, has too often failed to reflect on three of the greatest of all words in the English language - faith, hope and love. It takes a mere two seconds to say them. It should be a commitment of a lifetime to contemplate them and live them out. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.