America has a creed and this creed is embodied in our Declaration of Independence. Such is the frequency, and the certainty, with which this is said that few people think to question it. And of those who do think to question it, far fewer dare to do so, for to question it is to expose oneself to the charge that one is a heretic, an anti-American.
The America that was forged into an independent nation at the time of the composition of the Declaration had no creed. And it could not have had one. More so than most others in our history, the founding generation was consumed by the fear of tyranny. Its members knew all too well that there was nothing so poisonous to political liberty than that of a creed — any creed.
Creeds are the stuff of religious and philosophical communities. They contain statements of belief that all members of the community are expected to affirm. The Nicene Creed that Roman Catholics the world over affirm on a regular basis is a classic illustration of a creed. Individual Catholics consider themselves distinct parts of one body, a single community with a single vision of the good life. Irrespective of where one lives, anyone can belong to the Catholic, or “universal,” Church — as long as one accepts its Creed.
The pioneers who settled America were motivated first and foremost by their desire to advance their liberties. Where liberty of the sort with which the colonists were familiar prevails, so too does individuality, the freedom to think and act in ways that may deviate from those of the majority.
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