“The Fruit of the Tree,” by Francis P. Miller
December 9, 1946
The Tree of Liberty, like every other tree, is judged by its fruits. The fruits of the tree are the citizens of the Republic, and the moral health of the Republic is known by the character of its citizens.
When this test is applied to the United States of America the results are not only disquieting but arouse misgivings about the future of the nation. For one hundred and seventy years we have taken it for granted that the fruit of the Tree of Liberty was necessarily and inevitably good. We have assumed that the fruit of the tree would prove so attractive that in due course all the nations of the earth would assemble under its branches. It was unthinkable that the fruit of any other tree could in the end compete successfully with its fruit. As a people we were convinced that all that was needed to demonstrate that America could breed a happier, wiser and more attractive type of man than any other society was to provide more secular education and to increase the material standard of living.
Our hopes in this respect have not been fulfilled. Americans are probably the unhappiest people in the world (excepting the Germans). For some reason the song has died on our lips. We are better informed than other people, but a wise man is surprisingly hard to find. Many envy our wristwatches, but few are attracted by the kind of persons we are.
We are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as living in the midst of a world crisis. That is true, but the real nature of the crisis eludes us. We prefer to think of it as a policy crisis or a political crisis or the crisis of an economic system. Though superficially it may appear so, basically it is none of these things. In spite of surface tensions and strains, due more to incompetence of mechanics than to fault in the machine, our national policy is on the whole wise and no one has yet devised a better political or economic system. No, the crisis is not a policy crisis. It is a human crisis; a crisis of man.
Man’s happiness depends upon his answer to the question: “What is the chief end of man?” What is man’s business on this earth? What is he here for anyway? As a people we have progressively either ignored this question or tended to give false answers. The result is the current crisis.
Among the most popular of the false answers given in recent years is that man lives by bread alone. This belief permeates government policy and private enterprise. It explains the subtle corruption which has spread so insidiously through the body politic as a result of the increasing practice of prostituting public office for private gain. In its milder forms this practice has lost its taint and has become almost respectable owing to the eminence of some of those who profit by it and the failure of the public to be revolted by their conduct.
Anyone who has served actively in an overseas theater of military operations during the recent war, has observed the effect of this corruption of the body politic at home upon the conduct of officers and men abroad. In spite of our magnificent military successes, some of which were without parallel in the history of warfare, the fruit of the Tree of Liberty, in terms of persons, has been bitterly disappointing. There is good fruit, of course, but a disproportionate amount is sour or rotten.
One need not think primarily of the V.D. rate, though that is bad enough. It is not a pretty story to relate, that as of last June one American boy in four in Europe would contract V.D. during the course of the ensuing year, in spite of the most high-powered publicity campaign to sell the idea of preventive measures that the ingenuity of man could devise.
Nor need one think primarily of the divorce rate in this country. Though an anticipated rate of one divorce in three marriages is a fair measure of the extent to which America has become pagan.
A much more fundamental fact underlies and explains such superficial phenomena as V.D. rates and divorce rates. The fact is that generally speaking Americans have lost their faith—their faith in God and hence their faith in the American way of life. But faith is the final mark of man. Without faith a true and satisfying answer cannot be given to the question: “What is the chief end of man?” Without faith corruption sets in and man reverts to the sub-human.
The average American has for many years been undergoing this process of dehumanization. He lacks human sensitivity—sensitivity to others and to values learned from the sufferings of ten thousand years. The very words charity, courtesy and decency are losing their meaning. Even the concept of a gentle man is disappearing. Once when some officers in Germany had been rebuked for a particularly obscene bit of vulgarity, one of them remarked the next day, “He said we weren’t gentlemen, but we are, for Congress made us so.”
Since so few citizens can give a satisfactory answer to the question, “what am I on this earth for anyway,” it is not surprising that a growing number act as if they were pigs shoving each other around to get at the trough. But America was not made to be a pigsty. The dehumanization process can be arrested. Americans can recover their faith in God and in the American dream. They will only do this, however, if we as Christians, while becoming even more aware of the social implications of our faith, recognize that the crisis of our time is a human crisis and not primarily a crisis in social structure; that it is the nature of man that is at stake and not the future of an economic system. The resolution of the crisis depends upon whether Christians themselves can demonstrate by their acts and by their words that they know why man is on this earth and what he is supposed to be about while he is here.
There are many false gods at the present time and some of these gods have millions of powerful and fanatical adherents. The fate of the world depends upon whether we can confront false faith with an equally passionate faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the way of life he wills for man. Otherwise history will record that our civilization was overrun and destroyed as was that of North Africa a thousand years ago and for the same reason. Decadence within can never withstand the assault from without of a dynamic faith—however false that faith may be.
Francis Pickens Miller (1895 – 1978) was a politician who supported civil rights, represented Fairfax County in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1938–42, and opposed the Byrd Organization (a state political machine that supported racial segregation and opposed integration with “massive resistance”). From 1942–45 Miller was an intelligence officer with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). As a colonel, he served on the staff of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and became the US representative on the Tripartite Control Committee for Operation Sussex. In 1949 he lost to John S. Battle in the Democratic primary for Virginia governor, and in 1952 he lost to Harry F. Byrd Sr. in the primary for US senator. In addition to serving on the editorial board of Christianity and Crisis, he was a contributor to Presbyterian Life and wrote multiple books.