Sarah Vowell's hilarious but fascinating reappraisal of the Puritans and their American legacy, The Wordy Shipmates, says the difference between John Winthrop's famous sermon, "A Model of Chrisitan Charity," and the Declaration of Independence is striking.
Here's the way "Christian Charity" begins: "God Almighty in His most holy and wise providence, hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in ower and dignity; others mean and in subjection."
Compare that, simply enough, with the famous line "all men are created equal."
She may be right.
It's the blasted chipmunks that have me thinking about Sarah Vowell, John Winthrop, and Thomas Jefferson. There are a couple of them here in the woods around the cabin, and they visit regularly, not because they like us but because of a heavily guarded bird feeder that hangs just outside out window. That's one now, right in the barrel of the feeder.
Sunflower seeds. Who knows why chipmunks like them, but they do. Maybe they play baseball. The birdfeeder's inner chimney is full of sunflower seeds, a source of joy so profound apparently that it turns those chipmunks into gymnasts with engineering degrees. The people who own the cottage do everything they can to keep them out, but--barring laying out land mines--the chipmunks have their way with the seeds. Dirty, rotten little cuties.
Hmmm. See that ball of fur? You guessed it.
But it's impossible to get angry with them because they're so blasted darling. If a chipmunk was an opposum, I'd run him off the porch with a broom. But he's not--he's a chipmunk.
I'm no expert in aesthetics, the science of beauty, but I don't know if anyone can explain what makes a chipmunk darling and an opposum a mud fence. Is it that little springy tail? Or is it the perfectly narrow face, the Cleopatra-like oval eyes, the nervous little movements? Are there lines on their faces or bodies that simply please us? Who knows?
All I know is that, if given the choice by my creator, I'd much rather be a chipmunk than a 'possum--and that, therefore, Sarah Vowell, John Winthrop, and the Holy Scripture are probably right: we're not all created equal.