Quotations about democracy

To destroy this invisible government, this unholy alliance between corrupt businesses and corrupt politics, is the first task in the democracy of today. Theodore Roosevelt

Let us not be afraid to help each other – Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials but the voters of this country.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport. Barbara Jordan

Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. James Baldwin

All events are secretly interrelated; the sweep of all we are doing reaches beyond the horizon of our comprehension. Abraham Joshua Heschel

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge. Isaac Asimov

Democracy is not simply a political system; it is a moral movement and it springs from adventurous faith in human possibilities. Harry Emerson Fosdick

Power abdicates only under stress of counter-power. Martin Buber

We can have Democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few…but we can’t have both. Louis D. Brandeis

Leaders are indispensable, but to produce a major social change many ordinary people must also be involved. Anne Firor Scott

It is the evil in man that makes democracy necessary, and man’s belief in justice that makes democracy possible. Reinhold Neibuhr

Democracy doesn’t work without citizen activism and participation, starting at the community…What’s right and good doesn’t come naturally. You have to stand up and fight for it – as if the cause depends on you, because it does. Bill Moyers

Everybody’s for democracy in principle. It’s only in practice that the thing gives rise to stiff objections.  Meg Greenfield 

I never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Abraham Lincoln

Democracy is no easy form of government. Few nations have been able to sustain it. For it requires that we take the chances of freedom; that the liberating play of reason be brought to bear on events filled with passion; that dissent be allowed to make its appeal for acceptance; that men chance error in their search for the truth. Robert F. Kennedy

I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country. Thomas Jefferson

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Frederick Douglass

Education and democracy have the same goals: the fullest possible development of human capabilities. Paul Wellstone

America has no functioning democracy. Jimmy Carter July 16, 2013

The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any controlling private power. Franklin D. Roosevelt

To destroy this invisible government, this unholy alliance between corrupt businesses and corrupt politics, is the first task in the democracy of today. Theodore Roosevelt

I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. Susan B Anthony

Quotations about religion and politics

work in progress 3/18/14

Citizens  electorate – Rights, Responsibilities, Creativity, Inspiration, Courage,

  • “We must move forward with audacious faith. The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. J. Krishnamurti
  •  It takes real spiritual courage to step forward and take responsibility for where we are all going. Andrew Cohen
  •  Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced. James Baldwin
  •  ”Unleash radical thought” Harry Belafonte
  • We must love one another or die.” W. H. Auden in September 1, 1939

Nature’s God – natural law – enlightenment – morals/values – spirituality – human condition – Conscience, Philosophy, truth, Soul/Creed, Tolerance

  •  Politics in America is the binding secular religion. Theodore H. White
  •  If you go deep enough into any faith tradition, you find the common ground with all faith traditions. Martin Marty
  •  For the religious the holy is truth, for the philosophic the truth is holy. Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach
  •  This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy…our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. The Dalai Lama
  •  My call for a spiritual revolution is not a call for a religious revolution. Nor is it a reference to a way of life that is somehow otherworldly, still less to something magical or mysterious. Rather it is a call for a radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self. It is a call to turn toward the wider community of beings with whom we are connected, and for conduct which recognizes others’ interests alongside our own.  The 14th Dalai Lama
  • Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on “I am not too sure.” -H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)
  •  Some people consider the practice of love and compassion is only related to religious practice and if they are not interested in religion they neglect these inner values. But love and compassion are qualities that human beings require just to live together. Dalai Lama
  • The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all of these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved with another. Thomas Merton
  •  Morality is the basis of things and truth is the substance of all morality.  Mohandas K. Gandhi
  •  Nothing is more contagious than genuine love and genuine care. Nothing is more exhilarating than authentic awe and wonder. Nothing is more exciting than to witness people having the courage to fight for their highest vision. Rabbi Michael Lerner
  • Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Alexander Solzhenitsyn
  •  Conscience – freedom of thought
  • When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion. (Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. President [1861-1865]. From Henry O. Dormann, compiler, The Speaker’s Book of Quotations, New York: Ballantine Books, 1987, p. 127.)
  • Let it be henceforth proclaimed to the world that man’s conscience was created free; that he is no longer accountable to his fellow man for his religious opinions, being responsible therefore only to his God. (John Tyler, 10th U. S. President [1841-1845], as quoted by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Treasury of Presidential Quotations [Follett, 1964], p. 38, according to Albert Menendez and Edd Doerr, compilers, The Great Quotations on Religious Liberty, Long Beach, CA: Centerline Press, 1991, p. 94.)
  • This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate error so long as reason is free to combat it. (Thomas Jefferson, to prospective teachers, University of Virginia; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 364.)
  • … Jefferson, who as a careful historian had made a study of the origin of the maxim [that the common law is inextricably linked with Christianity], challenged such an assertion. He noted that “the common law existed while the Anglo-Saxons were yet pagans, at a time when they had never yet heard the name of Christ pronounced or that such a character existed …. What a conspiracy this, between Church and State.” (Leo Pfeffer, Religion, State, and the Burger Court, Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1984, p. 121.)
  • We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions … shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power … we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society. (John Adams, letter to Dr. Price, as quoted by Albert Menendez and Edd Doerr, compilers, The Great Quotations on Religious Liberty, Long Beach, CA: Centerline Press, 1991, p. 1.)
  • … Jefferson, who as a careful historian had made a study of the origin of the maxim [that the common law is inextricably linked with Christianity], challenged such an assertion. He noted that “the common law existed while the Anglo-Saxons were yet pagans, at a time when they had never yet heard the name of Christ pronounced or that such a character existed …. What a conspiracy this, between Church and State.” (Leo Pfeffer, Religion, State, and the Burger Court, Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1984, p. 121.)
  • The lessons of religious toleration–a toleration which recognizes complete liberty of human thought, liberty of conscience–is one which, by precept and example, must be inculcated in the hearts and minds of all Americans if the institutions of our democracy are to be maintained and perpetuated. We must recognize the fundamental rights of man. There can be no true national life in our democracy unless we give unqualified recognition to freedom of religious worship and freedom of education. (Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd U. S. President [1933-1945], letter to the Calvert Associates, 1937, according to Albert Menendez and Edd Doerr, compilers, The Great Quotations on Religious Liberty, Long Beach, CA: Centerline Press, 1991, p. 82.)
  • The fundamental precept of liberty is toleration. We cannot permit any inquisition either from within or from without the law or apply any religious test to the holding of office. The mind of America must be forever free. (Calvin Coolidge, 30th U. S. President [1923-1929], Inaugural Address on March 4, 1925, according to Albert Menendez and Edd Doerr, compilers, The Great Quotations on Religious Liberty, Long Beach, CA: Centerline Press, 1991, p. 22.)
  • The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most dishonorable belief against the character of the Divinity, the most destructive to morality and the peace and happiness of man, that ever was propagated since man began to exist. (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, 1794-1795. From Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, eds., The Harper Book of American Quotations, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, p. 494.)

Religion – Bible – doctrine

  • There are things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. Holy Bible, Zechariah 8:16-17
  • But a short time elapsed after the death of the great reformer [Jesus] of the Jewish religion, before his principles were departed from by those who professed to be his special servants, and perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandizing their oppressors in Church and State. (Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Samuel Kercheval, 1810; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 370)
  • If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it. Stephen Colbert

Constitution  – Official documents – Facts

First Amendment – Freedom of/from religion – separation of church and state

America is not a Christian nation

The Constitution of the United States (1787-1788; 1st Ten Amendments ["Bill of Rights"] ratified 1791; no reference to any god is to be found in the body or in the amendments to the Constitution)

The senators and representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. (Article VI, Section 3, The Constitution of the United States.) – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the freedom of press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. (Amendment 1,The Constitution of the United States.)

Treaty of Peace and Friendship Between the United States and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary, 1796-1797 – As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion–as it has itself no character of enmity against the law, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims], … (“Article 11, Treaty of Peace and Friendship between The United States and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary,” 1796-1797. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Edited by Hunter Miller. Vol. 2, 1776-1818, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1931, p. 365. From George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 45. According to Paul F. Boller [George Washington & Religion, Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963, pp. 87-88] the treaty was written by Joel Barlow, negotiated during Washington’s administration, concluded on November 4, 1796, ratified by the Senate in June, 1797, and signed [see below] by John Adams [2nd U.S. President] on June 10, 1797. Boller concluded that “Very likely Washington shared Barlow’s view, though there is no record of his opinion about the treaty …” [p.88]. Jefferson was Secretary of State in Washington’s first administration but had resigned when the treaty was written. Jefferson was Vice-President when the treaty was ratified and signed. Barlow, identified in The American Heritage Dictionary as an American “poet and diplomat,” 1754-1812, knew and corresponded extensively with Jefferson. Among many letters Jefferson wrote Barlow was one written on March 14, 1801, just ten days after Jefferson’s first inauguration as President.)

Now be it known, that I, John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said treaty do, by and within the consent of the Senate, accept, ratify and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof. (“Treaty of Peace and Friendship between The United States and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary,” 1796-1797. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Edited by Hunter Miller. Vol. 2. 1776-1818. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1931, p. 383; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 45.)

Democracy/Government – Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Justice, Threats to democracy

  • It is the poorest and most vulnerable who are always hurt the most in a crisis like thisthat is our job in politics — to talk about what happens to themThe biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good.…That vision of “common good” is what we have lost, and there is nothing more important in our public life than to find it again… Why the Government Shutdown Is Unbiblical by Jim Wallis, Sojourners, posted on Huffingtonpost.com, Oct 3, 2013
  • Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific values. Barack Obama

Democracy/politics – Power – Campaigns and Elections

Politics [is] the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order. Barry Goldwater

Religion and politics

Conservatives/Republicans/Libertarians

Right wing religious extremists

Liberals/Democrats/Progressives

 

 

 

Separation of church and state – First Amendment

  • We believe in separation of church and state, that there should be no unwarranted influence on the church or religion by the state, and vice versa. (Jimmy Carter, 39th President [1977-1981], in a news conference in Warsaw, Poland, reported by New York Times, December 31, 1977 [p. 2], according to Alan F. Pater and Jason R. Pater, compilers and editors, What They Said in 1977: The Yearbook of Spoken Opinion, Beverly Hills, CA: Monitor Book Co., 1978, p. 479.)
  • Religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives. (Barry Goldwater, 1909- , American politician, in a speech,1981. From Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, eds., The Harper Book of American Quotations, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, p. 498.)
  • And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together. (James Madison, letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822; published in The Complete Madison: His Basic Writings, ed. by Saul K. Padover, New York: Harper & Bros., 1953.)
  • The only ultimate protection for religious liberty in a country like ours, Madison pointed out–echoing Jefferson;–is public opinion: a firm and pervading opinion that the First Amendment works. “Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance.” (Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987, p. 56. Madison’s words, according to Gaustad, are from his letter of 10 July 1822 to Edward Livingston.)
  • I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute. John F. Kennedy
  • When fascism comes to America, it’ll be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross. Sinclair Lewis
  • “All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution”: freedom for religion, but also freedom from religion. Thomas Jefferson (Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987, p. 38. Jefferson proposed his language in 1776.)
  • I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another. (Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799. From Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, eds., The Harper Book of American Quotations, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, p. 499.)
  • History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose. (Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Baron von Humboldt, 1813; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 370)
  • Civil liberty can be established on no foundation of human reason which will not at the same time demonstrate the right to religious freedom. (John Quincy Adams, 6th U.S. President [1825-1829], letter to Richard Anderson, May 27, 1823. From Daniel B. Baker, ed., Political Quotations, Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1990, p. 190.)
  • All religions united with government are more or less inimical to liberty. All separated from government, are compatible with liberty. (Henry Clay, 1777-1852, Speech in the House of Representatives, March 24, 1818. From Daniel B. Baker, ed., Political Quotations, Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1990, p. 190.)
  •  In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is easier to acquire wealth and power by this combination than by deserving them, and to effect this, they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer for their purposes. (Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Horatio Spofford, 1814; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 371)

Religion wars

  • Religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives. Barry Goldwater, 1981.
  • Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” Barry M. Goldwater
  • ………….between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.” The Rev. Billy Graham, Parade, 1981

Religion and politics

  • Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is. Mohandas Gandhi
  • Those who believe that politics and religion do not mix, understand neither. Albert Einstein

Freedom of/from religion – tolerance

  • The lessons of religious toleration–a toleration which recognizes complete liberty of human thought, liberty of conscience–is one which, by precept and example, must be inculcated in the hearts and minds of all Americans if the institutions of our democracy are to be maintained and perpetuated. We must recognize the fundamental rights of man. There can be no true national life in our democracy unless we give unqualified recognition to freedom of religious worship and freedom of education. (Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd U. S. President [1933-1945], letter to the Calvert Associates, 1937, according to Albert Menendez and Edd Doerr, compilers, The Great Quotations on Religious Liberty, Long Beach, CA: Centerline Press, 1991, p. 82.)
  • Religious and racial persecution is moronic at all times, perhaps the most idiotic of human stupidities. (Harry S. Truman, 33rd U.S. President [1945-1953], Where the Buck Stops; The Personal and Private Writings of Harry S. Truman, ed. by Margaret Truman; New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1989, p. 126.)
  • The fundamental precept of liberty is toleration. We cannot permit any inquisition either from within or from without the law or apply any religious test to the holding of office. The mind of America must be forever free. (Calvin Coolidge, 30th U. S. President [1923-1929], Inaugural Address on March 4, 1925, according to Albert Menendez and Edd Doerr, compilers, The Great Quotations on Religious Liberty, Long Beach, CA: Centerline Press, 1991, p. 22.)
  • Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize [sic], every expanded prospect. (James Madison, in a letter to William Bradford, April 1, 1774, as quoted by Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987, p. 37.)
  • It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was by the indulgence of one class of the people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that those who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it, on all occasions, their effectual support. (George Washington, letter to the congregation of Touro Synagogue Jews, Newport, Rhode Island, August, 1790. From Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, eds., The Harper Book of American Quotations, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, p. 500.)
  • Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society. (George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 726.)
  • In the Enlightened Age and in this Land of equal Liberty it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States. (George Washington, letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, January 27, 1793. Quoted in Richard B. Morris, Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries, Harper & Row, 1973, p. 269.)
  • Washington’s religious belief was that of the enlightenment: deism. He practically never used the word “God,” preferring the more impersonal word “Providence.” How little he visualized Providence in personal form is shown by the fact that he interchangeably applied to that force all three possible pronouns: he, she, and it. (James Thomas Flexner, George Washington: Anguish and Farewell [1793-1799], Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1972, p. 490.)
  • No citizens … were more sensitive to Washington’s role as an upholder of liberties than the religious minorities. These groups were less anxious to cultivate what they had in common with other Americans than to sustain what kept them apart. Washington recognized this, just as he recognized the tenacity of regional and economic interests, and he took pains to explain precisely what national unity meant to him. He carried to his countrymen a vision of “organic” rather than “mechanical” solidarity, a union based on difference and interdependence rather than uniformity of belief and conduct. Washington’s understanding of the kind of integration appropriate to a modern state was not shared by the most powerful Protestant establishments, the New England Congregationalists and Presbyterians; but other religious groups could not have been more pleased…. Acknowledging in each instance that respect for diversity was a fair price for commitment to the nation and its regime, Washington abolished deep-rooted fears that would have otherwise alienated a large part of the population from the nation-building process. For this large minority, he embodied not the ideal of union, nor even that of liberty, but rather the reconciliation of union and liberty. (Barry Schwartz, George Washington: The Making of an American Symbol, New York: The Free Press, 1987, pp. 85-86.)
  • The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses…. (John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” [1787-1788]; from Adrienne Koch, ed., The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society, New York: George Braziller, 1965, p. 258.)
  • Let the human mind loose. It must be loose. It will be loose. Superstition and Dogmatism cannot confine it. (John Adams, letter to John Quincy Adams, November 13, 1816. From Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987, p. 88.)
  • [Benjamin] Franklin drank deep of the Protestant ethic and then, discomforted by church constraints, became a freethinker. All his life he kept Sundays free for reading, but would visit any church to hear a great speaker, no doubt recognizing a talent he himself did not possess. With typical honesty and humor he wrote out his creed in 1790, the year he died: “I believe in one God, Creator of the universe…. That the most acceptable service we can render Him is doing good to His other children…. As to Jesus … I have … some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.” (Alice J. Hall, “Philosopher of Dissent: Benj. Franklin,” National Geographic, Vol. 148, No. 1, July, 1975, p. 94.)
  • The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most dishonorable belief against the character of the Divinity, the most destructive to morality and the peace and happiness of man, that ever was propagated since man began to exist. (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, 1794-1795. From Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, eds., The Harper Book of American Quotations, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, p. 494.)
  • Civil liberty can be established on no foundation of human reason which will not at the same time demonstrate the right to religious freedom. (John Quincy Adams, 6th U.S. President [1825-1829], letter to Richard Anderson, May 27, 1823. From Daniel B. Baker, ed., Political Quotations, Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1990, p. 190.)
  • When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion. (Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. President [1861-1865]. From Henry O. Dormann, compiler, The Speaker’s Book of Quotations, New York: Ballantine Books, 1987, p. 127.)
  • Let us labor to add all needful guarantees for the more perfect security of free thought, free speech, and free press, pure morals, unfettered religious sentiments, and of equal rights and privileges to all men, irrespective of nationality, color, or religion. (Ulysses S. Grant, 18th U.S. President [1869-1877], speech before the Army of the Tennessee, Des Moines, Iowa, 1875; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, pp. 287-288)
  • We all agree that neither the Government nor political parties ought to interfere with religious sects. It is equally true that religious sects ought not to interfere with the Government or with political parties. We believe that the cause of good government and the cause of religion suffer by all such interference. (Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th U. S. President [1877-1881], statement as Governor of Ohio, 1875, according to Albert Menendez and Edd Doerr, compilers, The Great Quotations on Religious Liberty, Long Beach, CA: Centerline Press, 1991, p. 44.)
  • Religious and racial persecution is moronic at all times, perhaps the most idiotic of human stupidities. (Harry S. Truman, 33rd U.S. President [1945-1953], Where the Buck Stops; The Personal and Private Writings of Harry S. Truman, ed. by Margaret Truman; New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1989, p. 126.)

Moral politics

  • It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life – the sick, the needy and the handicapped. (1977, at the dedication of the Humphrey Building)        Hubert H. Humphrey
  • A compassionate government keeps faith with the trust of the people and cherishes the future of their children. Lyndon B. Johnson
  • A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.  Albert Einstein
  • The central task of the religious community is to unveil the bonds that bind each to all. There is a connectedness, a relationship discovered amid the particulars of our own lives and the lives of others. Once felt, it inspires us to act for justice. It is the church that assures us that we are not struggling for justice on our own, but as members of a larger community. The religious community is essential, for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen, and our strength too limited to do all that must be cone. Together, our vision widens and our strength is renewed. Mark Morrison-Reed
  • We want people to rule the nation who care more for and love better the nation’s welfare than gold and silver, fame and popularity.   Brigham Young
  • When we come to the moral principles on which the government is to be administered, we come to what is proper for all conditions of society… Liberty, truth, probity, honor, are declared to be the four cardinal principles of society. I believe that morality, compassion, generosity, are innate elements of the human constitution; that there exists a right independent of force. Thomas Jefferson
  • It is hard to imagine a more stupid or dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of those who pay no price for being wrong. Thomas Sowell
  • We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations may have their great human needs satisfied, that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.” Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address
  • The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • I think it’s important that people know that for the country to get better it needs more than just politicians. Politicians aren’t enough and it needs resurgence through churches, through revivals through a spiritual cleansing of the people.”  -Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) on the future of America and faith in in a Christian Broadcasting Network interview.

Soul/Creed

  • There is such a thing as a crime against the soul of a nation. A person or a political party can deliberately incite actions that diminish the strength, the integrity, and the overall well-being of a nation’s inner core. Caroline Myss, Crimes Against the Soul of America, Huffington Post 
  • As soon as we lose the moral basis, we cease to be religious. There is no such thing as religion over-riding morality. Mohandas K. Gandhi
  • I think it’s important that people know that for the country to get better it needs more than just politicians. Politicians aren’t enough and it needs resurgence through churches, through revivals through a spiritual cleansing of the people.”  -Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) on the future of America and faith in in a Christian Broadcasting Network interview.
  • The word “creed” sounds forbidding and ecclesiastical. The American Creed is neither, but it is steadfast in its principles and enduring enough to redeem the nation’s history whenever we stray from their course. Capturing the essence of the American experiment, the American Creed affirms those truths our Founders held self-evident: justice for all, because we are all created equal; and liberty for all, because we are all endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights. America’s fidelity to this creed is judged by history. Living up to it remains a constant challenge. But it invests our nation with spiritual purpose and–if we honor its precepts–a moral destiny.” Forrest Church.

George Washington (1732-1799; “Father of His Country”; 1st U.S. President, 1789-1797)

John Adams(1735-1826; major leader at Constitutional Convention in 1787; 2nd U.S. President , 1797-1801)

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790; American statesman, diplomat, scientist, and printer)

Thomas Paine (1737-1809; author of Common Sense; key American patriotic writer)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826; author, Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom; 3rd U.S. President, 1801-1809)

James Madison (1751-1836; principal author, U. S. Constitution and Bill of Rights; 4th U.S. President, 1809-1817)

Research/quotations from Presidents and founders, acknowledged with gratitude, from Ed Buckner, Atlanta Freethought Society, P.O. Box 1975, Smyrna, GA 30081-1975 – Copyright 1993, Ed and Michael E. Buckner and the Atlanta Freethought Society, P.O. Box 2385, Stone Mountain, GA 30086-2385. Version 7.2 (26 Mar 93). Compiled by Ed and Michael E. Buckner, P.O. Box 1975, Smyrna, GA 30081-1975. Permission to reproduce any or all pages freely is hereby granted, provided that this notice is retained. Acknowledgement of compilers for excerpts, especially lengthy ones, is appreciated but not required. posted by Clark Adams cdadams@whale.st.usm.edu

 

Quotations for progressives and the progressive movement

Quotations for progressive activists
    • Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering you own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew. Saint Francis de Sales
    • Humanity also needs dreamers, for whom the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their own material profit. Without doubt, these dreamers do not deserve wealth, because they do not desire it. Even so, a well-organized society should assure to such workers the efficient means of accomplishing their task, in a life freed from material care and freely consecrated to research. Marie Curie
    • I do not think that I will ever reach a stage when I will say, “This is what I believe. Finished.” What I believe is alive … and open to growth.  Madeleine L’Engle
    • The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
    • To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times. Frenzy destroys our inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful. Thomas Merton
    • You write in order to change the world knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that [writing] is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter even by a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it. James Baldwin
    • Your playing small won’t serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that the other people won’t feel insecure around you. Nelson Mandela
    • Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Steve Jobs
    • It takes real spiritual courage to step forward and take responsibility for where we are all going. Andrew Cohen
    • Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on “I am not too sure.” H.L. Mencken
    • Nothing is more powerful than an individual acting out their conscience, thus helping bring the collective conscience to life. Norman Cousins
    • Nothing is so firmly believed as what is least known. Michel de Montaigne
    • If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. Albert Einstein
    • When you place a high value on truth, you have to think for yourself. Dr. Cornel West

Quotations for the progressive movement

A liberal is someone who looks ahead, not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of people – their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties – someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a ‘Liberal,’ I’m proud to say I’m a ‘Liberal.’ John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

All great changes are preceded by chaos. Deprak Chopra

All opinions are not created equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others. Douglas Adams

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge. Isaac Asimov

As soon as we lose the moral basis, we cease to be religious. There is no such thing as religion over-riding morality. Mohandas K. Gandh

Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Democracy assumes there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people. Harry Emerson Fosdick

Hope has two beautiful daughters-their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are. Augustine of Hippo
I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute. John F. Kennedy
I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. Susan B. Anthony

I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it. Rev. Billy Graham, 1981

If the predators of democracy are going to use brass knuckles to pulverize us, we have to fight back with sharp elbows. Bob Edgar, former Member of Congress and the head of Common Cause

If you don’t want your tax dollars to help the poor, then stop saying you want a country based on Christian values because you don’t. Jimmy Carter

Ignorance is a virus. Once it starts spreading, it can only be cured by reason for the sake of humanity. We must be that cure. Neil DeGrasse Tyson

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. George Orwell

It is the evil in man that makes democracy necessary, and man’s belief in justice that makes democracy possible. Reinhold Neibuhr

Intolerance is the sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility. Alekzandr Solzhenitzn

Let us talk sense to the American people. Let us tell them the truth, that there are no gains without pains. Adlai Stevenson

Love, friendship and respect do not unite people as much as a common hatred for something. Anton Chekhov

Plenty of kind, decent, caring people have no religious beliefs, and they act out of the goodness of their hearts. Conversely, plenty of people who profess to be religious, even those who worship regularly, show no particular interest in the world beyond themselves. John Danforth

Policy is driven by more than politics, however. It is equally driven by ideas. Malcolm Gladwell

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Frederick Douglass

Religion without humanity is poor human stuff. Sojourner Truth

Righteousness exalts a nation. Hate just makes people miserable. Fannie Lou Hamer

Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American… America is the only idealistic nation in the world.  Woodrow Wilson

The high-minded man must care more for the truth than for what people think. Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

The ideals that bind us together are as old as our nation, but so are the forces that pull us apart.  Bill Clinton

The most outrageous lies that can be invented will find believers if a person only tells them with all his might. Mark Twain

The people’s government made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people. Daniel Webster

There are things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. Holy Bible, Zechariah 8:16-17

Those who believe that politics and religion do not mix, understand neither. Albert Einstein

Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. John F. Kennedy

Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred. Vaclav Havel

We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left to combat it. Thomas Jefferson

We divided the world into ‘us’ and ‘them. There is no ‘them’ left on our tiny planet. Marilyn Rea

We have the right to our own opinions, but not our own facts. Daniel Patrick Moynihan

We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. Abraham Lincoln

What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise. Barbara Jordan

When fascism comes to America, it’ll be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross. Sinclair Lewis

When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong. Richard Dawkins

Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past. George Orwell

You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad.  Aldous Huxley

Quotations of African American Women

The Wisdom of African American Women

Researched and compiled for the Givens Foundation

by Paideia LLC ©2002  All rights reserved.

Quotation Author

 

As long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you otherwise might. (1957) Marian Anderson.
In my life, if you have a purpose in which you can believe, there’s no end to the amount of things you can accomplish. Marian Anderson
A solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities. Maya Angelou
Each time a dancer moves devoutly or a composer faithfully searches the silence for veiled melodies, eternity is engaged. (in “The Jamison Spirit”, Essence, December, 1990) Maya Angelou
I have forgiven myself; I’ll make a change. Once that forgiveness has taken place you can console yourself with the knowledge that a diamond is the result of extreme pressure. Less pressure is crystal, less than that is coal, less than that is fossilized leaves or plain dirt. Pressure can change you into something quite precious, quite wonderful, quote beautiful and extremely hard. Maya Angelou
I try to live what I consider a “poetic existence.” That mean I take responsibility for the air I breathe and the space I take up. I try to be immediate, to be totally present for all my work. Maya Angelou
If one is lucky a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities. Maya Angelou
Life seems to love the liver of it. Maya Angelou,
Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the spaces between the notes and curl my back to loneliness. Maya Angelou
Nothing can dim the light that shines from within. Maya Angelou
One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. Maya Angelou,
Reality has changed so chameleonlike before my eyes so many times that I have learned, or am learning, to trust almost anything except what appears to be so. Maya Angelou
Self-pity in its early stage is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable. Maya Angelou
Surviving is important, but thriving is elegant. Maya Angelou
There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth. Maya Angelou
To be human is to be challenged to be more divine. Not even to try to meet such a challenge is the biggest defeat imaginable. Maya Angelou
Tragedy, no matter how sad, becomes boring to those not caught up in its addictive caress. Maya Angelou
You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise. Maya Angelou
There’s a period of life when we swallow a knowledge of ourselves and it becomes either good or sour inside. Pearl Bailey
You cannot belong to anyone else until you belong to yourself. Pearl Bailey
You must change in order to survive. Pearl Bailey
You never find yourself until you face the truth. Pearl Bailey
Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it might be a diamond in the rough. Mary McLeod Bethune
Seek to be an artist. Ceases to be a drudge. Mary McLeod Bethune
ART is refining and evocative translation of the materials of the world. Gwendolyn Brooks
I have never cared too much what people way. What I am interested in is what they do. Shirley Chisholm
Service is the rent you pay for room on this earth. Shirley Chisholm
Individual ideas – like breaths – are waiting to be drawn from an unlimited supply. Margaret Danner
In our dreams, we are always young. Sadie Delany
Go within every day and find the inner strength so that the world will not blow your candle out. Katherine Dunham
Service is the rent each of us pays for living – the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time or after you have reached your personal goals. Marian Wright Edelman
You really can change the world if you care enough. Marian Wright Edelman
People should raise their children so that other people will love them. (Minneapolis c. 1990) Josephine Ewing
It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you’re going that counts. Ella Fitzgerald
Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there’s love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong. Ella Fitzgerald
Mistakes are a fact of life/ It is the response to the error that counts. Nikki Giovanni
This is one of the glories of man, the inventiveness of the human mind and the human spirit: whenever life doesn’t seem to give an answer, we create one. Lorraine Hansberry
God has blessed you when he lets you believe in somebody. Billie Holliday
It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it. Lena Horne
I love myself when I am laughing. Zora Neale Hurston
Learning without wisdom is a load of books on a donkey’s back. Zora Neale Hurston
Now women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. Zora Neale Hurston
Once you wake up thought in a man, you can never put it to sleep again. Zora Neale Hurston,
Tell me, and then again show me, so I can know. Zora Neale Hurston
God can make you anything you want to be, but you have to put everything into his hands. Mahalia Jackson
Friend! It is a common word, often lightly used. Like other good and beautiful things, it may be tarnished by careless handling. Harriet Ann Jacobs
If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got. Moms Mabley
Blues is to jazz what yeast is to bread – without it, it’s flat. Carmen McRae
As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think. Toni Morrison
There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. Give it up. Bernice Johnson Reagon
I have always respected everyone’s religion. As I say, there is only one God and a lot of confused people. Hazel Scott
If you reach for something and find out it’s the wrong thing, you change your program and move on. Hazel Scott
Jazz is not just music, it’s a way of life, it’s a way of being, a way of thinking. I think that the Negro in America is jazz. Everything he does – the slang he uses, the way he walks, the way he talks, his jargon, the new inventive phrases we make up to describe things – all that to me is jazz just as much as the music we play. Nina Simone
One day at a time — this is enough. Do not look back and grieve over the past, for it is gone; and do not be troubled about the future, for it has not yet come. Live in the present, and make it so beautiful that it will be worth remembering. Ida Scott Taylor
Religion without humanity is poor human stuff. Sojourner Truth
I am not a special person. I am a regular person who does special things. Sara Vaughan
No person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow
Alice Walker
To know is to exist; to exist is to be involved, to move about, to see the world with my own eyes. Alice Walker
Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment. Oprah Winfrey
I am where I am because of the bridges that I crossed. Sojourner Truth was a bridge. Harriet Tubman was a bridge. Ida B. Wells was a bridge. Madame C. J. Walker was a bridge. Fannie Lou Hamer was a bridge. Oprah Winfrey
I do not believe in failure. It is not failure if you enjoyed the process. Oprah Winfrey

 

We Are What We Quote

By GEOFFREY O’BRIEN, Opinionator Blogs, New York Times, March 2, 2013

Quotes are the mental furniture of my life. From certain angles my inner landscape resembles a gallery hung with half-recalled citations, the rags and tag-ends of a lifetime of reading and listening. They can be anything at all, the exquisitely chiseled perceptions of poets and philosophers or the blurts of unscheduled truth-telling by public figures caught in the spotlight (the former Jersey City mayor Frank Hague’s “I am the law” or Richard Nixon’s “I’m not a crook”); the punch lines of 1930s comedians or the curtain lines of Jacobean dramatists; or words of wisdom or anguish or ridiculous humor, or simply, for instance, M.F.K. Fisher’s recollection of “the potato chips I ate slowly one November afternoon in 1936, in the bar of the Lausanne Palace.” They are the dangling threads that memory can latch onto when everything else goes blank.

What is the use of quotations? They have of, course, their practical applications for after-dinner speakers or for editorialists looking to buttress their arguments. They also make marvelous filler for otherwise uninspired conversations. But the gathering of such fragments responds to a much deeper compulsion. It resonates with the timeless desire to seize on the minimal remnant — the tiniest identifiable gesture — out of which the world could, in a pinch, be reconstructed. Libraries may go under, cultures may go under, but single memorizable bits of rhyme and discourse persist over centuries. Shattered wholes reach us in small disconnected pieces, like the lines of the poet Sappho preserved in ancient treatises. To collect those pieces, to extrapolate lost worlds from them, to create a larger map of the human universe by laying many such pieces side by side: this can become a fever, and one that has afflicted writers of all eras.

Anyone, of course, might develop a passion for quotes, but for a writer it’s a particularly intimate connection. A good quotation can serve as a model for one’s own work, a perpetual challenge with the neatness and self-sufficiency of its structure laid bare in the mind. How does it work? How might a quotation be done differently, with the materials and urgencies of a different moment? Perhaps writers should begin, in fact, by inwardly uttering again what has already been uttered, to get the feel of it and to savor its full power.

Quotes are the actual fabric with which the mind weaves: internalizing them, but also turning them inside out, quarreling with them, adding to them, wandering through their architecture as if a single sentence were an expansible labyrinthine space.

There are days when a one-sentence aphorism by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg — say, “The most successful tempters and thus the most dangerous are the deluded deluders” — seems as substantial as a 300-page novel, or when a single line from a John Clare poem — “Summer’s pleasures they are gone like to visions every one”— seems as if it could stand in for half the poetry ever written. Quotations bring other people, most of them long dead, into the solitary realm of thinking and writing until there is a sense of sitting in the midst of a room noisy with passionate confessions and pointed interjections. It is one thing to look at a vast wall full of unopened books — more lifetimes than any of us has — another to have the effect of a whole book contained in one phrase.

So many of the people we quote — Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, T.S. Eliot, Jorge Luis Borges, Susan Sontag — were themselves obsessive collectors of quotations. Emerson, whose journals are filled with quotations, was alert to the ways a text could change by being taken out of its context: “It is curious what new interest an old sentence or poem acquires in quotation.” Robert Burton’s classic “The Anatomy of Melancholy” is essentially a compendium of quotes with commentary. Our modern encyclopedist Borges can create new meanings and dizzying perspectives merely by juxtaposing citations drawn from an unprecedented breadth of eras and regions. To enter the worlds of classical Chinese and Japanese and Arabic poetry is to enter realms of ricocheting quotation and counter-quotation. The old joke about the first-time reader of “Hamlet” calling it “nothing but a bunch of quotations strung together” isn’t so far-off. All literary culture in a way is nothing but such a string, down to its most random corners. How many little bits of Shakespeare are preserved in the titles of mystery novels?

In a real sense, we are what we quote — and what can any of us hope to be but a tiny component of that hubbub of voices distilled by books of quotations and epigrams? I have always found such volumes the most irresistible reading. They make it possible to channel-surf millenniums of cultural history, moving forward or backward at will, and plucking out whatever perfectly formed fragment turns out to be precisely what you were looking for. The endlessness of it all is enough to make your head spin, but that dizziness is arrested by the steadying compactness and solidity of the ideal quote — the one that stands there bare and isolated and unencumbered, tiny enough to be grasped all at once, yet unfathomably wide and deep.

At a certain point, in a necessary act of appropriation, you make it part of who you are, whether or not you ever quote it to anyone but yourself. Culture then is not a wall “over there” but the very tiles out of which your own thoughts are constructed. The tiles are variegated and of different ages and subject to every kind of manipulation and juxtaposition. They take their place finally among quotes of a different kind — the quotes that are quotes to no one but you, all the things that friends and lovers and family and strangers and random voices on radio or television have said that cling to your memory and come back at odd hours of day or night, the words that become part of an alternate canon of what has not yet been written down. Out of all that mixing, with luck, might come the rarest thing of all, a new thought or fresh insight that can take its place with all those other sentences, a quotation that waited until just this moment to declare itself.

Geoffrey O’Brien, the author of “The Fall of the House of Walworth,” is editor in chief of the Library of America and general editor of the 18th edition of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.”

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/02/we-are-what-we-quote/?nl=opinion&emc=edit_ty_20130305