I remarked last year that explosions and Metal Wolf Chaos appear the order of the day when it comes to the 4th of July. I suppose that’s still true, but my perspective’s changed in a whole year. That sort of stuff is, gasp, fun. I recognize now that I like watching things explode, and I honestly don’t care what you or anyone else thinks of that stupid fascination. When things explode, it is fun. When they don’t, it’s significantly less fun. I mean, how easy a rule is this? Easy enough that I could write something authortative on it!
COMMAND OF FUN
1. If something explodes, it is fun,
2. If something does not explode, it is not fun.
3. Both 1 and 2 are self-evident.
So my philosophy background comes back to the fore!
To return to a more serious discussion, I know a lot of Christian organizations and writing outlets will write grand declarations against America. They will say, for all intents and purposes, “celebrate the holiday, but do not worship America.” The founders certainly had a high opinion of themselves, but not THAT high an opinion of themselves. Many of them believed in the foundation of a great republic, made in the model of both the Republic of Rome and of its eventual conversion to Christianity. Thomas Jefferson said this about the nation:
The station which we occupy among the nations of the earth is honorable, but awful. Trusted with the destinies of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth, if other regions of the earth shall ever become susceptible of its benign influence. All mankind ought then, with us, to rejoice in its prosperous, and sympathize in its adverse fortunes, as involving everything dear to man. And to what sacrifices of interest, or convenience, ought not these considerations to animate us? To what compromises of opinion and inclination, to maintain harmony and union among ourselves, and to preserve from all danger this hallowed ark of human hope and happiness.
(Light of American freedom must be preserved for humanity ”To the Citizens of Washington”, March 4, 1809)
I am unsure why a country that has, over time, shown so much success in spreading the cause of freedom should show such cause for concern. Have we done bad things? Absolutely; we are all sinful human beings, and we should expect nothing less of our government founded by the people. Have we done many, many good things? Absolutely; how many governments exist with much the same constitutional republic that America began in the modern era? Not that all of those went so smoothly. I’m looking at the godless French Revolution, just as an example – perhaps hoisting the genitalia of dead monarchs wasn’t the greatest legacy to pass onto your children. None of this means America’s influence wasn’t great, and that it did not stumble. It is simply to say that there’s a reason people celebrate the 4th of July, and it’s not always out of pure nationalist jingoism.
I think one could convincingly make the case that America was exceptional in its founding, and that it had an influence on other countries. Still, that’s not what I want to talk about. What I do want to talk about is a half-hearted Christian criticism of how people celebrate national holidays, especially the “common” people. Not to be mean, but I feel like these articles miss the real point here. People have every right to celebrate their country, but every year I find myself reading the same old tired criticism of patriotism, as if God somehow gets supplanted by America. I think the problem is, we think we can love individual aspects of our lives, and somehow place them on a pedestal; it doesn’t work that way. As I said on Memorial Day, we love things in particulars, and we do NOT get to pick and choose our experience of loving; it arises out of our lives and our circumstances.
In other words, “common humanity” is an academic myth. We all have a completely irrational love of the things we grew up with, and the people we know, and the stuff we like. That’s just how human nature works. Jesus loves everyone precisely because he knows everyone; the ideal isn’t to love disinterestedly, but to love who you do love and can love unconditionally. A lot of people miss this, I think, when reading Scripture. I cannot love an idea, a concept; I can love a person. Even Jesus shows us this with his friendship to Lazarus, who was a close friend. Jesus does not “love” him in the abstract way (John 11):
33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They *said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!”
And further, we see Jesus deeply moved (v.37), moved enough to resurrect some common guy from the dead. There’s literally no reason for Him to do this, if you think about it, unless there’s something for us to learn. I would wager it would be the kind of specific love I advocate here. The Christian who remains a pessimist regarding America strikes me in the same way: a silent disdain and displeasure for the “way things are”, rather than helping to bring things to “the way things should be”. Helping out there starts in your own backyard, not in the political arena. Do you wonder why normal people get so angry at such guys and gals? It isn’t because they love America like a bunch of radical jingoist worshippers; Chesterton can explain:
I venture to say that what is bad in the candid friend is simply that he is not candid. He is keeping something back–his own gloomy pleasure in saying unpleasant things. He has a secret desire to hurt, not merely to help. This is certainly, I think, what makes a certain sort of anti-patriot irritating to healthy citizens. … There is an anti-patriot who honestly angers honest men, and the explanation of him is, I think, what I have suggested: he is the uncandid candid friend; the many who says, “I am sorry to have to say we are ruined,” and is not sorry at all. And he may be said, without rhetoric, to be a traitor; for he is using that ugly knowledge which was allowed him to strengthen the army, to discourage people from joining it. Because he is allowed to be pessimistic as a military adviser he is being pessimistic as a recruiting sergeant. Just in the same way the pessimist (who is the cosmic anti-patriot) uses the freedom that life allows to her counsellors to lure away the people from her flag. Granted that he states only facts, it is still essential to know what are his emotions, what is his motive. It may be that twelve hundred men in Tottenham are down with smallpox; but we want to know whether this is stated by some great philosopher who wants to curse the gods, or only by some common clergyman who wants to help men.
The evil of the pessimist is, then, not that he chastises gods and men, but that he does not love what he chastises–he has not this primary and supernatural loyalty to things. What is the evil of the man commonly called an optimist? Obviously, it is felt that the optimist, wishing to defend the honour of this world, will defend the indefensible. … He will be less inclined to the reform of things; more inclined to a sort of front-bench official answer to all attacks, soothing every one with assurances. He will not wash the world, but whitewash the world.
Orthodoxy, p. 74-75
The true Christian, I find, is the one that loves, good and bad, what groups he/she engages. Love your country as Christ loves You, and you may find that you’ll come up with practical solutions, not criticisms. You will not appear jaded or overly worshipful, but a citizen of two cities eager to reform both in the love of God.
So happy 4th of July, and yay for exploding things!