Some Thoughts On Independence Day

July 4, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More

It’s the Fourth of July.  I’ve been pondering whether or not to write something politically pithy or culturally au courant and here it is, almost noon, and I’ve made no decision.  I think I pretty much said what I had to say about my feelings about this country a few posts back for Memorial Day, so I don’t think I’ll revisit that.

Last night we sat on our front porch while the pre-Fourth fireworks went off in the surrounding neighborhood.  Folks nearby spend an unconscionable amount of money on things that blow up and look pretty and we benefit from the show.  Neither of us like large crowds, so going down to the St. Louis riverfront for the big explosion is just not an option.  The older I get the less inclined I am to squeeze myself into the midst of so much anonymous humanity.

We’ll likely go to bed early tonight after watching the rest of our neighborhood go up in brilliance, starbursts, and smoke.

I suppose the only thing I’d like to say politically is a not very original observation about how so many people seem to misidentify the pertinent document in our history.  The Declaration of Independence is often seen as more important than the Constitution and this is an error, one which leads us into these absurd cul-de-sacs of debate over the religious nature of our Founding.  Because of the reference to Our Creator, people with a particular agenda seem to take that as indicative that this was founded as a christian nation.  Creator is a fairly broad, nondenominational label that encompasses any and all descriptions of gods or nature, but I won’t argue the idea that the men who wrote it were, if anything, more or less christians.  It’s a statement, though, that is intended not to establish that there is a god or that we are beholden to such a thing, but that there are some birthrights we all share that no mortal can blithely assume we don’t possess.  The only thing at the time higher than a king was a god, so, when you read the rest of the Declaration, it is clear that the intended meaning is that a power transcending kings grants us these rights.  They had not yet hit upon establishing a representative democracy, not insofar as every official was to be elected—they may have intended that a constitutional monarchy be used as a model, and Britain already had a history of putting constraints on its monarchs.  But to make the point absolutely clear that no monarch had the authority to take certain rights away, the went one step up.  The use of the term Creator is sufficiently vague and universal that any formulation of Natural Law is covered, even and including a Spinozan construction that makes Nature and God one and the same thing.  Essentially, the fact that people are here, part of the world, should automatically accord them certain status and rights that no one has a legal right to remove.

Image by Wikimedia Commons

But it is a document of intent, namely intent to separate one people politically from another.  An act of war, really.  The form of the new republic is not addressed in the Declaration.  That work was left for the Constitution, and the way it was originally formulated there was not one mention of god or churches.  It dealt entirely with a secular formulation and I do not believe that was unintentional.  The Bill of Rights was included later, as a deal-making document that certain states insisted on before they would ratify the Constitution, and that’s where you find the establishment clause.

But the Constitution is a complex, legal document.  There are fine passages in the Bill of Rights, but in the body of the Constitution itself there are few phrases even close to the poetic heights of the Declaration.  The Preamble has some nice things, but we can perhaps understand why most people actually don’t know what’s in the Constitution.

A shame, really, because it would make things clearer to most folks if they did.  Why are things run the way they are is not explained by the grand polemical declarations of the Fourth of July document, but in the closely-reasoned blueprint of the Constitution.  There is also a reason soldiers swear an oath to uphold the Constitution—not the Declaration—and likewise why politicians are sworn in the same way.

Namely, it is because we have dedicated ourselves to an Idea.

Not a person or persons, but an Idea, and this ought to put paid to all this nonsense we’re about to hear about how this country is a christian nation dedicated to god.  It is not.  It is a nation dedicated to the idea that we are free to choose.  And sometimes what our neighbors will choose will run counter to what we may think is right or appropriate or pleasant or…but it’s their choice, just as it is ours to believe as we wish.

The Constitution is first and foremost a framework antithetical to cults of personality.  You want to see what cults of personality do to a nation?  Look at the old Soviet Union.  Or look at Libya.  Or North Korea.

I don’t give a damn what kind of “character” my representatives possess—I want to know that they will obey the law and do their jobs.  That’s all.  If they do that, they can be a bland or odious as they may.  If they don’t, I could care less what their character is like or their personal qualities.

Okay, so maybe I did have a few things to say of a political nature.  Must be in the air.  It is, after all, the Fourth.

Be safe.

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Category: American Culture, Civil Rights, Culture, Current Events, Education, History, Law, Patriotism/Nationalism, Politics, Religion

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (2)

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Mark,
    Congrats on a well expressed and accurate comment. As a long-time existentialist, I consider choice not as a privilege, but as an inescapable duty. dissensions based in one’s faith are still choices, and ultimately, It is the individual who must be held accountable for those choices. Sometimes choosing inaction, (“Let Go, and let God” in Theo-speak) is the best choice, but often it isn’t.

    On July 3rd, I received a Facebook message from a long time friend about the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the typical comments. One of the comments stood out for it showed a lack of knowledge on the part of the commenter, who had remarked on how people were trying to remove “Under God” from the pledge and how our founding fathers had shown great wisdom by including the phrase in the pledge, and how people seemed to no longer believe in the words on the pledge.

    I responded by pointing out that the pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892, linking a good history article as a reference, and also quoting the original pledge. I pointed out the important part of the pledge, was the idea of “one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” and that we are clearly moving away from those concepts.

    Through the fear mongering of corporate media, we are changing from one nation of over 300 million into over 300 million nations of one. We are being divided though prejudice, religion, fear, hate and most significantly by wealth.

    Most of us have no liberty, as we are indentured to a greedy economic system administered by and for the sole benefit of the ultra rich, who hide behind corporate facades while they increasingly manipulate
    out government to preclude the opportunity and suppress the liberty of the masses.

    And justice is no longer for all.

    We need to return the US to a nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

  2. Miles McCullough says:

    Deists are not more or less Christian by any stretch. Coming from Arkansas I even have a hard time identifying Unitarians as more or less Christian, even though I was a UU for a bit. As for fire-and-brimstone Christians Patrick Henry is about the only one, and he can be countered with Thomas Paine, who was an anti-theist.

    If you wrote down the religious highlights of the top dozen founding fathers or so, you might not get an Arkansan to recognize any of them as Christians or even leaning Christian on average. No wonder even the impassioned call to arms of the Declaration doesn't even mention God or Jesus or for that matter, call the British demons. I assure you if an Arkansan wrote it, George would be Satan himself, sitting on a throne of blood and darkness, wielding a scepter of malice.

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