In his book THE FOUR LOVES, one of the topics C. S. Lewis addresses is patriotism—a timely topic this Fourth of July weekend. He states that there are three pillars that form the foundation for “proper patriotism”:
Love of Home and Family
Gratitude and respect for the sacrifices of those who came before us.
Vigilance against a prosaic belief that individually we as a people are better than other people.
With a love of home there is a love for a way of life. The family offers us the first step beyond self-love, and it should offer us the first step beyond individual selfishness. Selfish interest and self-interest when put into the context of familial interactions teaches how to treat others in the real world when we become adults. Teaching of “service before self” when we are young, teaches us to always live a life with an eye toward service when we raise our families, or interact in the marketplace, or serve in the military or in our churches or on ranches and farms. Families should first be primarily concerned with teaching our children how to be good mothers and fathers and how to someday serve and teach their own children.
A respect for our country’s past—the great and not so great deeds of our forefathers. Shakespeare opined: “This past is felt both to impose an obligation and to hold out an assurance; we must not fall below the standard our fathers set us, and because we are their sons there is good hope, we shall not…”
The past is not always good. The actual history of any civilization, of any country is not all good. A patriotism based on only a glorious past without a critical eye to what past generations didn’t get right leaves modern day patriots open to cynics, many who fail to put history into the proper context. Slavery is the great shame of the American Experiment, but today there are over 80 million slaves in the world—many more if one accounts for forced labor of political and religious prisoners. Slavery has been part of the human experience for 15,000 years. If one goes back far enough in their own history the reality of human subsistence and poverty, indentured bondage and chattel slavery, is part of our past. Many of our ancestors fled such an oppressive existence to seek opportunity. For the Black descendants of the 12million slaves that suffered for over 250 years in our country a great Civil War was fought with over 500,000 lost lives in order for an emancipation to take place that is 160 years still being fought for but closer than ever to being realized—Read Judge Thomas’s concurring opinion in the Education Affirmative Action Case from two days ago—written I might add by a man who was raised by his grandfather share cropper, went to Catholic Parish Schools, graduated from Yale Law School and now sits as the Senior Justice on our Supreme Court:
“While I am painfully aware of the social and economic ravages which have befallen my race and all who suffer discrimination,” he added, “I hold out enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles so clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States: that all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law.”
The third point is the one most misunderstood by theologians and our religious leaders. We should never believe for an instant that we as a people are better than anyone else. That is not what American Exceptionalism is about. We as a people because of our Founding Documents and our systems of governance and Law upon which all other aspects of our public civil transactions take place, allows us individually and as a group to be better creators, entrepreneurs, scientists, you name it, and to create a standard of living that is the direct result of our being able to fulfill our human potential—better than any other place in the world—ever.
Christians this weekend should celebrate the 4th of July not because we are a theocracy, but because we are a nation founded on Christian principles and we are and always have been a virtuous Christian people.
Nor do Christians need to celebrate our country’s Birthday because we are carrying out a Devine Mission—though I firmly believe with all my heart that “Devine Providence” has always had a hand in my own life and my country’s life. Love of country distinguishes between the role of government, from the substance and practice of faith. That is why people of all faiths should stand for our Flag as it passes by in parade. Our Founding Fathers fled from religious oppressions by theocratic monarchies. Churches can thrive in our country as can people of faith. Believers of all faiths should unite this weekend and thank God for the miracle of our Founding. I call on all religious in the Catholic Church and all the Protestant ministers throughout our State to stand with their congregations and say the pledge of allegiance. Then maybe sing a few lines of THE BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC.
God Bless America! Happy Birthday!