Independence Day is upon us here in the ol’ U.S. of A. It’s that time of year when we Americans dress our yards up in red, white and blue streamers, host holiday cookouts, and (if you live in town) travel outside the city limits to purchase boxes of illegal fireworks to be set off in our backyards. Here in Texas we’ll be doing all these things despite the oppressive heat, drought warnings and swarming mosquitos the size of low-flying aircraft.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing to me about the July 4th holiday is that while we may call it our nations birthday, it is actually nothing of the sort. Rather, it’s the anniversary of the beginning of a bad breakup. It marks the moment when we figuratively looked into Great Britain’s eyes and said, “Yeah, we need to talk”.
We are, after all, talking about the signing of the Declaration of Independence here: arguably the single most famous “Dear John” letter ever put to paper. Our attention, I would say, was on getting out of a bad relationship and not on getting into another.
Admittedly, the phrase “United States of America” did appear in the Declaration; it could be argued that we already had our eye on someone else (and isn’t that why most relationships end). However, we didn’t officially become the United States of America until the ratification of the Articles of Confederation in November
Even then, it wasn’t until 1781 that the British finally took the hint and stopped hounding us with Redcoats and badly edited mix-tapes. There we were after years of war, single at last and free to pursue happiness with an exciting new Republic.
Is it strange that we do not celebrate those anniversaries?
Frankly, I think it says a lot about our current “relationship” that we are so focused on remembering our falling out with the English. By reminding ourselves every year that we are free of the one who abused us, we are able to ignore certain inadequacies in our present situation.
Perhaps it’s because the U.S. was the rebound relationship. We never really got out there and enjoyed our single life and liberty. No sooner had the last of King George’s boxes been taped up and set out on the curb than we were picking out china patterns with someone else.
Maybe we moved too fast?
I dare say, we certainly had our problems right from the start. There was the deplorable manner in which we treated the people who were living in the apartment when we moved in. “Hi, folks, we’re the new roommates, hope you don’t mind moving into the cabinet under the stairs.”
Hell, we almost tore the whole thing apart in the 1860’s trying to decide if that whole “all men created equal” thing was heartfelt or just another cheesy pick-up line.
That was a pretty rough patch and we really wondered if we’d get through it together. With some hard work and not a little pain and sacrifice we did make it. And on the whole, things seemed to be getting better. Or maybe that’s just what we told ourselves so we could sleep at night.
The truth is, we were pretty badly burned by our relationship with the British. When we started things off with the U.S. we were feeling used and vulnerable. It’s understandable that we would want to avoid making the same mistakes again.
Promises were made. Assurances given. A Bill of Rights passed. Yet still over 200 years after the fact we are fighting tooth and nail just to get what we asked for.
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 press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
How hard is this? Really!
We’ve agreed to keep church out of the business of government and government out of the business of church. We are guaranteed the right to peaceably gather in protest and to express ourselves publicly and in full view of an unhindered press. It’s not really that difficult a concept to grasp.
And what do we get instead? How about “In God We Trust” stamped on our money and “One Nation Under God” wedged into the pledge that we ask our children to recite every morning. Our tax dollars are funneled into Faith Based Initiatives and legislating the Defense of Marriage Act while our leaders gather at the National Prayer Breakfast complaining about a “war on religion”. Soon enough I expect we will be paying for School Vouchers that will be used to send kids to private religious schools where they can learn about “Intelligent Design” without the ACLU bothering them. All the while, our Public School system crumbles from lack of funding.
I’m an American and a Polytheist. I’ve got the taxation. Where is MY representation?
I love my country. I really do. We have made some wonderful memories together. There are days however, when I wonder if we are truly made for each other. I grow weary of the constant bickering and broken promises. Is this what they call “Democracy in Action” or is it a sign that we are growing apart?
I guess we will just have to grill our hamburgers, set off our fireworks and put the big questions off for the moment. Maybe things will look better in the morning after the smoke has cleared and all the plastic cups and plates have been cleared away. Maybe we can put “the talk” off for a while yet.
Until then it would be wise to remember that…,
To him in whom love dwells, the whole world is but one family.