235 Years Later: What Are We About?

Sunday 3 July 2011

Tomorrow marks the 235th ‘Birthday’ of the United States of America. Insofar as an idea or geographic demarcation (which today hardly resembles its comparatively minuscule original colonial boundaries) or a sovereign state or any other way to describe what we mean when we say USA can have a ‘Birthday,’ this weekend is the time set aside annually to celebrate that event. For many reasons, it is a time worthy of celebration. Yesterday I highlighted some reasons for which we must maintain a certain degree of faithful vigilance in the face of increased nationalism, a challenge to all who bear the name Christ to recall their priorities and re-examine their baptismal commitments.

Today, I want to pause to briefly consider what I believe this holiday weekend might offer us by way of a possibility for hope. I still believe in the often-misappropriated slogans and clichés used to describe the United State: “a beacon of hope” or the “land of opportunity” and the like. These concepts, these wishes remain true in their potentiality, but have not yet become realized.

If we return to consider the that late-eighteenth-century period when those colonial leaders gathered together with the insurrectionist plan to cut ties with England, we might better appreciate the founding of our nation’s heritage over and against the post facto (at best) or revisionist (at worst) attempts to replace historical fact with anachronism. What this nation was really founded on was an anti-imperialist sentiment. What has served as a “beacon of hope” for the world – what led to the French Revolution and to many of the anti-colonial revolts across the globe in the decades and centuries that followed – was the notion that imperialism was indeed not divinely ordained, but a violation of the rights of a people.

Yet, in so many ways we’ve become what we hated in the beginning. Like a child who has grown up to recognize in his or her own behavior those inherited parental traits most despised, 235-years-later the United States looks in the global mirror to see eighteenth-century England staring it back in the face. We have become what we hated about our parent nation, an empire whose expanse ultimately led to its recessive collapse. Its gubernatorial hubris propels expansion and the capitalist’s dream of ever-growing material accumulation.

Wars and meddling, intervention in foreign governmental affairs, ‘cultural’ exportation (do we really want the people of Thailand thinking that all United States citizens are represented by the cast of Jersey Shore?), the rise of unbridled capitalism at the expense of the citizenry, and so much more reminds the careful observer of the colonial impulse that dominated the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Some might be wondering why I am offering such ostensibly critical remarks this Independence Day weekend. My response is only that so often these celebrations, done with the best and innocent intentions, can often mask some serious problematic issues we need to recognize and discuss.

Each time we grow a year older and blow out yet another candle on the birthday cake, it is natural to pause and reflect on whence we’ve come and wither we go. So too is that a good idea for us as a nation: Who are we? Where are we going? What are we about?

Photo: Stock

2 Responses to “235 Years Later: What Are We About?”

  1. Matthew Says:

    I believe that this article is again overly critical of the good that has also been done by the so-called “imperialism” one claims to be the root of our hubris. The concept of imperialism requires the need for world domination and false pride that ‘we are the best’. Does one seriously believe the concerted effort or intent to “export” the “Hollywood” version of America?!?! (I do not believe this to be the case.) And for the record, I find it ironic and hypocritical: the last time I checked, “Hollywood” was controlled by the progressive left who claim the same protection, and have been granted the libertine freedoms they enjoy by the Constitution, not-to-mention the blood, sweat and tears, by those who have defended their rights from tyranny! Yet these are the same people who consistently force their libertine beliefs down the throats of God fearing, traditional folks, while enjoying living an extravagant lifestyle, and “publically” giving, if they give at all, to the marginalize and forgotten.

    Having just come back from mass, the pastor spoke of his travels to many other places, and given his age, knew personally the oppression of the certain countries around the globe, not to mention the quality of life issues. While I agree that today should be a time to reflect on where we have been and where we are going, IMHO it is important recognize the great sacrifices people have made. We must be eternally grateful to God for having bestowed many blessings upon us, but also repentant for not having used them better, and attempt to mend our ways as we move forward. It is certainly not a time to be overly critical, and comparing the U.S. to former colonial powers of the old world. In doing so, it becomes very slippery slope, because has history proves, the Holy Mother Church was perhaps the first colonial power in the Christan age, which also had Divine right to evangelize the Gospel and bring it to all peoples of the world.

  2. I think John Paul II’s words (Miami,Sept. 10, 1987) capture what we are called to celebrate on this special day: “To celebrate the origin of the United States is to stress those moral and spiritual principles, those ethical concerns that influenced your Founding Fathers and have been incorporated into the experience of America”. I also am impressed by Pope Benedict’s words at the White House (April 16, 2008.) “From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator”.

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