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?