July 4, 2006

Celebrating the 4th of July: A New Patriotism

Of the holidays that result in a day off of work, I must admit that the 4th of July has always been my least favorite. Once I outgrew the need to buy fireworks (around age 15), much of my enjoyment of the holiday evaporated. It has seemed that no matter where I live, the 4th means rednecks chanting "USA! USA!" while waving flags, drinking tasteless beer, and rallying against foreigners. Celebrating the American experiment or marveling in what makes America unique seem like afterthoughts.

I detest the brand of patriotism which characterizes our imperialistic foreign policy. This is a hateful version of patriotism in that it celebrates the misery of others and clings to a mentality of blind narcissism. "We are better than everyone else. The rest of the world has nothing to teach us; they should grovel at our feet." This version of patriotism, much like religion, is a cancer on the human mind.

However, I have come to realize that a different sort of patriotism is possible, maybe even desirable. The real beauty of America is that it is a nation influenced by religion but founded on reason. The framers could have selected any system of government. Contrary to those clamoring for theocracy today, they deliberately kept gods out of the Constitution. Despite the religious beliefs possessed by some, they drafted a new government based on reason. The founders realized that the only way to protect religious freedom and to prevent religious discrimination was to keep religion out of politics. Jefferson's wall of separation between church and state was a reasoned solution to a difficult problem. It is a solution from which we have strayed, and it is time to return.

I celebrate America as the only nation with an explicitly secular Constitution. I believe that the U.S. has a critically important role in the world and much to offer other nations. I would like to see us become a true leader, one who leads by example rather than threat of punitive measures. At the same time, I recognize that we have much to learn from other countries and that continuing to shut them out is a terrible mistake. Many other nations excel in areas in which America struggles. To say that we have nothing to learn from them is the worst kind of arrogance.

On this July 4, 2006, I recognize that we are in dark times where the forces opposed to reason seem powerful. However, I remain optimistic that our democratic experiment is not yet over and that reason will triumph over superstition and fear. Happy birthday, America.