Wednesday, July 04, 2007

God and Patriotism: thoughts on the 4th of July

In the midst of our individual ways of celebrating this national holiday, it is good to consider how easily love of country (the meaning of the term patriotism) can become confused with religion. Now my eyes get misty when I see the American flag waving in the breeze, and I sing “God bless America” as loudly as the next person when I’m at the baseball game (now that this has, it seems, become a new national custom). But I know that these are words and images that I have been taught to respond to; if I were, for example, from Zambia, I would not have the same feelings.

This is where my countrymen are easily confused: God, if indeed there is a God, does not place the humans who inhabit this particular part of the world above the humans who inhabit the other parts of the world. There are those who would have us believe otherwise.

They call themselves and their groups by various names, and they were around even before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They are people, men mostly, who thirst to have power over other people, and they cloak their quest under the cover of religion. What do they want? To do away with the Constitution and establish a theocracy where the state and religion are one.

Some might actually believe what they say: that they have discovered Truth and have a special relationship with their god who communicates with them in mysterious ways (in this country, when people hear voices in their heads, we place them in asylums; but if they say it on the radio or television, we send them money). Others are seeking political power and may or may not believe what they say, but they are more than happy to bend, twist, and otherwise misuse religion to attain power.

This day celebrates a time when a cluster of colonies banded together to tell England that they would not tolerate a system that oppressed people because they had different religious or political views then the majority. This would become a nation ruled by law, where a theocracy would not exist. This would be something not seen before among nations: a secular government where all religions could flourish, and where even the non-religious could find refuge.

This is a day to remember the closing words of the Pledge of Alligance, so we can once again be a nation indivisible, where all people, and all religions, can truly say that here is they find liberty and justice for all.

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