July 4th has so many warm memories for us American Christians that an unfortunate association flies in under the radar. That association pairs one's nationalism with one's religion. The similarities between the two are the ideals involved. And the closer that one's concept of their own nation comes to one's religion, there occurs a blurring between the two to the point that an attack part of one's nationalism is perceived as a threat to one's religion.
The result of the above connection is disturbing. The equating of the two leads to idolatry and polytheism. Here, one's own nation becomes the idol, the new god, with its founding fathers deemed as neoapostles. But along with the worship of this new god is a glorification of the self by association. And because the feelings of worshipping one's nation are so similar, if not the same, as workshipping one's god, it will likely be perceived as a call from above rather than spiritual adultery.
But the two don't have to be equated for sin to result; the sin of favoritism, mentioned in James 2:1-9, is a natural consequence of placing too high a priority on one's own national identity. For us Americans, this becomes evident when we care more about the welfare of fellow Americans than we do justice such as when we are more concerned about our nation's success than when our country treats others unjustly.
How does the problem with one's national identity and, what we call, one's own patriotism start? It starts with celebrations like the ones that will occur this July 4th along with the need to belong. On July 4th, we learn that much if not all that we have are because of our country and those who have served and sacrificed for it. Here, all that we have can be boiled down to our prosperity and freedom. Of course, those who lack in either may not be inclined to be as patriotic as we are; but, nevertheless, national identity and patriotism are generally considered to be semi religious ideals. And, generally speaking, the more patriotic one is, the more noble one is seen to be.
The problem is that while Christian should want to show that one's devotion to one's nation plays second fiddle to our worship of God, what stirs our feelings for both are the same. Our devotion to both shows that we can be dedicated to something that is bigger than ourselves. In addtion our affection for both is in response to what each has provided for us. Finally, we are expected to show gratitude and commitment to that which has provided so much for us.
Returning to our memories of celebrating July 4th, we have fireworks to symbolize the courage and willingness to fight (a.k.a. the violence and wars) that have kept us free from the tyranny of others. And not only that, we are told that the prosperity that surrounds us is the result of that freedom and calls us to serve our country when asked. Compare that with Exodus 20:1-2 shows God declaring that because He has brought His people out of the land of slavery that now they are to serve Him by following his commandments.
And before the above mentioned the Mosaic Covenant was the Abrahamic Covenenat recorded in Genesis 17. In verses 3-8, God tells Abraham what he has or will provide for him while verses 9-16 record how Abraham was to serve God in return for His provision.
What was good in the Old Testament is good in the New Testament. Consider Romans 12:1 where God, speaking through Paul, tells us that based on the the mercy He has shown u, each of us are to serve Him by offering ourselves as a "living sacrifice."
So how should we act on the fourth of July? Should we attribute our freedoms and prosperity to our nation, its founding fathers, and its armed forces knowing that if we do, we are inclined to respond with worship, something God calls us to exhibit for Him only? Also, we should note that if we don't give the above credit for what we have in this country, we risk being thought of as spoiled ingrates.
One way to both pay respect to the past without practicing idolatry is to tell the whole story of our nation's history. That yes, many of us experience an abundance of prosperity and freedom because of the sacrifice of our troops and the wisdom of our founding fathers; but such came at a very high cost to others. Our land was stolen by force from the American Indians. Much of the early wealth of our country came from slave labor before the civil war and Jim Crow enhanced prison labor after reconstruction. In addition, our country has interfered and even altered the state of affairs of many countries for economic reasons. We helped overthrow Iran's elected Prime Minister Mossadegh in '53 for cheaper access to oil and Guatamala's government to reserve the land for an American company in 1954. The vintage example of U.S. intervention came in Chile in 1973 when, on 9-11, we helped enable a coup that replaced a leftist leaning democratic government with a neoliberal totalitarian government again for the sake of American businesses.
There are plenty of other examples of how U.S. foreign intervention has often been in the business of replacing democratic governments with totalitarian leadership. So our good fortune has costs others their freedoms and lives. At this point, we should note the political math formula that says, Liberty - Equality = Privilege. That is, all of that courage, sacrificing, and fighting done for the enrichment of our country was done to give us privileges over others in the world rather than freedom and thus an equality with others.
Compare our history with the Gospel. Whereas those who serve and sacrifice for our country have been slain by external enemies, that is others than ourselves, Jesus was slain by our own sins. And whereas our troops have fought so we can take from others, Jesus died so we can give. And whereas patriotic pride boasts of what we do for ourselves, faith destroys pride by pointing to our utter dependence on God as our sole provider.
The question Christian Americans should be asking on this and every July 4th is: Can we proudly celebrate our whole history while seeking for God's justice to be done? For without the Gospel, nobody can survive that justice and that is what we should note anytime we are tempted to mix our nationalism with our religion by reveling in patriotism.
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10