(I woke up this morning reading James K.A. Smith’s Tweets regarding a more critical look at what is meant by “independence” or “freedom” and particularly the seemingly inextricable tie between freedom and war portrayed in July 4th celebrations. ”War” Smith tweeted, “is not a necessary condition for freedom… Don’t tell me I owe my freedom to war.“ I agree with the critique. I also affirm the courage of tweeting that on this, America’s most sacred celebration. Which leads me to re-post this piece of mine from July 4, 2010)
Most are familiar with the opening lines to the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” But the Declaration begins with a short explanation of it’s necessity. Jefferson opened the Declaration with the suggestion that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” It is striking to me that this letter, inflammatory as it is, is nonetheless tempered with “respect” for its readers and their opinions, oppressive tyrants though they be.
The philosopher Bernard Henri-Levi notes that America…
“..never was and never will be founded on the continuity of a race,.. the solidity of a soil, or on an intrinsic autochthony or even a shared history.. “
Instead, we are a nation…
“… forged by people of diverse origins who had nothing in common but this sharing …of a desire and an Idea.”
We are a people whose roots are tangled up in the Idea that a diversity of thought strengthens us just a diversity of culture enriches us.
I hope our celebration of America can go without the notion that certain opinions, certain philosophies and certain people must be silenced or defeated (or deported) in order to enjoy my America. Including the voices of those who sincerely critique our country. It is a vast, complex and truly great conversation we have entered into and entertained for well over 2 centuries; it’s energy is provided by the tension between cultures, opinions, theories and world-views. No, we do not always carry the conversation well; but we are exactly at our worst when we react poorly; when we receive the differing political, religious and philosophical thoughts of another as primarily a threat to our way of life and not, at least in some way, an enrichment of a diverse, growing and still young nation.
Don’t get me wrong: I am no dualist. I believe in one, uniform, whole, encompassing Truth which pervades and permeates all life, space and time… I just don’t think we arrive at anything resembling that Truth by silencing, much less insulting the “other guy.” I believe, in fact, that discovering Truth or coming to an understanding of what is good for a people happens best in the context of a sincere and spirited conversation; one with the foundation of “a decent respect.”
Happy 4th of July.