Wednesday, July 9, 2008

July 4th

On July 4th many families barbecue, attend parades, doze by the pool, and eventually "oohh" and "aahh" over fireworks at the end of the day. But do we really celebrate our "independence" or the events that precipitated that struggle and its result? I'm guessing that for many apathetic Americans the occasion seems little different from Memorial Day or Labor Day: it's a day off from work. And this year the holiday offered the additional reward of a long weekend and the opportunity to take a mini-vacation - if one could afford the gas!

Based on recent surveys of Americans' knowledge of their own history, I suspect that most of the barbecuers and beach goers possess a minuscule understanding of what actually happened in Philadelphia over two centuries ago. In fact, thanks to poorly taught history and the persistence of popular historical myths, people are more likely to believe in an apocryphal vision of George Washington, the Declaration of Independence, and the Revolution, borne of a Parson Weems tale. (The fact of Americans' ignorance about history doesn't surprise me. According to a National Science Foundation survey, one out of five Americans still believes that the sun revolves around the earth. So much for Copernicus!) The apotheosis of Washington and the "Founding Fathers" was a popular exercise for 19th century authors looking for validation of the country's republican experiment - at a time when survival of that republic was hardly assured.

Unfortunately a similar canonization of that revolutionary generation has occurred in the last decade, as the "religious right" has tried to equate patriotism with religious faith, while hailing Washington and his peers as paragons of Christian service. And like anxious Whigs and Jacksonians who feared the divisive effects of sectionalism, evangelical conservatives now believe the nation is under assault from terrorists and liberals. On July 4th I saw a man sporting a t-shirt with red, white, and blue letters proclaiming "JesUSAves," as if Jesus and the iconic figure of Uncle Sam had lain in the same manger in Bethlehem! Sure, one can observe an obvious religious undercurrent in the founding - and peopling - of the United States. However, a dubious Puritan legacy notwithstanding, the "founding fathers" seemed less concerned with their faith than with commercial matters and the distribution of power between the states and the new federal government. Their generalized encomiums to god more precisely reflected a pluralistic vision sired by Enlightenment rationalism and its deistic notions. Conservative misappropriation of our history's lessons, and its revision for divisive purposes, conversely reflects the base anti-intellectualism and fear-mongering that under girds the false patriotism so immodestly on display in the post-9/11 world.

And what did our family do on July 4th?? Like so many Americans we ate and played, scarcely acknowledging the national birthday. We gathered en masse at a cousin's home on Virginia's Eastern Shore and enjoyed a seafood feast at the little Methodist church in which my father was raised. It was their 120th year of serving a dinner on Independence Day. And when it came to the crab cakes and clam fritters I definitely indulged in the sin of gluttony. It was sooooooooo good. No doubt my arteries were asking for absolution at the end of the day. The photos are just a few from the day's events. I'll post more tomorrow.

1 comment:

One Wink at a Time said...

Really great post Brian, full of all kinds of great stuff, including pictures :-)
(I enjoyed the food the most. Call me un-patriotic if you must!)