Happy National Birthday Eve
Today is the Eve of America’s birthday, July 4. 247 years ago the Declaration of Independence was read, publicly declaring:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
All who signed were laying their lives on the line together, and many were soon ruined by the American Revolution. The vast majority were Christians, and they saw their faith in the words above.
This post wishes you, your family, and your friends a very Happy 4th of July. I also introduce here a subject that’s been white hot since the 2016 presidential election: Christianity and nationalism. It becomes extremely controversial, troubling, and polarizing very quickly. It’s laced with minefields, regardless of the pathway chosen.
In the spirit of goodwill to all fellow Americans and non-citizens alike, we won’t take on Christianity and nationalism fully today. However, I will get the conversation going, starting with the terrific introductory clip at top from our interview with George Weigel (first presented last month). His full interview appears here. You can find clip GW-20 linked there and continue for a couple more to get his full rendering on the subject in that interview.
In addition, I refer you to another PC Contributor, Hugh Whelchel, and his recent post on the subject linked here (including Tim Keller). Hugh refers in the article to other commentators who place nationalism of any kind in the context of Gospel-centered Christianity.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Christians being patriotic, even being willing to die for their country. Governments and nations are necessary for any form of culture, society, and civilization. St. Paul famously recognizes this.
While Christians refer to any priority higher than God as an idol and a sin, they recognize what God has given us in this life and that He sustains a true, good, and beautiful world that we should love – from our spouse to our family, friends, church, nation, and beyond.
The three operative words George Weigel uses to provide context above are humanism, nationalism, and universalism, all based on Genesis and the imago Dei concept. Here’s another Weigel clip offering more context.
Love, compassion, and charity are the reasons we’re here, yet these attributes must be ordered properly; in other words, kept in the right context and perspective.
Much of life’s beauty is in the anticipation of what is to come: a new relationship, a new direction, a new era, a revelation of ultimate reality. This is why Christmas Eve to Christians might be a 363-day perpetual holiday, bounded only by Christmas and Easter. Christians tend to see this life as service to God and others lived in anticipation of the next.
In addition to the Eve of our 247th national birthday, today is also the 160th anniversary of the pivotal Third Day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 3, 1863. I have been fascinated with the American Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg since first studying it in detail in college in the 1970’s.
Of course, most assembled at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July 1863 were Christians – who said and believed they were fighting for a form of nationalism – both sides reading the words in the Declaration of Independence above from much different perspectives.
While a perceived end to slavery had loomed in the background of Anglo and even European culture for more than 100 years, the generals and soldiers present at Gettysburg would not have said they were fighting for “the patriarchy” or “white supremacy.” Their words before the Third Day’s climactic fight would have included “save the union and nation” or “self-determination for my country.”
Once the issue of sovereignty was settled, anything was possible in time.
The Union army under General George Meade held the defensive high ground just outside the small town of Gettysburg, with the Southern army under General Robert Lee surrounding it in the shape of what became known as “The Fishhook” (as depicted here).
After two days of bloody fighting and near victory, General Lee made the fateful decision on theThird Day to charge up Cemetery Ridge with fresh troops under the command of General Pickett. Following the greatest cannonade of the war, Pickett’s charge made it to the top of the ridge, the Fishhook, but failed to dislodge and collapse the Union forces.
Pickett’s charge ended the battle and Southern hopes for a victory in their second attempt to invade the North and end the war “quickly.”
While the Southern loss at Gettysburg didn’t end the war or make the Southern defeat inevitable, all present were well aware of its immense importance . . . and the significance of the date, “July 4th Eve.” An ominous feeling beset the troops on both sides, as the Confederates days later somehow escaped to safety over the Potomac River, weather and “good” fortune assisted.
Most of these men could hold these critical beliefs together: Christianity, nationalism, God’s omni-power and -love, and human free will. Such beliefs had been worked out in detail in the West over the course of many centuries. With salvation through faith alone, duty and gratefulness require squarely facing and sometimes embracing sacrifice, pain, suffering, and even death.
Most knew they could not presume God was on their side, but they prayed for survival and victory; that they had made the right decision to be there in the first place and risk everything they had. (Letting God determine the results and consequences.)
The largest, most consequential battle on the North American continent produced over 51,000 casualties, including 7,000 killed. (Just one of the huge battles of the War.) For the most part, Americans do not risk their lives to further what they perceive to be as evil.
Jesus had been a fisher of men (meaning human beings), and he had been willing to die for humanity and his loved ones. Many soldiers believed the Gospel offers the best pathway to mercy, forgiveness, and peace. It became critical to reconciliation in the years after the War’s end, and the result of the War was credited to God’s grace, like it or not. Sometimes we do win by losing.
If there is any lesson in the Bible, this is it. Yet, with sacrifice comes eternity. It’s never over with God’s love.
Historians like to say the American Revolution formed the United States, but the Civil War created or molded it. During the 20th century and to date, America’s existence has done much to preserve freedom, democracy, and the rule of law around the globe.
As George mentions above and as another PC Contributor, Sir Roger Scruton, has mentioned in the past, America’s existence remains immensely important to the U.K., Europe, and the rest of the world. For now, we likely are the last, best, and strongest hope on earth. Our leadership remains more vital than ever.
In recognition of those who’ve made freedom and peace in America possible, we proudly say: God Bless America.
There’s no issue in that; only hope.