I love the 4th of July. In my book, any holiday which is celebrated by flame-grilling meat and allowing children to light dangerous explosives is a winner. Fire kicks ass. (I’m saddened that many states no longer allow children anywhere near fireworks, as this was one of the extreme joys of my childhood. No wonder America’s kids are growing up with issues.)
I also love that we set aside a day every year to celebrate the United States’ independence from foreign rule and the birth of North American democracy. Man, democracy was and still is a terrific idea, and doggone if it’s not worth lighting a few fires to confirm it. I’m incredibly grateful to have been born an American, and pray that I’ll never take for granted the blind chance or dumb luck or possibly God’s hand that led to my birth in Houston, Texas rather than Mogadishu, Somalia or Chengdu, China or any one of a gazillion other places where my chances at life would have been significantly diminished and my chances at a GOOD life would have been next to nil.
It’s this matter of blind chance or whatever which makes ever-so-slightly uncomfortable with Independence Day, even as I enjoy the feasts and fires. The truth is, I’m not very patriotic. (This admission will make me instantly unpopular with some readers, but hang on with me a sec.) I think the ideas which led to the creation of our nation were some of the best that have yet occured to the human mind, and those ideas are definitely worth celebrating. But none of us were there, ya know? We can’t really congratulate ourselves, since we’re just the lucky dopes whose moms delivered in a hospital on this side of an imaginary line. Maybe we can feel some sense of ownership insofar as we participate in the perpetuation of this democracy, but even the opportunity to do that is the result (for most of us) of being popped out in the right place at the right time.
It’s this word patriotism that freaks me out a little bit. Like I said, I’m a huge fan of democracy. I’d go so far as to say that in certain circumstances, democracy is worth dying for. But the United States isn’t “democracy.” It isn’t even the embodied ideal of democracy, at least not all of the time. It’s a nation founded on the idea of democracy, and I submit that it is democracy, not our country, which warrants our devotion. Patriotism leaves room for the love of country to conquer the ideals upon which the country was founded. (I might also submit that this is happening even now, but that’s for another post.)
So tonight when I get together with some fellow Americans to light meat on fire and watch the sky explode, I’ll feel thankful that I somehow beat the 2,430 to 1 odds of being born in the U.S. in 1975 (rough estimate) and grateful that the idea of democracy caught the hearts and minds of our founding fathers. I will also pray that a blind love for our nation never overshadows the ideal for which it stands.