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Thursday, July 4, 2013

These truths are not self evident

July 4 has me thinking about patriotism, the Declaration of Independence, and the meaning of the common good.

Defining Patriotism

The word patriotism evokes a variety of images for me: support the troops bumper stickers, flag waving, pictures of historic figures and moments, people singing patriotic songs, fighter jets over head, soldiers in uniform. These images reflect an understanding of patriotism as a political (or in our times economic) ideology and its defense. But what if we were to define patriotism as support and nurture of the common good.

The problem, of course, is that our society does not have a shared understanding of the common good. As Christians, though, we do define a common good. Using a biblical perspective of the common good, we could say teachers and those working for an educated populace are patriotic. We could say John D. Yoder is patriotic for his tireless work developing the Pumpkinvine Trail, which has contributed mightily to the peace (shalom) of our city. We could say that everyone working with and for La Casa is patriotic, along with those working for clean water, clean air, healthy food, and affordable medical care.

This July 4, I am claiming all of us working for the common good as patriots.

The Declaration of Independence

Thomas Jefferson failed to practice what he put to pen and paper in the Declaration of Independence, indeed by his own admission. Still, the Declaration is a remarkable document, and I have a great deal of affection for it. I do take issue with one of Jefferson's assumptions. "These truths" are not self evident.

The notion that all people are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights did not enter the historical trajectory of Western culture through philosophical reflection either modern or antique, nor through scientific observation, but through God's revelation in scripture. Male and female God created them. In the image of God he created them.

Outside of the biblical witness, at least in the Western cultural tradition, little or no evidence exists to support claims of equality or the universal endowment of rights.