Independence Day 2017

Today is American Independence Day. It’s also the anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’s publication, and Trois-Rivières founding day. Ashikaga Yoshiakira’s birthday, Pactum Sicardi, and whole bunch of other stuff make this day important, too.


(From Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(The “largest living maple leaf,” July 1, 2017, in Winnipeg, Canada.)

This whole year is special for folks in Canada. Canadians are celebrating their nation’s 150th anniversary with special events, including Winnipeg’s “largest living maple leaf.”

I’m mostly aware of July Fourth as my country’s Independence Day.

Patriotism Can be Cheesy

America!

Land of the free, home of the Patriotic Inflatable Drink Cooler, and — for a brief shining moment — a one-ton replica of Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence, made entirely of cheese and cooking oil.

I don’t mind the ‘commercialization’ of America’s Independence Day. Although I appreciate fine art, I also like just-for-fun kitsch like ‘patriotic’ bottles and — bow ties?

The 2008 Cheez-It sculpture was on display in New York City and Philadelphia before getting shipped back to Wisconsin. I’d tell you where you could see it now, but it’s long since been broken down and given to food pantries.

The ‘Good Old Days’ Weren’t

I like being an American, but realize that my country isn’t perfect: and never has been. On the whole, I think we’ve been getting better over the last 241 years.

I’ll admit to a bias.

I’m a Catholic, and like being allowed to live here. We’re even allowed to own property and vote. That’s a huge improvement over the ‘good old days’ in some parts.

I certainly don’t miss more recent ‘good old days’ when a disturbing fraction of red-white-and-blue-blooded Americans seemed convinced that Jesus was an American.

In fairness, I’ve never heard anyone actually say that. My guess is that even the most rabid radio preachers of my youth would, if they had calmed down a little, have realized that the Age of the Apostles did not end in 1954. (June 18, 2017)

Some folks still get their notion of patriotism confused with their religious beliefs. I think that attitude helped make “kill a commie for Christ” an anti-war slogan.

Sadly, Weege’s 1967 lithograph echoes America’s traditional anti-Catholic imagery, as well as contemporary political sentiments. I really don’t miss the ‘good old days.’1

Five Years of the Toleration Act

Maryland enjoys the distinction of being called the “birthplace of religious freedom in America.” (Wikipedia)

George Calvert founded the Province of Maryland for English Catholics.

Maryland was Calvert’s second North American colony. The first was Avalon, founded in 1621 and currently part of Newfoundland.

Calvert’s house in Avalon was the only one big enough for large groups, so both Catholics and Protestants held services there. That freaked out Erasmus Stourton, Avalon’s Anglican clergyman, with the usual results.

Maryland had troubles, too. Human nature pretty well guaranteed that. England’s 1642-1651 civil war led to Maryland’s 1644-1646 Plundering Time.

The 1649 Maryland Toleration Act, mandating religious tolerance for Trinitarian Christians, lasted until 1654. It’s the second ‘religious freedom’ law in American history. Rhode Island got the ball rolling in 1636, and that’s another topic.

Salem Witch Trials and — Psychedelic Pumpernickel???

Puritans set their “City upon a Hill” in the John Winthrop’s 1628-1691 Massachusetts Bay Colony. That’s where Salem and Boston are now.

Massachusetts-bound Puritans were fleeing England in part because Charles I had married a Catholic.

They feared, not unreasonably, that their version of Henry VIII’s English church might succumb to — creeping Catholicism???

Starting around 1660, assorted English kings got interested in their North American colonies again. Maryland was reorganized as a dominion and a royal province before the American Revolution happened. Now it’s an American state with a colorful history.

Religious beliefs were a factor in the 1692-1693 Salem witch trials. But the last I heard we’re not sure exactly why those folks went nuts. One of the more imaginative ideas is that the lunacy started with a bad batch of rye bread.

The idea isn’t as crazy at it sounds. Claviceps purpurea infects rye and similar grains. It contains ergotamine. Ergotamine is a precursor of lysergic acid, which should ring a bell.

Albert Hofmann synthesized the first lysergic acid diethylamide in 1938, Timothy Leary popularized LSD three decades later, and that’s yet another topic.

The 1780 Constitution of Massachusetts guaranteed religious freedom: for some. Its declaration of rights included equality for “every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably and as good subjects of the commonwealth.”

I’d like to think that Catholics were considered a “denomination of Christians” by then.

Patriot Dream

Being Catholic doesn’t keep me from being an American, but I don’t have to be an American to be Catholic.

I’m obliged to be a good citizen, no matter where I live.

Contributing to the good of society and taking part in public life is part of my faith. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1915, 2239)

Different cultures allow different kinds of participation, and that’s okay. (Catechism, 1915)

One of the issues I’m concerned about is religious freedom: which does not mean forcing everyone to agree with me. ‘Free to agree with me’ isn’t freedom.

As a Catholic, I must support religious freedom — for everybody. (Catechism, 21042109)

There’s more to being Catholic. But the ‘citizenship’ part boils down to loving God and my neighbor, and seeing everyone as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:4344, 7:12, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; 10:2527, 2937; Catechism, 1789)

Like I said, America isn’t perfect. No society in humanity’s long story has been ideal. That’s why I can’t accept the status quo.

Yearning for days of yore isn’t an option, either. Even if I could, I wouldn’t try dragging America back to some imaged ‘golden age.’ My memory is too good to imagine that nostalgia is more than an occasionally-pleasant daydream.

That leaves one direction: forward.

“…O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!…”
(“America the Beautiful,” Katharine Lee Bates, 1911 version, via Wikipedia)

I don’t imagine that humanity’s many problems will be solved in the next century, millennium, or ten millennia from now. As I’ve said before, we’re working through an enormous backlog.

But I am sure that we make something better than what we have today.

Part of my job is helping bring a greater degree of justice and charity, and respect for “the transcendent dignity of man,” to America; and the world. (Catechism, 19281942, 24192442)

I’m just one man, living in central Minnesota. There isn’t much I can do to change the world: apart from suggesting that loving our neighbors, all our neighbors, makes sense.

I think we can, if we work with all people of good will, build a better world. I am certain that we must try.

Acting as if love matters:


1 The ‘good old days:’

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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