Last Friday was, of course, Independence Day. I live on the edge of a small city in Texas, so eidola (images) were as much in evidence as Herms on the streets of ancient Corinth. Every railing and awning in the city park was festooned with red, white, and blue, the hillocks were painted with patriotic slogans and pictures, and along the streets many homes put out their own eidolon while the city supplied them for the streets along which the solemn procession would take. But what type of worship is taking place? What is there to celebrate anyway? That is indeed the question.
The date in 1776 was the formal declaration of certain colonies breaking away from the authority of the country that had planted them. So subsequent celebrations could be seen as celebrating the success of that war (thanks to the timely help of the French rivals of England). But no foreign power has been trying to control the USA for some time now, and our recent wars have not come to a successful conclusion: the Korean War ended with an armistice (and ongoing hostile words and actions) along approximately the same line as where it started, the Vietnam War (to which my generation contributed over 50,000 lives and the Vietnamese many times that) ended in abysmal failure, and we were graphically reminded during the week that the Iraq War has not ended in success. Nor have most of the tens of wars that we have sponsored (often via the CIA) ended as planned: think Bay of Pigs, Angola, and several in Central America. Many soldiers have been brave, but for what purpose? Do not blame this or that administration or general. Rather, reflect theologically. One cannot help but think of the many passages in the Old Testament in which God boasts of delivering a large force into the hands of a much weaker force, or those in which the Psalmist sings about his destroying horse and chariot and shield and spear. No, there is no use celebrating our military might and successful war making. Not in my generation. Perhaps God is trying to tell us something?
The reason behind the Declaration of Independence was at least to some degree financial. England had imposed taxes of various types. The original Tea Party was basically a tax resistance demonstration (the new country would have to forcibly put down that spirit in that once released, it lived on in such events as the Whisky Rebellion). And England certainly thought it had some right to revenue from the colonies. After all, to a significant extent they were an investment upon which England might expect return. The groups planting colonies were often “companies,” partially (at least) financed by the crown. England had invested a lot of resourced in preventing a French takeover a couple of decades earlier (as part of a much larger European war). So was independence the independence to make money, the service of Mammon? That certainly fits with Alexis de Tocqueville’s observations in his second volume of his Democracy in America that there is a strange restlessness among the Americans, that they do not know that they are well off, that they always want more. (I was indeed listening to this Sunday’s sermon.) That also fits with America’s strange aversion (at least in the ruling classes) to socialism (and also the idea that private property is only legitimate in God’s eyes when used for the common good, a basic thesis of Catholic social ethics) and America’s exporting of capitalism, as pointed out in a recent blog, “Selling Our Sins.”
And that is also at least some of concern behind the recent Supreme Court decision about Hobby Lobby. Let me quickly interject that this concern has nothing to do with any interest in forwarding the cause of birth control, much less abortion – the book The Pill has pointed out some of the negative fallout from that technology, although unfortunately in the case of the Supreme Court decision the non-birth-control uses of these medications (and there are many) was also affected (I say with some sympathy as a person whose insurance company has twice recently denied me the medication that my doctor thought most effective). The issue is that a corporation that is closely held (versus one that is publicly held) is deemed a person with religious rights (and, in a previous decision, with free speech rights, meaning the ability to spend all it wishes and advertise as it wishes to influence elections). Yet the corporation is made up of persons. There is the owner or ownership group, true, but there are also all levels of managers and workers. The only one given rights in this decision is the owner, while the workers (including higher level non-owner management) have no say in the policies of the corporation-person that earns its money through their labor. In other words, personhood and rights are an attribute of incorporating one’s money (see also the whimsical “Protect Your Daughters – Turn Them Into Corporations’ if your senses of humor is like mine). Mammon rules: “In God We Trust.”
The fact is that independence is a myth. Human beings declared independence of God in Gen 3, and ended up in slavery to the Devil (Heb 2:14-15). It is a myth to think that any nation or person can be independent. We always end up serving something or someone. That is why Jesus does not call for independence from the law or independence from the Romans – all “independence from” just leads to a different type of slavery. Instead Jesus calls for taking his “yoke” – a dependence upon, a submission to him and his teaching. He does call for the rejection of Mammon, but not without calling people into his community, his church, where in dependence upon him and his Father money becomes a tool for good rather than something to accumulate for security or power (and for the wealthier power, status, and influence is probably a far more important aspect of money than security, which may be the more important aspect for those in the lower half of the social pyramid – this parallels how rape is far more about power over a person than about sex). He teaches us to pray a prayer of dependence (“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done”) rather than one of independence (“My will be done”). And it is that dependence upon or submission to him and his Father that has meant that his people can never be anything more than undocumented immigrants (“strangers and foreigners”) in the country of their birth, for they have found true freedom in a trans-national government.
July 4 is rarely called Independence Day now. That is probably due to an inner wisdom that realizes that the USA is caught in all types of dependencies on various principalities and powers (we are, so to speak, the “land of the addicted” that calls itself “free”). But we followers of Jesus can celebrate our own Independence Day – personally it is that day (or days, for often it is an ever-deepening process over years) on which we bowed our knee to Jesus and submitted to his yoke and collectively it is Easter, when he broke the power of all types of oppression for all of his followers who paradoxically submit to his rule.