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Celebrating the Fourth

I’d like for this blog posting to be a positive, upbeat, what-a-great-country-we-live-in encomium of American patriotism. Don’t get me wrong. We certainly live in the greatest and most blessed country on earth–but compared with what?

Since most of us will be indulging in cookouts (weather permitting) on this holiday, allow me to use a food-related analogy. If one has fed on nothing but hot dogs–even the real, bun-length, all beef dogs, not the mushy chicken-pork composites or the fake turkey dogs–his entire life, and he looks at other people who’ve eaten nothing but potted meat, his diet looks fabulous. He feels really good about it. But he’s ignorant of the fact that something infinitely better is actually available–steak.

Third-world countries are the potted-meat eaters in my analogy. America and other Western “free” countries are the hot-dog eaters. The steak eaters represent what America once was, what the Founders intended it to be.

Two of those Founding Fathers held quite different political opinions concerning the role of government. John Adams wanted a strong, centrally controlled government; Thomas Jefferson wanted a small, locally controlled government. Jefferson believed that the government that governs least governs best. These men clashed so fiercely over this issue that the disagreement disrupted their close personal friendship. Only in the waning years of their lives were they able to restore their relationship. They died within hours of each other on the same day–appropriately, on July 4, 1826.

As fiercely as these two Founders disagreed with each other, I have no doubt that they would be in total agreement on the state of the country today. If they came back to life today, they would not recognize their country; they would think that they were in a different universe. I don’t meant the modern technology or clothing fashions they would encounter. I mean the moral decline, the incivility, the utter disregard for human life, individual freedom, and other things that really matter. They would, however, recognize the government we now have, but they would recognize it as the very kind of government they sought independence from, the kind they wanted to avoid.

Benjamin Franklin, when asked after the Constitutional Convention what kind of government the delegates had given to the Americans, said, “A republic–if they can keep it.”

We haven’t been very good stewards of what the Founders gave us. I think it began with the War Between the States, when the latent conflict between big-government and small-government proponents came to a head–and big government won out. It accelerated with the internationalist, big-government ideals of Woodrow Wilson and later the socialism of FDR’s New Deal. And it has increased steadily ever since, as we have been distracted by our materialistic pursuits and various forms of entertainment–our bread and circuses–while our freedoms slowly have been taken from us.

My father-in-law confided shortly after my first daughter was born, “I fear for my grandchildren and what kind of world they’ll grow up in.” Now that I have several grandchildren of my own, I think I understand what he meant. My grandkids will never know the America I grew up in. That country is gone–perhaps forever.

Once known as the freest country on earth, the United States now ranks twelfth, behind such places as Hong Kong (first), Singapore (second), Chile (seventh), Estonia (eighth), and Mauritius (tenth) (Heritage Foundation). Mauritius?!

The erosion was gradual, but it has accelerated dramatically before our eyes. It has increased exponentially in the last decade as the powers that be have worked tirelessly to “fundamentally transform America.” They told us they would do it, and they’ve been true to their word.

But an even greater Word has also been uttered, the Word of a holy God, who promises judgment–individually and nationally–for sin. “God is not a man, that he should lie” (Num. 23:19). The sow-reap principle still operates. We as a nation have sown the wind, and we will one day–perhaps sooner than we realize–reap the whirlwind. The biblical promise “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psa. 33:12) has an implied flip side: the nation who has any other god is not blessed but rather will be judged and punished. Has America’s punishment begun?

I will celebrate on Monday, July 4. I will eat hot dogs (bun-length, all beef) and hamburgers. I will shoot off fire works (they’re legal here), just as John Adams said should be done on this holiday. But I will be celebrating not the America that now exists but rather what once was, the America we have let slip away. And I will be praying that somehow, by God’s mercy, we will one day see our country once again as Jefferson, Adams, and the other Founders intended it to be.

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