he Fourth of July used to be a special day for me. For a couple of years, I was the chair of the 4th of July parade in Richfield, Minnesota, and in the years before and after that it was always a treat to go to a parade. We lived for the fireworks show at night; in addition to the shows on the Fourth, Bloomington had a show on the evening of the 3rd; if the weather was nice we drove to the top level of a nearby parking ramp, where we'd listen to the radio and eat popcorn while waiting for it to get dark enough for the show to begin. The Fourth itself meant movies, almost in the same way that Christmas does - The Music Man, with Robert Preston, and my favorite musical of all time, 1776. Yes, those were good times.
It's been a few years now since I've paid the Fourth any attention at all, and this year will be no exception. I can't celebrate it anymore, because in my opinion there's nothing to celebrate. Over the course of these last years, we've seen America go straight to Hell, and last week's obscene Supreme Court decision just emphasizes the fact. It's not only the decision itself, disordered as it is; it's this whole idea that the American Experiment has finally come to an end. States' rights are going, if not gone; a relentless political correctness, from which dissent is not tolerated, governs our public discourse, as companies and special interest groups increasingly punish people simply for expressing their own thoughts; religious freedoms are not only done away with but scoffed at; police forces are increasingly militarized; in the name of national security, the Federal government becomes more and more intrusive in our lives; our very history is either forgotten or airbrushed. Increasingly the world revolves around international financiers, investors more concerned with the bottom line than the High Altar. To them it is money that makes the world go around, not the laws of gravity. They've succeeded in reducing man to a statistic in a budget, a mere number that represents not a human soul but a profit/loss statement. To them things such as gay rights are ideas to be pandered to; they see them not as troubled individuals but consumers with money to spend, and that's the only kind of morality that matters to them. The poet Allen Ginsburg, in his epic Howl, called it Moloch, as is so evocatively illustrated here:
And who is there to turn to? Not the humans running the Church; as rights are stripped away and depravities are legalized, we get lectures on climate change. Not political parties: the leftist Democrats, held captive by fanatical extremists, are the driving force behind many of these changes, while the timid Republicans, more interested in retaining power than doing anything with it, stand idly by. Besides, the parties are just flip sides of the same coin anyway; they both want our money, the only difference being what they plan to do with it.
Man, that is depressing, isn't it?
We're all to blame for it, in a way, thanks to Original Sin. We've allowed marriage to be corrupted through our own actions, just as we've played our own roles elsewhere. There's more to it than that, of course; the Devil is alive and well in this world, in these United States, and he's finding many a willing disciple. This doesn't mean we're helpless, though. The pessimistic (but realistic) Rod Dreher has advocated what he calls the "Benedict Option," which involves groups of orthodox believers gathering into what might be called community support groups, where they exist to strengthen each other's faith, families and future. It's not a retreat from the world, as some would have it, but a circling of the wagons. And it's necessary because, as Dreher puts it, things are not going to get better. Others advocate a more activist approach, attaching the issue head-on and refusing to be pushed around. Still others think things can be turned around by electing the right individuals, that America at its heart is still a conservative nation. The number who believe in that last category grows smaller and smaller, and if you're inclined to believe it I've got a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to discuss with you.
In short, America seems to have devolved into a Godless, licentious nation, consumed with hedonism, basing everything on feelings rather than any kind of logical thought. Not the sex you want to be? Easy - just change. Feel like marrying two or three other people? Well, why not? Think killer whales are human? They probably are. If you even bother to believe in God, you can create Him in whatever Image you want, knowing that He just wants you to be "happy," whatever that means nowadays. What's frightening is not the question of where it all ends; it's that, deep in our hearts, we already know what the answer is. It's not just America, of course, but the whole world. The whole world isn't celebrating July 4th, however, and I'm not sure how we can, either.
In this atmosphere, watching a movie such as 1776 where we witness the birth of the republic, seeing what all these men were willing to risk their lives for, and then to look at what that cause has become, is beyond depressing. To see an immoral lifestyle legalized (in the process overturning state laws passed by citizens) by a group of nine unelected officials, the same group (if not the same individuals) responsible for legalizing the murder of unborn human beings, all based on supposed rights that can't be found in the Constitution - well, if I was one who cried, I'd have shed more than one tear over these last few years.
I mentioned above that what's really scary about this is that in our hearts we know where it all leads. A priest, talking about the various natural disasters that have befallen California recently, remarked that "When you keep giving God the finger, pretty soon he's going to grant your wish and leave you alone." It's tempting on the one hand to look at anything bad that happens and see in it the finger of God, just as it's tempting to look at those same events and decry the idea that God would punish people indiscriminately, the innocent as well as the guilty. But as we're reminded in Matthew 5:45, it rains on the just and the unjust. The fact that there may have been innocent people living in Sodom and Gomorrah did not save the cities from being destroyed. In fact, the Bible is replete with natural disasters as a sign of God's displeasure.
Speaking of which, it's worth noting that while some conservatives today suggest God is withdrawing His protection of America as a once-special country, there are others who would point out that America was founded on dubious propositions in the first place. Such are the probing questions asked in Christopher Ferrara's provocative book Liberty, the God That Failed, which suggests that from the very beginning, liberty was a chimera, "the false god of a new political order." Much the same message can be found in Hans-Herman Hoppe's Democracy: The God That Failed, So perhaps we've been thumbing our noses at God this whole time, and that the Hell we're going through was predestined to happen at some time or another; it's just our lot that it's happening in our lifetimes.
And yet - it's all been part of God's plan that we are alive here, now. There's obviously something we're meant to do, some role we're intended to play. It's not likely we'll be able to determine that on our own, which means we have to keep our eyes and ears open and our prayers constant. We must live lives that are good and pious, to the best of our abilities. We must try as best we can to influence those close to us: friends, family, neighbors, workmates.
Most of all, I think, we must realize that we cannot be both Christians and Americans. We can no longer live this hybrid, hyphenated life. We give unto Caesar what is Caesar's, following the words and examples of Jesus, but we can no longer excuse what America does simply because it is America. We pray for our country because patriotism is, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, a virtue, but we cannot go down with the ship - instead, we must head for the lifeboat created by Our Savior for our protection.
So in this weekend of rote patriotism, when for some of us there seems nothing left worth celebrating, try to remember that the things we truly celebrate are those things that are scorned by the rest of the world. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ reminded us thusly: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
That reward is greater than any nation, any flag, any political or judicial victory. It is the hope which we carry to ward off despair, the true joy that protects the soul from depression, the light that shines in the darkness. If indeed America is beyond salvation, then damned she will be; our victory will be greater than that.
Originally published July 3, 2015