Happy Independence Day!

One piece of evidence among many that we live in a decadent time (decadence ain't all bad, but...) is that patriotism has become so controversial.  I'm going to avoid the controversy by not getting all theoretical about the Declaration of Independence or "American exceptionalism."

Patriotism is, first of all, all about gratitude for having a political home, a place--a particular piece of territory in a particular part of the world--in which you are recognized, protected and can flourish in freedom with others. 

We don't have to talk about the relationship between the rights of citizens--civil rights--and "the rights of man"--human rights--to remember that natural rights or human rights are only effectually protected politically.

So Independence Day is not about the sovereign independence of the autonomous individual. It's about the political independence of a particular people.  It's about the sovereign country--government instituted among men--that's the condition for the free exercise of rights by particular persons. 

The virtue most appropriately displayed on July 4, in addition to gratitude, is loyalty.  We can't dispense with duties--which can't be reduced to calculation--if we're serious about rights.  Our gratitude should extend especially to those who routinely and loyally risk their lives to protect us.  It goes without saying that loyalty doesn't mean not being critical.  It also goes without saying that the duties of those who fight to protect us are also our duties, which we should be glad to perform, if need be.

Even or especially the Darwinians say that we find our purpose and significance as parts of groups or tribes or wholes greater than ourselves.  We become too personally obsessive to ever be happy if we don't believe that there are people and personal causes worth dying for. We can't live well with the homelessness we can't help but experience as self-conscious persons if we don't experience ourselves as in many senses at home.  Today, we should thank God as Americans that we're not stuck with only being displaced persons. 

We Americans, of course, know that we're not merely or even most deep down citizens.  We're free from political domination, as Madison, for one, wrote, to discover our conscientious duties to our Creator--who's the God of all and so not the God of America in particular.  We also know, of course, that our personal identities includes an awareness our irreducible individuality.  We're not Spartans, thank God.

As social or relational beings, our religious and familial attachments are more personal and so inevitably trump our political attachments.  Even that doesn't mean that America doesn't require and deserve our personal attention and cultivation.

We're also not Marxists or hyper-libertarians hoping and working for "the withering away of the state."  We're not "statists" because we don't understand our country as an alien and oppressive state.

Even the right to the free exercise of religion is most precarious without the right kind of political protection.  And we're being reminded very insistently right now that the family atrophies without some political encouragement and protection.


LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Think you’re bad at math? You may suffer from ‘math trauma’

Even some teachers suffer from anxiety about math.

Image credit: Getty Images
Mind & Brain

I teach people how to teach math, and I've been working in this field for 30 years. Across those decades, I've met many people who suffer from varying degrees of math trauma – a form of debilitating mental shutdown when it comes to doing mathematics.

Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

How KGB founder Iron Felix justified terror and mass executions

The legacy of Felix Dzerzhinsky, who led Soviet secret police in the "Red Terror," still confounds Russia.

Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Felix Dzerzhinsky led the Cheka, Soviet Union's first secret police.
  • The Cheka was infamous for executing thousands during the Red Terror of 1918.
  • The Cheka later became the KGB, the spy organization where Russia's President Putin served for years.
Keep reading Show less