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future voters fourthAt the double-digit Catholic high schools across Cincinnati, most of them participate in KAIROS, a spiritual retreat. Myself included, hundreds of students attend and have attended the retreats every year as juniors and/ or seniors. The motto of this retreat is “Live the Fourth,” which essentially means, live every day like it is the fourth day of the retreat.

That being said, KAIROS is only three days total, but the day after, when you’re back to the Real World, you’re feelin’ pretty good. The typical participant usually feels a stronger bond with fellow classmates, have a deeper bond with God the Father-Son-and-Holy-Spook, and feel more confident as you enter the world as to who you are and what you stand for. This kind of rejuvenation of spirit is what the retreat aims to do.

Harvard University recently did the opposite to the nation by releasing a study which said, “Fourth of July celebrations in the United States shape the nation’s political landscape by forming beliefs and increasing participation, primarily in favor of the Republican Party.”

As if something else could stand to be politically polarized in this country. I know the next presidential election is in 1 year, 4 months and 3 days, but c’mon–don’t turn the Fourth of July into anything more than what it is: a celebration of the United States of America, and pride in being an American, which is a nationality, not a political party.

fourthIn a statement which would tickle Eric Voegelin, Harvard further reported that the “political right has been more successful in appropriating American patriotism and its symbols during the 20th century.”

Moreover, they say their survey’s “evidence also confirms that Republicans consider themselves more patriotic than Democrats. According to this interpretation, there is a political congruence between the patriotism promoted on Fourth of July and the values associated with the Republican party. Fourth of July celebrations in Republican dominated counties may thus be more politically biased events that socialize children into Republicans.”

Do you know what else socializes children? Talking to them. Taking them to religious services and the grocery store. Sending them to school. Letting them run around the neighborhood and catch fireflies. Teaching them about their country’s history and family lore, and the value of earning their own dollar. Making them do chores. Showing kindness to people who can do nothing for you.

The three main findings of this study were as follows:

1. When done before the age of 18, it increases the likelihood of a youth identifying as a Republican by at least 2 percent.

2. It raises the likelihood that parade watchers will vote for a Republican candidate by 4 percent.

3. It boosts the likelihood a reveler will vote by about 1 percent and increases the chances they’ll make a political contribution by 3 percent.

As you can tell, Fourth of July celebrations are reeking havoc across the country. Hide yo’ wife, hide yo’ kids, and don’t let them darned Republicans socialize with your family!

In all seriousness, I would like the pose the challenge of living every day like it is the Fourth of July (minus the indulgence of fireworks, sparklers, and over-eating while wearing various combinations of red, white and blue attire).

To me, Living the Fourth means we recognize where we come from, show due respect, and conserve the best offered by our own fellow citizens. It is not enough to assert that we have the best country in the world or get whip-lash from waving the flag in our opponents’ face if the country’s own citizens do not take seriously their participation in the formation of its national character.

According to a NYT/ CBS News poll released late Wednesday, 39 percent of Americans see our country’s economy in a continued decline. 57 percent think it will improve, but even that number is down from last October, when it hoovered around 68 percent optimism. It seems there is constant and consistent dissatisfaction in our country over the economy, the war, the healthcare bill, the laws, and the decisions being made in higher offices.

What does this have to do with one’s patriotism? Nothing. That’s right, nothing. Not agreeing with the direction of one’s country does not decrease patriotism, nor does agreeing with it increase. Patriotism should be steady, and unceasing, loyalty to one’s country, not blind allegiance or conditional love.

And what does that poll by Harvardians have to do with the Fourth of July? Nothing, again. When a college has more money than J.K. Rowling, sometimes they sponsor silly studies which don’t conclusively prove Republicans are spawned from little red wagon parades as much as they come from reading publications like Newsweek.

“The Founding Fathers, Unzipped” was written by Simon Schama, a professor of history, who made his debut at Newsweek with this Zinn-tastic read. What Newsweek failed to mention, however, is that Schama is Englishman living in America; he works for Columbia University, and specializes in British and art history.

Schama wrote,

“True history is the enemy of reverence. We do the authors of American independence no favors by embalming them in infallibility, by treating the Constitution like a quasi-biblical revelation instead of the product of contention and cobbled-together compromise that it actually was. Even the collective noun “Founding-Fathers” planes smooth the unreconciled divisiveness of their bitter and acrimonious disputes. History is a book of chastening wisdom to which we ought to be looking to deepen our understanding of the legitimate nature of American government—including its revenue-raising power, an issue that deeply captivated the antagonized minds of that first generation.”

I did not have the pleasure of ripping this article into thin, small strips of paper which I may use to paper mache a bust of George Washington. His sneering references to Republican politicians and “self-evidently absurd” Christian dogma, I understood what he was saying, that most Americans’ weakest subject is history. And with such dribble as this to read, I am not surprised.

To be sure, I am sad that most Americans they cannot fully appreciate what happened on Lexington’s green and the subsequent “stubborn facts” of history, or know the bad choices America has made and still love its goodness. I am disappointed when people of either political party wrap themselves in the flag or are embarrassed of our country. Still, I am proud to be an American. America is a country. It is not perfect, and neither are its people. It should not try to be a City upon a Hill, but it could and has been a beacon of light. I’m not in the military, but I have friends and a brother in it. I don’t always agree with the government, but I pay my taxes. I don’t worship the Founders, but I recognize the genius and wisdom they lent to this country, and what they gave to its proper foundation.

As Lawrence Reed wrote in “The True Meaning of Patriotism,”

Read the Declaration of Independence again. Or, if you’re like most Americans these days, read it for the very first time. It’s all there. All men are created equal. They are endowed not by government but by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Premier among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Government must be limited to protecting the peace and preserving our liberties, and doing so through the consent of the governed. It’s the right of a free people to rid themselves of a government that becomes destructive of those ends, as our Founders did in a supreme act of courage and defiance more than two hundred years ago.

Call it freedom. Call it liberty. Call it whatever you want, but it’s the bedrock on which this nation was founded and from which we stray at our peril. It’s what has defined us as Americans. It’s what almost everyone who has ever lived on this planet has yearned for. It makes life worth living, which means it’s worth fighting and dying for.

fourthThis Fourth of July, I hope y’all remember that it’s not just a day. It’s a reminder of why we should appreciate every day. Just as a wedding day signifies the start of a marriage, and a baptism is the visible sign of a new life in Christ, so the Fourth of July is our country’s anniversary, to be duly noted and celebrated. Such recognition is not political gain, but appreciation that we can have multiple political parties and not worry about one imprisoning or killing the opposition.

Wendell Berry, the Kentucky sage, said it best, I think, in his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”:

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.

Happy Fourth of July, friends! Live it!

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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