“I love my country, it’s the government I’m afraid of”

Tourist shops here in the D.C. area sell a t-shirt that says, “I love my country, it’s the government I’m afraid of!”  (sic, the comma splice)   I believe it was first worn by liberals opposed to George W. Bush.  Now it’s being worn by conservatives opposed to Barack Obama.  (I present this as evidence for my assertion that both liberals and conservatives have become cynical when it comes to patriotic ideals.)

Now I understand the point.  It’s possible to love America with its purple mountain majesties, its history, its people, and its ideals while being utterly opposed to the government.  That’s a commendable distinction.  At the same time, in a democratic republic, the people choose their leaders and elect their government, so there is going to be a connection between the country and the government.  There is a fine line between hating a nation’s government and hating the nation.

In the older patriotism of my childhood, which I talk about in that other post, there was a palpable distinction–parallel to the rejection by orthodox Christianity of the Donatist heresy–between the office and the person who holds the office.  Critics respected the office of the presidency or of a Senator or Congressman, even if they attacked a particular office holder.  A person might complain about politicians in Washington, but not “Congress” as a whole.

Today. . . .I don’t know.  I worry about the preservation of our institutions if hardly anyone has any respect for them.

I suppose some people are afraid of their country–thinking the American people are essentially racist, plutocratic, and oppressive– but love their government, which they want to protect them from society.  Is there a similar danger in the sentiment on the t-shirt?

Liberty vs. equality

Robert Samuelson loves this country and everything it stands for, to the point of saying “America is my religion.”  Most Americans also love America.  But he notes how love of country is dividing us instead of bringing us together, mainly because of a conflict between the ideals of liberty and equality:

This intense love of country defines Americans and, compared to many, sets us apart. A 2004 study of 33 countries by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago ranked the United States first in national pride. You might think that this powerful allegiance — what I and no doubt millions of others call a religion — would bring us together. Often it does. But on this July Fourth, we face a disturbing paradox: Our love of country increasingly divides us.

Our national debates now transcend disputes over this or that spending program or tax and have become — in the minds of the combatants — a climactic struggle for the nature and soul of America. One side is allegedly bent on inserting government into every aspect of our lives and suffocating individual responsibility and effort. The other is supposedly beholden to the rich, committed to “survival of the fittest” and indifferent to everyone else.

If you believe these are the stakes — and that defeat would extinguish America’s most valuable and virtuous aspects — then the other side is to be despised and demolished. Your very love of country impels you to extremes of rhetoric and belief. It nudges you, increasingly, to hate the other side.

The backdrop to this struggle is long-standing. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted, Americans venerate both liberty and equality. Our entire history involves this tension between preserving freedom and promoting equality. If you are defending either, you naturally think that you are the legitimate heir of the country’s core beliefs.

In a democracy, de Tocqueville argued, Americans would ultimately favor equality over freedom, because its material benefits are more immediate and tangible. Not so, countered the late political scientist James Q. Wilson. Americans strongly value freedom, far more than do citizens of any other democratic country, he argued.

There’s plenty of evidence he is right. A recent Pew poll asked people to pick between “freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference” and the “state guarantees nobody is in need.” Americans selected freedom 58 percent to 35 percent. European responses were reversed: Germany’s 36 percent to 62 percent was typical. By wide margins compared with Europeans, Americans believe that “success in life” is determined by individual effort and not by outside forces. Yet, in their voting habits, Americans often prefer security.

The inconsistencies and contradictions won’t soon vanish. But in today’s politically poisoned climate, righteousness is at a premium and historical reality at a discount. Each side, whether “liberal” or “conservative,” Republican or Democrat, behaves as if it has a monopoly on historical truth. The fear that the existence of their version of America is threatened sows discord and explains why love of country has become a double-edged sword, dividing us when it might unite.

via Is the U.S. a land of liberty or equality? – The Washington Post.

The American ideal has always been BOTH liberty and equality.  I don’t think that equality ever was construed to mean equality of income.  Rather, it had to do with social equality.  Social classes existed, but they were not supposed to bring special privileges or a sense of superiority.  Both sides of these debates today are arguably falling short here, with the cult of wealth on the one hand and the cult of the cultural elites on the other (which are not the same thing).  But what do you think of Samuelson’s analysis?

George Washington of Mt. Vernon

A fine tribute to the Father of Our Country and to his home–one of the most impressive attractions in the D.C. area–as preserved by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association:

As we celebrate our nation’s independence midway through a year of rabid presidential politics, it is refreshing to reflect upon our first president, the hero of America’s revolution and commander in chief upon our liberation from King George.

To say that they don’t make them like George Washington anymore is to insult understatement. But those who admire him have a duty, today of all days, to remember him before he is forgotten by younger generations who, through no fault of their own, have no sense of him. They haven’t been taught, and the shame of this belongs to all, with a few notable exceptions.

Among these is a handful of ladies (and no, copy editors, you may not change “ladies” to “women”) who strive daily to keep Washington’s name and legacy in the dimming lights of history. Unheralded and largely unknown, they deserve recognition for their valiant and extravagant efforts to preserve one of America’s most valuable assets, including the original ruminations of its greatest thinkers.

These would be the members of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, who volunteer their time and talents — and open their wallets — to maintain Washington’s home on the Potomac. . . .

Unbeknown to most visitors to Mount Vernon — and certainly the millions who don’t know it exists — Washington’s home was saved and is maintained without a penny of public funds. (Disclosure: I serve on the Mount Vernon advisory board, a collection of private citizens who meet twice a year to offer advice, which the ladies are utterly free to ignore.)The ladies’ association is a lesson in volunteerism worthy of its own chapter. The association was formed in 1853 by South Carolina native Ann Pamela Cunningham, whose mother had noticed a large, dilapidated house perched on a hill along the Potomac River and was outraged to learn it was Washington’s home. Inspired by her mother, Cunningham reached out to Southern women to raise funds to buy the estate and, in 1860, open it to the public, thus beginning a 152-year-old tradition.

Since then, more than 80 million have visited the house and grounds, which include an underground museum (so as not to mar the landscape), gardens, a slave burial ground, and the final resting place of George and Martha Washington. Even the opposite shore of the Potomac has been preserved so that visitors can enjoy the same view that Washington did.

The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, named for its most generous donor, is an overdue addition to Washington’s home. In a time of self-reverential politicians and presidential libraries erected as monuments to ego, it is odd, if also characteristic, that the first president had none. Just as he resisted becoming the nation’s first president, feeling himself unworthy, he would have found a library in his honor, indulging today’s vernacular, “over the top.”

via Kathleen Parker: The ladies of Mount Vernon have preserved Washington’s home – The Washington Post.

There is a useful new word:  “self-reverential”!  Washington was never that.  He was a truly great man who deserves our salute this July the 4th.


Trees of Life

When I said that I would be spending last week in a little cabin in the big woods, I meant really big woods.

We helped our daughter and her family move to California, and then we did something that I have always wanted to do.  We went to Sequoia National Park, home of the giant redwoods.  How big are they?  Well, the one named “General Sherman” is the largest living thing in the world.  It’s 35 feet in diameter and is as tall as a football field.  And, even more astounding to me, is that it’s 2,200 years old.  It was a sapling two centuries before Jesus was born.  And it’s still alive, still growing.  It adds the equivalent mass of a regular 60 foot tree every year.

And there are whole groves of these giant trees up in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  I treasure things that are sublime–overwhelming, awe-inspiring, so vast that you can’t take them all in–like the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls, and these trees.

What intrigues me most about them is that they are virtually immortal.  They can be killed, of course, cut down as many stupidly have been and sometimes they get so tall that they topple, but they don’t die of old age.  I wonder how that can be.   Every other earthly creature, whether plant or animal or human,  lives for awhile but eventually its cells get exhausted, entropy sets in, aging manifests its symptoms, and eventually the organism dies.

Why don’t the giant redwoods?  General Sherman is not even the oldest of these trees.  Some are 3,000 years old, from the time of the Trojan War and King David.  And redwoods are not even the oldest species.  A bristlewood pine in the White Mountains of California–somewhere else I want to go–is 4,700 years old.  A young earth creationist would put that as being right after the Flood!  Perhaps these evergreen trees are somehow not implicated in the Fall.  Perhaps they are some kind of remnant or sign of the Tree of Life.

What are some other sublime sights and experiences?  A tornado, the ocean, the Rocky Mountains–I’ve seen those.  I’ve seen Mt. St. Helens, but I think I need to see an active volcano.  Outer Space.  And God, of course, and the things of God.  The sublimities of nature and of art–Paradise Lost, Bach’s music, Michaelangelo’s paintings and sculptures–give us pleasure, according to Ruskin, because they point to Him.

More than two parents

A bill before the California legislature would let children have more than two parents:

State Sen. Mark Leno is pushing legislation to allow a child to have multiple parents.

“The bill brings California into the 21st century, recognizing that there are more than Ozzie and Harriet families today,” the San Francisco Democrat said.

Surrogate births, same-sex parenthood and assisted reproduction are changing society by creating new possibilities for nontraditional households and relationships. . . .

Under Leno’s bill, if three or more people who acted as parents could not agree on custody, visitation and child support, a judge could split those things up among them.

SB 1476 is not meant to expand the definition of who can qualify as a parent, only to eliminate the limit of two per child.

Under current law, a parent can be a man who signs a voluntary declaration of paternity, for example. It also can be a man who was married and living with a child’s mother, or who took a baby into his home and represented the infant as his own.

Leno’s bill, which has passed the Senate and is now in the Assembly, would apply equally to men or women, and to straight or gay couples.

Examples of three-parent relationships that could be affected by SB 1476 include:

• A family in which a man began dating a woman while she was pregnant, then raised that child with her for seven years. The youth also had a parental relationship with the biological father.

• A same-sex couple who asked a close male friend to help them conceive, then decided that all three would raise the child.

• A divorce in which a woman and her second husband were the legal parents of a child, but the biological father maintained close ties as well.

SB 1476 stemmed from an appellate court case last year involving a child’s biological mother, her same-sex partner, and a man who had an affair with the biological mother and impregnated her while she was separated temporarily from her female lover.

via California bill would allow a child to have more than two parents – State Politics – The Sacramento Bee.

Love that bears burdens

Jim Rademaker passed along this quotation from Luther from the collection Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional (June 20).  It’s a meditation on Galatians 6:2:  “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  It relates to the purpose of every vocation, to love and serve one’s neighbor, which entails bearing other people’s burdens:

 EVERYWHERE LOVE TURNS it finds burdens to carry and ways to help. Love is the teaching of Christ. To love means to wish another person good from the heart. It means to seek what is best for the other person. What if there were no one who made a mistake? What if no one fell? What if no one needed someone to help him to whom would you show love? To whom could you show favor? Whose best could you seek? Love would not be able to exist if there were no people who made mistakes and sinned. The philosophers say that each of these people is the appropriate and adequate “object” of love or the “material” with which love has to work.

The corrupt nature – or the kind of love that is really lust – wants others to wish it well and to give it what it desires. In other words, it seeks its own interests. The “material” it works with is a righteous, holy, godly, and good person. People who follow this corrupt nature completely reverse God’s teaching. They want others to bear their burdens, serve them, and carry them. These are the kind of people who despise having uneducated, useless, angry, foolish, troublesome, and gloomy people as their life companions. Instead, they look for friendly, charming, good-natured, quiet, and holy people. They don’t want to live on earth but in paradise, not among sinners but among angels, not in the world but in heaven. We should feel sorry for these people because they are receiving their reward here on earth and possessing their heaven in this life.

This is priceless.  We are quite willing to love “friendly, charming, good-natured, quiet, and holy people.”  But we are called to love “uneducated, useless, angry, foolish, troublesome, and gloomy people.”  That is, people with burdens.