by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
There are several conflicting reflections crossing my mind as we come up on another Fourth of July. One is a feeling of enormous gratitude that my country has made room, again, for a new immigrant population — people like the wonderful parish Latino/a community which I have had the honor to serve for some 30 years. Another is a constant reminder of the extreme hardships which so many of these brothers and sisters had to endure to get here and the inhuman treatment of others now languishing at our southern borders.
I will read again this year the founding document of our nation, the Declaration of Independence, admiring its soaring rhetoric: “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men (sic) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.” These are noble ideals worthy of a great nation aborning.
But like so many of you have done in recent years, I will read these high-minded phrases with a critical eye. “All men are created equal” – the absence of any mention of women is glaring (perhaps excused as an acceptable word for inclusivity in that historical context). More critically, the words “created equal”, we know, came from the pen of slave owners.
Most disturbing of all for me in this reading is the opinion buried in the text that expressed the Founders’ attitude toward the original Americans (indigenous peoples) who occupied this land for centuries before Europeans arrived in the “New World”. In their list of grievances against the British monarch they wrote: “He has endeavored to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savage, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.” It belabors the obvious to point out that those “Inhabitants of our Frontiers” in many instances were encouraged and supported by a national policy to occupy by force, if necessary, the sacred lands of Native Americans.
For these reasons my takeaway in this annual Fourth of July reading has increasingly deepened the awareness of our perennial sins of Exceptionalism and Entitlement.
Exceptionalism: In the course of these 245 years the United States of America has become the world’s bully, throwing its weight around across the planet. Hard words but based on solid evidence. Today we dominate virtually all other countries with our military capabilities, economic strength and political influence. One horrible example: because Venezuela will not do our bidding, we feel justified at imposing crippling sanctions on that country, and especially the poor already on their knees economically.
Entitlement: Our national individualism has reached the point where our medical community despairs at seeing so many of our people refusing to receive one of several available anti-Covid vaccinations, declaring to do so would violate their “individual rights”. And this while other countries plead for any type of injection available to protect their at-risk populations.
The good news is that we are basically a good and decent people. If we were able to see through the triumphant rhetoric around this national birthday celebration, our citizens would without doubt reject American imperialism and “me-firstism”, our Exceptionalism and Entitlement.
This awareness serves as a prayerful hope as we celebrate this anniversary. Our national soul is at stake.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.