Friday, July 04, 2014

What does July 4th mean to you? … by gimleteye

One of my favorite childhood memories involved learning about the American Revolution in the fourth grade. Mrs. Monahan had an encyclopedic knowledge of our town, Providence, during colonial days. She was scary and fiercely determined that we should know what came before us. Who were the people of Rhode Island and the colonies? What was the commerce of the times? What was it like to live in the the 1600's and 1700's in a small, coastal sliver of a continent that had not yet been exploited? What was the context of the 4th of July?

Mrs. Monahan instructed us to go to a public library.

The Rhode Island Historical Society. I recall -- almost fifty years after the fact -- the place if not the topic of my search. The tactile sensations of a quiet, still library where the volume and weight of history breathed through aisles filled with centuries' old books and folios. The smell of dusty pages and the overwhelming sensation of writers and words lost to history except for this place, this library, where any book one opened made time jump to life.

That space felt religious. A place to wonder and imagine; what would make men and women leave their country and sail across the Atlantic in ships that looked scarcely able to weather a hard breeze? What was the meaning of independence?

The original settlers of the United States believed in God -- or mostly did -- but first they believed in the rights of citizens andin the separation of the church and state. Roger Williams founded Rhode Island in 1636, more than 100 years before the American Revolution. I learned in the fourth grade, that Williams wanted his settlement to be a haven for those "distressed of conscience", and it soon attracted a collection of dissenters who fled other colonies, like Massachusetts that imposed religious conformity on citizens. Roger Williams founded the first place in modern history where citizenship and religion were separate. (Quoted from Wikipedia!)

These days it is common to understand the 4th of July as an expression of independence from over-reaching government. But the original settlers who inspired the American revolution were more worried about the imposition of moral conservatism through the insider handshake of the church with those who controlled government; one and the same in the countries they had fled.

In recent decades, conservatives mostly aligned with branches of Christianity have decried liberals for "moral relativism". They espouse and seek to impose "values" on everything from a woman's right to choose to military interventions against those who do not share their belief system, however that may be defined in a Judeo-Christian context. On the Fourth of July, I recall the original settlers of the United States who drew different conclusions fleeing their own times' moral constructivists; a realization that lit my imagination, reading from real books in a library and not an iPad or on a laptop or a cellphone screen, what seems a long time ago.


Geniusofdespair said...

Is she related to Patrick?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Gimleteye, for reminding us how it could be

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

hamburgers, hotdogs, beer,

Anonymous said...

The problem is sperm. If you eliminate the social interaction that creates sperm, no birth control would be needed. A one month national boycott on that social interaction, and birth control would be the law of the land, might even get a constitutional amendment on provision of birth control.

Anonymous said...

While there is a religious right, there is also a religious left. Many of these discussions fail to recognize this important group in the body politic, and it could be the vast majority of Christianity in America. As you so ably noted, the separation of church and state was a basic premise for our union. Whatever you believe in you are free to do so, and the state won't get involved in your religion unless it tramples on the rights of others. But the recent Supreme court decision, crosses the line, and everyone, including the religious right should be concerned. We are a very diverse country with many religions. I believe the court will self-correct over time. The court is imbalanced with way more men than exists in the population. As more women appointees come on such that the composition of the court looks more like the population of the country, many things will change, and we will be back to separation of church and state.