The fourth. It is our most important and most widely celebrated patriotic holiday of the year. When our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence two hundred and thirty-four years ago, John Adams envisioned celebrations in every city with parades, fireworks and political speeches “from one end of this continent to the other.” More than two centuries later, Adam’s dream has become reality. This weekend bursting sky-rockets and exploding bombs will illuminate the night skies over cities, parks and lakes. Parading bands will march in the streets followed by decorated floats and mounted horses. Politicians will address crowds from platforms hung with red, white and blue bunting.
But the Fourth is more than a holiday dream. It provides the focus for our American ideals in the words penned by Thomas Jefferson, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men 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.” With those words, Jefferson laid a theological and philosophical foundation that would inspire and guide our nation.
Throughout our history, sociologists have sought the secret of America’s success. After touring the United States in 1830, Alexis de Tocqueville concluded that democracy and freedom worked in America because of America’s faith. He wrote, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith … despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot.” Robert Kaplan’s Empire Wilderness sought a similar re-examination of America in 1998. He reached more pessimistic conclusions than de Tocqueville but expressed the same longing for faith. Visiting a Mexican church in Tucson, Kaplan wrote, “The church conjured up tradition, sensuality, nostalgia. If only this church were more relevant to the social forces roiling the southern half of Tucson.” In The Next One Hundred Million, Joel Kotkin paints an optimistic future for America in 2050 based largely on our unique faith. He writes, “a ‘spiritual’ tradition that extends beyond regular church attendance … persists as a vital force.”
We strive toward equality because that is the way God made us. We are each made in His image and every person is born with infinite worth. We are taught, through faith, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, that we are greatest when we are servant to others and that service to God is measured by our actions toward the “least of these.”
The pursuit of happiness can end in disaster when it is misguided. The pursuit of happiness only leads to life when it is linked to the liberty that comes through faith in Christ. Without faith in Christ we are prone to become captive to addictions and sins that easily beset us. Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin … if the Son makes you free you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36).