Friday, July 03, 2009
Our Lives, Our Fortunes, Our Sacred Honor
"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."
This is the ending of the Declaration of Independence, right before the signatures. I am much more familiar with the first part, about the self-evident truths. But after that part, and after explaining how governments should secure those unalienable rights, and then very carefully explaining how the current government has not done so, and in fact has abused its power at the expense of the people, and even after declaring therefore that the united Colonies are now free and independent States - that's when this line appears.
Theological reflection on this sentence leads to a conversation about "Divine Providence." If Divine Providence is the sovereignty of God to order earthly events toward realization of God's purposes, one necessarily must place the concept in tension with "Free Will." This conversation has been repeated numerous times in Christian history, and faithful Christians hold diverse beliefs about what it really means.
Not to diminsh that conversation, but what caught my eye when I read the Declaration this time was the final clause: "...we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."
What a beautiful idea. The idea of freedom was so important to the authors of the Declaration, they promised one another their very lives.
They promised one another their fortunes, from which I infer they meant their material resources. I wonder what they would think of the greed so blatantly on display these days.
They promised one another their honor, which to me says they "had each others' back." Like, "When you're a Jet you're a Jet all the way from your first cigarette to your last dying day."
What an exciting time it must have been. It still captures my imagination, to think of the atmosphere in the colonies 233 years ago! It was risky, scary. It was fresh, new. There was such energy and passion. It was this energy that made it possible for them to make this pledge, I suppose. They were caught up in the revolutionary spirit, and deeply unified.
Their unity transcended their differences, which at times were very strong (here's one essay among many making this point). The revolutionaries had unique individual perspectives on the situation, and made their opinions known. And yet to dissent was not condemned, it was encouraged. It is one of the most important aspects of our national story, in fact; the freedom to dissent against the British crown was the cornerstone of the revolution.
I wish sometimes that we would revisit the last line of the Declaration of Independence as a nation, you know? Maybe just once skip the part we had to memorize in school, skip the list of historically contextual complaints against the king, and just focus on the end.
What would it take for the United States of America to once again "mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor," instead of so often thinking first and only of one's self, jealously clinging to one's own possessions, and fomenting divisiveness in the guise of dissent?
I guess that sounds pretty cynical, and I'm not - really. I am happy and proud to be a citizen of the United States of America and I celebrate the freedom that living in this country affords me. But neither am I naïve about people, some of whom take unjust advantage of their freedom for selfish gain at the expense of others.
Independence Day, for me, is a day to reclaim the revolutionary spirit. It is a day to remember that my rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the same rights given all people. It is a day to celebrate freedom. And it is a day to once more pledge to one another our lives, our fortune, and our sacred honor.