How the Fourth of July combines patriotism and faith

Compiled by Kelsey Dallas, Deseret News National Edition

Published: Fri, July 4, 2014, 7:30 a.m. MDT

 A family celebrates the Fourth of July in their living room. The holiday is a time to reflect on both patriotism and faith, in the right doses.

A family celebrates the Fourth of July in their living room. The holiday is a time to reflect on both patriotism and faith, in the right doses.


The Fourth of July is a time for family and friends, hot dogs and hamburgers, firecrackers and bottle rockets. And for believers, it's an opportunity to examine the relationship between patriotism and faith.

"The Declaration of Independence issued from Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, included four separate references to God," wrote Ira Stoll for Time. "So amid all the fireworks and barbecue smoke this July 4, consider pausing for a moment to reflect on the one our founding fathers called the Creator."

Stoll highlighted how the "theology of the country's founding" is complicated in an age when the separation of church and state has become a core American value. But the Founding Fathers were a faithful group, using language like, "The laws of nature's God."

"Whatever your religious views, or lack of them, if you are an American, it's at least worth understanding the idea on which our nation was founded," Stoll wrote.

However, as Jonathan Merritt wrote for Religion News Service, patriotism today often takes the form of a celebration of American exceptionalism. And that celebration disorders Americans' relationship to God.

"The difference in believing America is exceptional and American exceptionalism is significant. Believing America is exceptional recognizes our blessings — like every good and perfect gift — come from God. … The latter assumes our nation has claimed favored status with God," Merritt wrote.

Merritt advises believers to use the holiday as an opportunity to give thanks for abundant blessings rather than to boast over American achievements. "Let's light fireworks, gather our friends and family, throw hot dogs on the grill. And most importantly, let's bow our heads in humble gratitude to the grace-giver."

Rather than join the debate over the appropriate religious response to the Fourth of July, Lacy Cooke encouraged readers to use the holiday to get to know neighbors of different faith traditions and denominations. Her column for On Faith explained that Independence Day gatherings are likely to include a wide variety of believers.

"How strongly a person believes in their faith impacts their spiritual story," Cooke wrote. "Will you be sitting next to a religious fanatic or a nominal supporter? That's up to you to discover."

And when the fireworks start, sit back and enjoy a spectacle that some consider a religious experience.

Theologian Frederick Buechner once wrote, "We all pray whether we think of it as praying or not. The odd silence we fall into when something very beautiful is happening, or something very good or very bad. The 'Ah-h-h-h!' that sometimes floats up out of us as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the skyrocket bursts over the water … these are all prayers in their way."

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

1. Hutterite
American Fork, UT,
July 4, 2014

Faith, for those who claim it in the limited context it usually takes here, is infused in and modifies most everything it's claimants experience. At least, that's what they say.
But it isn't necessary. July 4th, halloween, the solstice, golf, even tax deadline day, can all be richly experienced as part of the human experience without permission, or guilt, from someone claiming to reveal divinity.
In fact, some of these experiences, such as the fourth of July, are arguably better left as Thomas Jefferson said they ought to be, on the other side of the wall. Let's honour the vision of the wise, learned men, elites of their time, in the founding of this nation. And remember the stamp of it's humble origin, rather than attempting to place a veneer of divine infallibility on it.

2. gmlewis
Houston, TX,
July 4, 2014

America is exceptional because of its history and constitution. At its inception, Americans were exceptional because of their adoption of the exceptional concept of self-government. This couldn't have happened without the aid and influence of divine providence. Since then, other people have adopted this concept and have manifested their own version of exceptionalism.

I believe that America is an exceptional nation, and hope that one day many other nations will emulate her and become fully exceptional, too. I know, "when all nations are exceptional, none of them are." To which I reply, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if the whole world became exceptional among the billions of other worlds."

3. Chris B
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 4, 2014

During the 4th of July celebrations I'm reminded of many studies, including one done at Harvard, that says that republicans are more patriotic and that children who attend patriotic events are more likely to become republicans. This is not surprising of course, but fun to remember.


4. Tyler D
Meridian, ID,
July 4, 2014

“Lacy Cooke encouraged readers to use the holiday to get to know neighbors of different faith traditions and denominations.”

Or get to know your agnostic or atheist neighbors since many of the Founders were in fact closer to their sentiments than those of a church member.

5. Stormwalker
Cleveland , OH,
July 4, 2014

Waving the flag saying "my country right or wrong" is not patriotism.
Sloganeering about "protecting freedom" while making war to protect oil company profits is not patriotism.
Sending the poor to war while the sons of the powerful get deferments is not patriotism.
Declaring war and not funding veteran's services is not patriotism.
Mistreating minorities under the banner of "religious freedom" is not patriotism.

Patriots don't get rich dismantling American companies and sending American jobs overseas.
Patriots don't force their religious views onto their neighbors.
Patriots don't close the borders of the country that once proclaimed "give me your tired, your poor..."

Patriots don't scream the chorus of "Born in the USA," they know the verses that talk about the mistreatment of Vietnam Nam Vets and the betrayal and destruction of the working men and women in this country.

Patriots are appalled at privatized prisons and the abuses covered by the war on drugs, at hungry children and underfunded education while we spend billions on war.

I am a former Navy Hospital Corpsman. I volunteered and served 8 years. I am a patriot. I am not conservative or Republican.