Hobby Lobby buys up the back page of my Fourth of July paper to remind me that they think America is only for people like them and not for people like me:
On behalf of the tens of millions of Americans who do not go to Christian church or trust in Hobby Lobby’s God—sigh.
Christianity is not the wellspring of democracy. The polytheist Greeks practiced democracy and gave us the word well before Jesus of Nazareth gave up carpentry. Christian peoples took their sweet time in implementing democratic principles in their churches and their nations. Martin Luther didn’t rise up to de-hierachialize the Church until the 1500s; Christian folks didn’t come up with the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution until 260 years later, after fighting a war with a bunch of other Christians who disagreed with the colonists’ democratic notions.
Russia has seen itself as a Christian nation since 988 (when Vladimir picked Orthodox Christianity over Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam because the churches and the Byzantine emperors’ sister were prettier), and they still haven’t gotten democracy right. Under Vladimir Putin’s deliberately mingled Orthodoxy and patriotism, Russia isn’t even trying to be democratic.
The first nation to recognize our democratic independence was Morocco, a Muslim nation.
The genius (and remember, that word comes from the Latin root for beget, give birth) of the Declaration of Independence is that its words are stronger than its authors imagined. The “men” those authors held self-evidently “created equal” were a northwestern European, male, property-holding subset of humanity. Over 240 years, their words have worked on us in ways they did not expect. We’ve come to realize that “all men are created equal” applies to the red men we used to dupe and shoot and the black men we used to buy and whip. It applies to the yellow and brown folks who’ve come from other points of the compass to help build America. In the plainest demonstration of how our words have evolved from our Founders’ thinking, we’ve decided that “men” means “women” too.
Those created equal in the eyes of our democracy include a far greater array of believers and non-believers than the almost exclusively Protestant signers of our founding documents and the owners of Hobby Lobby. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons (who didn’t even exist in 1776), atheists, and folks who hate scrapbooking can all vote, grill hot dogs, try water-skiing, and goose-bump up when the Boston Pops brass section stands for John Philip Sousa’s biggest finish. Everyone of every church—and just as “men” must include “women”, “every church” must include “no church”—gets to be an American.
That’s why E pluribus unum is a far better motto for the United States of America than the recent innovation of In God we trust. One, Latin is always cooler. Two, our original motto expresses our original intent to forge a new, united nation from many states and many people from many lands. We now have more states and more people from more lands than the thirteen colonies whose delegates worked out our national charter. Every one of our states and peoples could have trusted in God (as have many of the nations we have fought and beaten in war), but they would not have enjoyed the prosperity, the strength, and the global status of the United States of America if they had not committed to forging one great nation with one shared destiny: to make democracy work.
Go ahead, trust in God, if you want. But making democracy work means work, right here, on Earth, by us. Democracy isn’t easy: when we get done with our hot dogs and firecrackers today, we have lots of work to do. The endless work of democracy takes all comers, not just the folks who sit in your pew. The American unum comes from the pluribus, not just your church bus.
May each of us bless America with our faith in our ability to govern ourselves justly and with our commitment to do so, as one Union, for all and forever.