I had to post this today. :) But note that he doesn't even mention the worst thing about the Fourth of July - the fireworks.
I'm certainly not opposed to family reunions, even though I don't attend any, myself. I think they're a good thing, in general. But to my mind, fireworks are simply a way for idiots to act even more idiotic than usual.
Sure, I loved them when I was 13. Who doesn't? But anything that appeals to morons that much can't be good. In my neighborhood, there are loud explosions in the middle of the night the whole week before July 4th - and for a month afterward. And for the rest of summer, I won't be able to mow the lawn without picking up rocket debris first (just thankful they didn't set anything on fire).
Still, my biggest problem with fireworks is that they've got nothing to do with patriotism. This is just how commercial interests have convinced you to spend your money foolishly, nothing more. The media don't just go along with this, but have a vested interested in getting you to spend money on useless crap, too (since they survive through advertising).
Anyway, Steve Shives is absolutely right about "crepe-paper patriotism." That's a lovely phrase, isn't it? When it comes to ostentatious displays of 'patriotism,' I'm with Ralph Waldo Emerson:
"When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart."
Don't get me wrong, I am patriotic. I'm proud of my country, though I'm certainly not going to overlook what we've done wrong in the past or what's embarrassing about us even today (not all of us, of course, but many of my fellow citizens are embarrassing).
If you're a regular visitor, you already know how much I complain about racism. Obviously, we Americans should be embarrassed by our past acceptance of slavery and our not-so-distantly-past acceptance of segregation and racial inequality. And I'm hugely embarrassed by the Republican Party's successful use of racism in their notorious 'Southern strategy.'
I'm not a Republican, so I'm not embarrassed that they tried that, but I'm horribly embarrassed that it worked so well for them - and continues to work, to an embarrassingly large degree, even today. I'm not embarrassed that the Dixiecrats were originally Democrats, because the Democratic Party redeemed itself in an act of political courage. (Yeah, the Democrats! Courageous! Hard to believe these days, isn't it?)
But when people in other countries complain about American racism, I'm moved to object. I used to hear that regularly from people who didn't have a significant minority population of any kind in their own country. (When some of those countries started to get more immigration, they started to see more bigotry there, as well. That's human nature, I'm afraid.)
America is a diverse country. We've always celebrated that,... but not fully. That failure, that imperfection, was a national disgrace. But we're getting better now. And if you look at the revolution in how we deal with race in America, well, it was a revolution. And a remarkably peaceful one, too.
OK, it wasn't entirely peaceful. (What is?) But has any other country in the world made such a wrenching transformation with so little bloodshed? We have every reason to be proud of that, despite the fact that we've still got a ways to go.
Racism isn't dead, and neither is sexism or homophobia. Heck, even religious bigotry is still alive and well in America (certainly when it comes to us atheists - but with Muslims, as well). But just because we're not perfect, that's no reason not to be proud of how far we've come.
But that crepe-paper patriotism is not for me. When it comes to my country, I can look at the good and the bad and still be proud. I don't have to whitewash history. I don't have to ignore our flaws. If you do,... well, you must not think very much of America, then. I mean, if you need a fantasy America instead of the real thing, how proud can you really be?
Enjoy the fireworks, if you want. Enjoy your family reunions, too - or, at least, understand why they're important. Your family, like your religion, is usually just an accident of birth. And sometimes, it's easier to get along with relatives the farther apart you remain. :)
But they're family. Chances are you'd like them better if they weren't family. They wouldn't irritate you so much, then. If they were complete strangers, you wouldn't have any emotional baggage and you wouldn't have any expectations. After all, you're seldom embarrassed by complete strangers, because there's no connection between you.
Likewise, you're seldom embarrassed by the actions of other countries, either, right? That's because it has nothing to do with you.
Well, your family is not going to be perfect, and neither is your country. So what? You can be proud of the good without being blind to the bad. And in both cases, there's probably a lot more good that you're just overlooking. Really.