by M. Doretta Cornell, RDC
I am writing this on July 4, our Day of Independence, grateful to God and to all our ancestors for this land of freedom and opportunity. Happy Independence Day!
In reflecting on our independence, I am drawn to remember the kind of independence that the Declaration of Independence meant: the creation of a nation committed to rule of the people, by the people, and for the people. This was a new idea in the 16th century.
Our founders were declaring independence from rule by birth, by a class of people whose only claim to that rule was their parentage. No test of ability or morality or vision for the country and its people was necessary, only birth into the “right family.”
In the Declaration of Independence, our founders also rejected the idea of a class system—the notion that some people were inherently better than others, some born to rule, others to serve them, and still others as mere chattel.
Our founders declared these new concepts, not only viable grounding for the new nation, but “inalienable rights” with which all people were “endowed by their Creator”—an astonishing claim that the basis for most governments of that time were in opposition to the will of God for all people!
In our current economic crisis, we have much to reflect on:
- How faithful are we to this basic tenet of our country that all people are created equal and have equal rights to life, justice, ability to make a decent living – even happiness, as our founders claimed?
- How can we reform our laws and policies to create a nation in which all could prosper?
- What are we doing to close the rifts between races that are still deep in our culture, in spite of all the scientific evidence that race is a superficial characteristic?
- What are we doing to close the newer abysses that have been created between people of different religions, particularly since September 11, 2001?
The list could stretch to every prejudice and imbalance in our personal and national hearts and actions.
Another aspect of independence that comes to my mind is that, for many people, independence today seems to be synonymous with egocentric individualism: the feeling that no one has contributed to this person’s achievements, and therefore that person has no responsibility for anyone but him—or herself.
A quick trip to any maternity ward will banish the first error—we are born with nothing but dependence, on our mothers for our very flesh and blood, on both our parents for the elements of our size, shape, physical and mental characteristics and limitations. From there, the dependence widens to anyone who feeds us or offers comfort or shelter, clothes and teaches, interacts with or rejects us, and so on. As our lives become more complex, so do the interactions with others and what we receive from and give to others – from concept of self, to ability (or lack thereof) to love, to the intricacies of playing basketball or the violin.
And so, along with Independence, we must also celebrate today our Interdependence! Interdependence—not subservience. Subservience is what our founders were rebelling against in founding this new nation: the belief that some are inferior and others superior by nature, and therefore people have different rights.
Interdependence says that we all have the same “inalienable rights” and that these rights are intertwined, as are all elements of our very existence.
Over the last few decades, we have been learning just how deep our interdependence is, at microscopic levels of ourselves and of the world around us. Astronomy and cosmology teach us that each molecule of our bodies is inherited from one pool of matter, each breath we take is dependent on the exhalations of trees and other plants. Even the tiniest shift in temperature, or chemical makeup of the air, position of the sun, or radiation in the atmosphere would render Earth unable to support human life. We are all interdependent—people, animals, grasses, stars, Earth.
Independence, then, demands that we reflect on and adjust our understanding to the interdependence of all things and all people on each other. It also demands that we learn to act in ways that support that interdependence—ways all our moral and religious educations have taught us. And, as Jesus taught, “the greatest of these is love,” and understanding of the essentialness of each creature to the enterprise we call life.
True independence demands that we acknowledge our interdependence and work for the good of each person and of the other creatures of Earth, so that we humans may create what Martin Luther King called the “Beloved Community” or the “World House.”
Happy Independence Day—and let’s celebrate, too, our Interdependence!