Sunshine Patriots

Thomas Paine once wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” This was the first line in the initial volume of a series of pamphlets he authored during the time of the American Revolution. He knew the colonists would never support a revolution without some good, underlying reasons to gird them. Hence, his sixteen pamphlets simply titled, The American Crisis.

Although he was already a well-known author, he signed these works with the pseudonym, Common Sense.” It was a thinly veiled reference to a tract that had given him previous notoriety published in 1776 under the title, Common Sense.

Copies of The Crisis (as it was nicknamed) sold by the hundreds of thousands, but Paine refused to accept any royalties. He wanted them to be sold as cheaply as possible so the common farmer could afford to purchase and read them. 

Put Your Money Here

This is a good example of someone putting their money where their mouth happens to be. By the end of the war, he was penniless and poverty-stricken. He had to accept charity from the states of Pennsylvania and New York to make a new start. PA provided him £500 while NY gave him land to farm near New Rochelle—probably meager recompense for the stalwart efforts and risk he had proffered for the Revolution.

His famous line about trying men’s souls is indicative of the spiritual component contained in The Crisis. Many of his arguments were based on an appeal to his countrymen that revolution was the godly thing to do, and that England was attempting to usurp powers that belonged to the Almighty alone. This, of course, is gold that politicians mine to this day. When all else fails, blame it on God.

Following his statement about times that try souls, he made reference to “sunshine patriots.” His definition of such folks seems to have been that there are those who are loyalists when things are going well. When the sledding gets tough, they fade back into the woodwork. He also called them “summer soldiers.” These are two apt monikers for enthusiasts who are eager to vocalize their feelings but refuse to back up their statements.

At Their Worst

In an era of easily accessed social media, our world is full of these sunshine patriots. Their memes are clever, their quips are cutting, and their sound bites are often ingenious. Sometimes I find myself getting caught up in such theatrics. Bumper sticker politics, like bumper sticker theology, is fun. Unfortunately, it’s also cheap and short-lived. Still, the way our society operates lends itself to such triviality. Even worse, many seem to buy into the brief platitudes that they glean on Facebook or the back of an SUV. 

Some of the most successful politicians of our day are the ones who have learned to harness such tactics. They say things that draw people into their camp, get elected, make a bundle, and suck us dry. These are sunshine patriots at their worst. Do you think maybe we could vote them out?

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

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