January 12th is John Hancock Day for American Unitarian Reform, the 6th Day of Defiance on the Reform Unitarian Winterval Season liturgical calendar.
Not only was John Hancock a prominent Unitarian Christian, but he has become iconic in American culture for a single, famous act that has out-shined (or over-shadowed, depending on your point-of-view) everything else he did during the Revolution: he signed his name almost absurdly large on the Declaration of Independence.
He has become so iconic, in fact, that his name has become slang for “signature.”
The moral lesson to be drawn from the icon of Hancock is the importance of committing oneself publicly to a good cause, regardless of the consequences. At the time, Hancock’s signature was an act of sedition, and he was putting his own life at risk. By making his decision known in such a public and non-repudiable manner, he was enacting a form of ritual, the same sort we see at weddings, confirmations, and in oath-takings like presidential inaugurations.
Having good ideas and good intentions are not enough for moral progress. Life is a contest, and a moral person must be willing to go further in the pursuit of good than those who are pursuing evil and oppression.
Putting one’s name on the line, so to speak, is an important first step: a no-turning-back moment in which today’s courage and commitment helps us weather tomorrow’s doubts and fears. It also can be seen as freely and consciously volunteering for peer pressure, bettering one’s future self by enlisting the help of others and one’s natural, human social instincts.
By signing his name in such a bold and defiant manner, John Hancock was engaging in the 18th Century version of a “life hack,” but with a moral end in mind. By putting pen to paper, he was also putting his person to purpose.
Today is a day to remember the importance of public ritual, the dynamic relationship of freedom and commitment, and the necessity of engaging ourselves and human nature in the pursuit of moral progress.
WORLD UNITARIAN REFORM
FEAST OF ST. TATIANA
Outside of the United States, today is the feast day of St. Tatiana, an early Christian martyr. Like so many victims of religious persecution in the ancient world, she was murdered for refusing to honor a sun god, in this case Apollo. Her legend states that, having been taken to the temple of Apollo to sacrifice, she instead began praying to God, who brought an earthquake that damaged the temple. Then, she was brought to a circus and thrown into a pit with a lion, who refused to attack her and instead lay peacefully at her feet. Finally, she was beheaded with a sword on 12 January (Julian calendar) in the late 220s.