Americanism's Bane

I've been invited by Joe over at The Evangelical Outpost to participate in his 2005 EO Blog Symposium. You can read more about what exactly that means, here. The short of it: Joe wants to show the folks at Commentary Magazine the power Long Tail - essentially the extensive reach and power of the internet, in this specific case the "godblog wing of the blogosphere."

David Gelernter's article, "Americanism and Its Enemies," is the subject of the Symposium. If you don't at least browse his article first, none of the following will make much sense to you, I suspect. Gelernter is a professor at Yale and, while I thought the article was terrific, I also found it to miss a facet of the subject that must be addressed. You can read better and more educated entries to the Symposium here, but since you're with me, why not read mine? I promise it will be one of the shortest. I commence.


In his thoughtful and thorough article on the religion of Americanism, Gelernter waxes eloquent on the origins and many aspects of the religion. He does not, however, deal in great part with the equally religious doctrine of anti-Americanism.

I believe that there are two major motivations behind anti-Americanism and (as noted), its recent sensational proliferation.

The first follows naturally from Gelernter's exposition on the history of Americanism, which finds it roots in Puritanical dogma.

Freedom, equality, democracy: the Declaration held these truths to be self-evident, but 'self-evident' they were certainly not. Otherwise, America would hardly have been the first nation in history to be built on this foundation. Deriving all three from the Bible, theologians of Americanism understood these doctrines not as philosophical ideas but as the word of God. Hence the fervor and passion with which Americans believe their creed. Americans, virtually alone in the world, insist that freedom, equality, and democracy are right not only for France and Spain but for Afghanistan and Iraq.

"This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." - John 3:19-20

If indeed Americanism is a religion based upon, inspired by, and infused with the word of God, then we can rightfully expect that the spread and promotion of such a religion will be met in the world with very much the same sentiments that the spread of Christianity itself is so often met with. They will hate the light, they will despise the "shining city on a hill."

I hold this first catalyst for anti-Americanism to be self-evident. The second, however, is an aspect of Americanism that, while clearly visible to those who would hate it, effectively shrouds itself from the very practitioners of Americanism. For this is its very nature. It is the sin of pride.

America is a proud nation. Perhaps nowhere was this more clearly demonstrated for us in recent history than in the American response to the terrorist attack of September 11th. We went shopping. We kept the economy going. We bounced back. We even turned the land that those buildings sat on into the biggest tourist attraction in Manhattan. Take that, Islamic radicals.

Why are we proud?

By Americanism I mean the set of beliefs that are thought to constitute America's essence and to set it apart; the beliefs that make Americans positive that their nation is superior to all others-morally superior, closer to God.

Gelernter goes on to speak of "American Zionism" - I essentially interpreted this to be the general belief that, as a nation based on Godly precepts, we somehow share a hallowed spot in history with the nation of Israel as a people set apart. America has, effectively, taken one of the major themes of the New Testament - the expansion of the status of 'holy' to all who would believe, Gentile or Jew - and run amok with it. We think the apostles must have been speaking about us, when in fact they meant the complete body of Christ.

It is this blatant misconception that so tars our image that anti-Americanism has every right to despise. For as a prideful nation, we bring our message of freedom with a forked tongue. We preach a governance based on a faith, and that faith based on a person, that person being Christ. And it is in Christ that we apprehend the ultimate picture of human humility. The conquering king, come as a servant, one born in a manger, no less.

With such a fundamental schism, we set forth our credo, and stand aghast that anyone would stand in opposition to our immaculate trifecta of freedom, equality, and democracy. In fact, it is our very belief that we are somehow "entitled" to such wonderful precepts that will limit both our ability to fully enjoy them and our credibility in preaching our doctrine.

Until Americanism can bring itself to a hard stop, and realize that it has so given itself over to such an all-consuming belief in its moral superiority, and then infuse upon itself a gospel humility, it will never successfully promote its message abroad. And until such a point, the message itself will remain poignantly self-defeating.

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed. -- C.S. Lewis


Anonymous said...

You must be joking, America is most evil and godless country in the entire world. With no morality, money driven society.I wouldn live there if it was the only country in the world.Democracy? maybe for for white, rich, christian. Equality-give me a break.

witw said...

...and you thought you didn't like that one earlier comment!