From time to time Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity will express their confidence that we will succeed as a society “because we’re Americans, and Americans are survivors.” Rush Limbaugh joins in by waxing eloquent on the topic of “American exceptionalism.”
This conversation raises the issue of what is the essence of being American?
The issue of being an American or a German or possessing any other national identity is at root a cultural one. What are the cultural distinctives that make us what we are, that give us our uniqueness as a nation?
At one time America enjoyed distinctives that made being an American a wonderful thing. The concern of this post is that virtually all those distinctives have been demolished or are in the process of being destroyed.
Perhaps the most foundational distinctives consisted of our Christian cultural orientation. As we have noted in previous posts, there are some ways in which America never was a “Christian nation,” but an unassailable argument can be made for the position that historically we were Christian from a cultural perspective.
Some have referred to this Christian cultural characteristic as a secular religion, not secular in the sense that it excluded belief in the supernatural, but rather from the perspective that America had an underlying Christian worldview that was part of our secular fabric. Though America always included religious minorities of various types, our general cultural composition included the beliefs that God exists, and that God is the God of the Bible, that the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God, that Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth to die for our sins and rose again, that He will return again as judge, and that there is an eternal heaven and hell.
Historically Americans almost universally embraced these and related Christian truths. This is not to say that all these people were genuine believers, but the point is that these concepts were part of the warp and woof of American society. For example, the Bible used in court for swearing in witnesses has been a Christian Bible.
Christian culture no longer includes this set of beliefs, at least not in any substantive sense. For example, in the discussion of the acceptance of homosexuality, biblical pronouncements on the matter are not even a consideration. This foundational component of our identity is for the most part eroded beyond recognition.
Perhaps the next most defining characteristic of American culture resided in our Constitution. However, the decision of the Supreme Court to view the Constitution as a “living document” has destroyed its content and authority. In addition, our current administration for the most part ignores constitutional provisions, thus making it even more irrelevant.
Radio talk show hosts like to assert that American exceptionalism is due to our “freedom and liberty.” When the government can tell you what size toilet tank you must buy or the kind of light bulbs you can use, freedom is quickly disappearing. But more serious, crushing taxes and a web of regulations are placing us in bondage. Spying by the NSA and the almost absolute power of the government over the individual contained in National Defense Authorization Act further erode any vestiges of freedom. In addition, freedom related to healthcare has now been stripped from us.
We might view our federalist system as defining us as Americans. However, the Interstate Commerce Act and similar encroachments on states’ rights have left us with a very heavy handed federal government and subservient states.
The common moral code that used to define American has now been shredded. With the demise of our Christian culture no basis for morality is left. Whatever residual ethical standards might have survived are now quickly being decimated.
At one time our language gave us identity, but that now we are moving toward a bilingual status, and if amnesty is extended for illegal immigrants, and it seems that is only a matter of time, we will move even further in that direction.
Just being a nation of laws was once an American trait, but even that quality is disintegrating.
In that regard, we once were a nation of American citizens, but now those here without citizenship are provide many of the same privileges as citizens.
What, then, does it mean to be an American? We can point to very little that makes us distinctive, and what distinctives may be emerging are not related to the historical character of Americans, a fact that leaves most of those that we might consider core Americans feeling disoriented and estranged.
What are the implications of this loss of American identity? If being American no longer has special meaning, no basis is left for patriotism, and we have no foundation for American unity except the power of the federal government. This leaves us fragmented into various groups, each seeking their own advantage and none seeking or valuing the benefit of the nation as a whole.
This results in the group wielding the greatest power subjugating the rest, free from any law or cultural distinctive but its own arbitrary desires. To make matters worse, our current administration promotes class and group envy and hostility to further fragmentation our country in order to maintain its grip on power.
The only solution begins with a strong and biblical church infused with the power of God to reestablish our Christian culture. America has experienced First and Second Great Awakenings. Today we desperately need a third.