Americanism:The Fourth Great Western Religion : The Fourth Great Western Religion
What does it mean to "believe" in America? Why do we always speak of our country as having a mission or purpose that is higher than other nations?
Modern liberals have invested a great deal in the notion that America was founded as a secular state, with religion relegated to the private sphere. David Gelernter argues that America is not secular at all, but a powerful religious idea--indeed, a religion in its own right.
Gelernter argues that what we have come to call "Americanism" is in fact a secular version of Zionism. Not the Zionism of the ancient Hebrews, but that of the Puritan founders who saw themselves as the new children of Israel, creating a new Jerusalem in a new world. Their faith-based ideals of liberty, equality, and democratic governance had a greater influence on the nation's founders than the Enlightenment.
Gelernter traces the development of the American religion from its roots in the Puritan Zionism of seventeenth-century New England to the idealistic fighting faith it has become, a militant creed dedicated to spreading freedom around the world. The central figures in this process were Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, who presided over the secularization of the American Zionist idea into the form we now know as Americanism.
If America is a religion, it is a religion without a god, and it is a global religion. People who believe in America live all over the world. Its adherents have included oppressed and freedom-loving peoples everywhere--from the patriots of the Greek and Hungarian revolutions to the martyred Chinese dissidents of Tiananmen Square.
Gelernter also shows that anti-Americanism, particularly the virulent kind that is found today in Europe, is a reaction against this religious conception of America on the part of those who adhere to a rival religion of pacifism and appeasement.
A startlingly original argument about the religious meaning of America and why it is loved--and hated--with so much passion at home and abroad.
This work is an overgrown magazine think piece designed to provoke. Mission accomplished. A Weekly Standard writer and Yale computer science professor, Gelernter is at his best in describing the Puritan vision of America as a "city on a hill" that has held for four centuries, as well as the immeasurable and undeniable influence of the Bible on American thought. But when he argues that "activist Americanism" is the logical flowering of the American experiment or that our temporal religion ("Americanism") is on a par with the spiritual ones, he is on shakier ground. That Gelernter argues the winnability of the Vietnam War at this remove shows the uphill nature of his argument that America is a positive influence on the world, whether we are bringing down evil regimes-sometimes with words, sometimes with deeds-or inspiring the oppressed everywhere. His is an interesting and accessible volume that generates what good political books should do-debate and thought-and this makes it a success even if one disagrees with it. An optional purchase for academic and public libraries.-Michael O. Eshleman, Kings Mills, OH Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 18, 2007
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Excerpt from Americanism:The Fourth Great Western Religion by David Gelernter
"I BELIEVE IN AMERICA"
"I believe in America." Many people have said so over the generations. They are not speaking of a nation. They are expressing belief in an idea, and not just any idea but a religious idea of enormous, transporting power.
In this book I will argue that America is no secular republic; it's a biblical republic. Americanism is no civic religion; it's a biblical religion. Americanism doesn't merely announce the nation's ideals on its own authority; it speaks on behalf of the Bible and the Bible's God, as Lincoln did in his Second Inaugural Address. Its goal is for America to move forward "with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right," as Lincoln said in that same speech. That America is a biblical republic and Americanism a biblical religion--both facts are perfectly consistent with absolute religious freedom; both are supported by mountains of evidence. So how come nobody knows them? Is the evidence secret? Hardly. But we live in a secular age. No book will change that fact, but our secular prejudice can't change history either. If we look the facts in the face and don't flinch, we will see America the biblical republic and Americanism the biblical religion emerge clearly.
"America" is one of the most beautiful religious concepts mankind has ever known. It is sublimely humane, built on strong confidence in humanity's ability to make life better. "America" is an idea that results from focusing the Bible and Judeo-Christian faith like a spotlight's beam on the problem of this life (not the next) in the modern world, in a modern nation. The ideas that emerge in a blaze of light center on liberty, equality, and democracy for all mankind.These ideas are often attributed to ancient Greece and to eighteenth-century philosophy. I will show how they grew in fact from the Bible, Judaism, and Christianity. They were present implicitly (unopened buds) in the Puritan America of the early 1600s. During the revolutionary era the climate was right for the buds to bloom. And they were beautiful. But they reached maturity only decades later, under the ministration of the greatest religious figure of modern centuries--who was also President of the United States.
The religious idea called "America" is religious insofar as it tells an absolute truth about the meaning of human life, a truth that we must take on faith. ("We hold these truths to be self-evident," says the Declaration of Independence. No proofs are supplied.) I will try to show that the "American Religion," which gives "America" its spiritual meaning, consists of an American Creed in the context of a doctrine I will call American Zionism. Virtually everyone agrees on the existence if not the details of the Creed, but the phenomenon I call American Zionism has been discussed by relatively few historians. I will try to show that the American Religion incorporates the biblical ideas of a chosen people in a promised land. Those concepts are the source of America's (sometime) sense of divine mission; of her (not invariable yet often powerful) feeling of obligation to all mankind; of her democratic chivalry--her nagging awareness of a duty to help the weak against the strong. This "chivalry" has nothing to do with knights and ladies; it is a deep sense of duty to the suffering, and comes straight from American Zionism.
I will try to show how the American Religion was shaped by American history and how it shaped that history in turn--America's history and its religion in a centuries-long embrace.
And I will try to show that the America Religion is a global religion. Believers in America have lived all over the world. Some have believed with tormented desperation. Others have believed serenely, because the idea called