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Sundays With The Christianists: America, The Postscript
We wrapped up the "history" part of our rightwing Christian textbooks last week, but like any conversation you've ever had with a fundamentalist, they still have more to say at us. Both of our textbooks have nice summing-up sections devoted to reminding kids one last time What Makes America Special. Spoiler: It's Freedom and Jesus.
The briefer of the two is from our 11/12th-grade textbook, United States History for Christian Schools (Bob Jones University Press, 2002), and deploys 1 Corinthians 13: 12 to remind us that "now we see through a glass, darkly," because while obviously Jesus is on the way to save/end the world, the roadmap to that glorious day isn't quite clear. But happily, we live in the greatest America of all Americas, and so on. Surprisingly, there's nothing in either textbook about those glorious Last Days, which you'd think would get at least a fiery note of Rapturous approval. U.S. History is content to just remind us that America was built by "strong men and women with sturdy backs and sturdy faith to match," and that individualism has always been the most important aspect of the American character:
Across the gallery of our nation’s past it has been the individual of noble character, ready sacrifice, and tireless labor whose portrait is framed with true greatness. One such portrait of greatness can be seen in the scarlet snows of Valley Forge, bloodied by the bare feet of soldiers who did not know how to quit. Another can be seen by the flickering camp light as Stonewall Jackson, who bowed to none but God, kneels in prayer.
Yep. Stonewall Jackson. The triptych is completed with, weirdly, the image of "two brothers, who over the sands of Kitty Hawk give wings to mankind’s dream of flight," because apparently a successful airfoil design exalts the Lord. And no, don't be silly -- they don't need to include a portrait of, say, Harriet Tubman or Rosa Parks in there; they got mentioned in the main text, so be happy with that. Neither book's postscript mentions America's original sin, slavery, either. You'd think they'd take one more opportunity to downplay its seriousness or to say it was pretty fine of us to have worked that thing out of our system.
And then there's a big paragraph on the great evangelists who brought Jesus to the frontier and the city, because these "spiritual giants" are "crowned not with the laurels the world crafts for its own, but with the character of the One who was crowned with thorns." And you too, child who is almost certainly skipping this section unless it's on the test (and it will be), YOU can and must be a part of that great tradition:
At no time in America’s history has there been a greater need for such spiritual leaders driven by the compelling demands of Calvary. In a humanistic and often hostile society that has drifted far from its spiritual moorings, perhaps the opposition to such Christian leadership has never been greater, but then neither has the opportunity for Christian service been greater.
Also, we may not know what the future holds for America, but that's just fine, because it's all going to work out just great as long as we keep our wits and our Bibles about us:
as believers we have a sure destiny as we walk with the Author and Finisher of time to "a new heaven and new earth." Our New World discovery, however, unlike Columbus’s voyage, will not be an accidental landing on a hostile shore. As America was to weary pilgrims long ago, this New World will be a refuge, a welcome shore, a city upon a hill.
Our 8th-grade textbook, A Beka's America: Land I Love (2006), pulls out the stops for a full-on sermon on what America means, starting with the winner of a patriotic magazine contest held during World War I, to write "the American Creed":
I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a Republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign states; a perfect Union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.
I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it; to support its Constitution; to obey its laws; to respect its flag; and to defend it against all enemies.
It's a nice mishmash of the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address, plus a bit of a military oath, and we can see why it would go over well in 1917. And then Land I Love explains it in detail, noting that we don't have a king and we're all sovereign and stuff, but also adding in that those founding principles of "freedom, equality, justice, and humanity" didn't just come out of some generic secular sense of Good Things, no sir! Rather, those four ideas "are moral and spiritual values derived from our Judeo-Christian heritage," and don't you forget it.
We also learn that even though America is just a bit over 200 years old, we've become enormously successful, and there just has to be a very special reason for that:
What is the secret of our progress? It cannot be superior natural resources; other nations have resources as rich as or richer than ours and have had centuries to develop them. It cannot be the result of our superior intelligence -- ancient peoples had the same, if not greater, intellectual capacity.
The reason for our nation’s material prosperity is the blessing of God and the gift of freedom -- economic, political, and religious freedom. This freedom we have used to make our nation the greatest country on the face of the earth.
Ah, but as our "sense of duty and responsibility" declines, we'll also see a "corresponding decline in national greatness," so you just stop that backsliding right now.
We also learn that in no other country will you find the unique mix of freedom and God-blessedness as in America, so you'd better be grateful you don't live in some oppressive hellhole like Canada or Norway. And what makes us so wonderful? God and free enterprise.
Hunger, fear, and exposure to the elements have been the lot of the vast majority of Earth’s population. In these United States, however, there has never been a famine. No American need go to bed hungry each night, though many today go to bed forgetting to be thankful for their land of plenty and the blessings of free enterprise.
So go say a prayer to Jesus and Adam Smith right now, you ungrateful little scamps. Just how fantastic is America's fantasticness? How about this?
It is no wonder that, wherever a traveler may go on the face of the earth, he finds people with one grand ambition in life -- to visit America. Even in Western Europe or Japan, where people enjoy many material blessings, there is much more government control over people’s lives. Despite the trend toward bigger government, America remains the best place for a hard-working individual to get ahead and be a success without the heavy hand of government regulation.
Strangely, none of these people seem to want to adopt our system of health care. That is because they are corrupt and ungodly.
In any case, what's really made us so successful is God and capitalism, and that is just Who We Are:
The greatest determining factor in America’s rise to prosperity has been the character of her people. America’s heritage, steeped in Biblical Christianity, imparted to the people a high degree of character and a will to work. The Protestant work ethic, the idea that work is a gift from God and a way to glorify Him, took deep root in the United States.
Also, free enterprise. Bet you didn't see that coming. The essay doesn't really address the possibility that Biblical values and the pursuit of profit could ever come into conflict. God obviously wanted us all to be capitalists, or Jesus would have more carefully explained that the Parable of the Talents is not about making a profit in the merely monetary sense. But He never said that, so duh, it's investment advice and nothing more. So, yes, capitalism good, and even better when there's no government getting in the way. Here's how that worked in America:
For the most part, the capitalistic system was given free reign, and the Judeo-Christian ethic of fairness in competition constrained selfishness and envy.
Which is why the 19th Century was such a terrific time. The child labor stuff was even OK, as long as somebody came around and read the Bible to them. Also, God gave us lots of cool nature and minerals to exploit, and all those resources "would be useless if the people were not willing to work hard to turn raw products into usable items through agriculture and manufacturing."
Ah, but there is always danger on the horizon:
When Americans lose their willingness to work, America will no longer be prosperous.
More recent developments, such as an emphasis on self, an increase in government support of people who do not work, and growing problems between labor and management have already led to a decline in America’s position among the world’s nations. The decline of the Protestant work ethic and the Judeo-Christian sense of honor, duty, and compassion has brought much strife to our land.
Outsourcing jobs and production facilities and corporate headquarters to the cheapest possible locations probably had less to do with the loss of good jobs than our declining belief in working as a form of prayer. Maybe a tax cut for the rich would make us pray and work harder.
Also, America is a great nation because we value life in the womb and because we execute people:
Although legalized abortion has eroded respect for life, Americans still spend billions of dollars each year for health care and for saving human lives. And strange as it may seem, the institution of capital punishment for murderers is a sure sign of respect for human life, for man is created in God’s image. The current hesitancy to require or to enforce capital punishment for murderers is thus a further indication of a declining respect for the value of human life.
If we'd just speed up the lethal injections, maybe God will smile upon us once more. Or stonings. God's cool with those, too. And no, the essay doesn't explain why being "created in God’s image" necessitates capital punishment. Maybe it's because God is into killing people whose lawyers slept through their trials, too? Still, we are lucky to live in a country where "although crime is increasing," a textbook published in 2006 can lie about crime increasing, because we have a free press.
The section closes with one more reminder, just in case anyone's attention wandered, that America was founded and built by Christians who
wanted all of their social institutions -- home, church, school, and state -- to reflect Christian values. God blessed this private and public acknowledgment of Him and the practice of personal and civic righteousness. The result was the most astonishing two centuries of progress the world has ever known.
And obviously, this is why the First Amendment is so insistent on freedom for all Christians. And until recently, it was so -- until, of course, we turned our back on God and started acting as if the First Amendment actually meant that the government couldn't promote Christianity at every turn:
The domestic problems and the foreign dangers which confront our nation today are due to the crumbling of the moral and spiritual foundations upon which our country was founded. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote as recently as 1952: ”We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." Without these moral and spiritual absolutes, our nation is doomed to further decay and to ultimate destruction by the judgment of a just, holy and righteous God.
And then, after several pages of loving American independence and self-rule and all the brilliant blessings of representative democracy, the best system of government on earth, we are reminded that when it comes right down to it, the universe is a monarchy:
But above all let us keep in mind that we do not have to despair of the future; God is still on the throne of the universe. We need to build for the future; strong Christian homes, churches, and schools will count much toward the reconstruction of the moral and spiritual foundations of our constitutional republic. It is important that you learn all you can about your great country so that you can stand up for the great principles that have made America great.
And how is one to accomplish this? Read all the Christian history books you can find, and remember that the "only cure for our nation’s ills is the preaching of the gospel and its daily application to the lives of its citizens." And then Land I Love closes with the inevitable ALL-CAPS slogan that it opens with: BLESSED IS THE NATION WHOSE GOD IS THE LORD. Which is America, and no other nation, because we win.
And that, kids, concludes our slightly more than a year-long expedition into the bowels of two incredible versions of American history. "Sundays With the Christianists" is going to take a brief hiatus while Yr. Dok Zoom recharges his secular batteries, but it will inevitably be back, because there's no shortage of rightwing Christian textbooks out there. For the near future, two weeks from now, we're going to be taking over Lisa's "Sunday Bloody NYT Sunday" duties, bringing you the best of the worst of the nation's newspaper of record. Also, we're taking a week off to drive Kid Zoom around Washington to look at colleges, and just like Tony Soprano, we may also have other chores to take care of.