Joe Carter at the Evangelical Outpost is running a symposium for anyone who wants to blog an opinion or review of David Gelernter's piece "Americanism and Its Enemies" in Commentary magazine. Joe is offering prizes for the top three entrees and a random drawing prize for all the entrants so I can't say no. It's like that contest at elementary school fairs to guess the number of jelly beans in the enormous jar. I know I don't have a shot but the opportunity at winning a prize (even the random drawing prize) is too enticing. So here goes:
Gelernter defines Americanism by saying, "(b)y 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."
He then goes on to present Americanism as a religion with a "conceptual triangle in which one fundamental fact (the Bible is God's word) creates two premises (every member of the American community has his own individual dignity, insofar as he deals individually with God; second, the community has a divine mission to all mankind) that create three conclusions (every human being everywhere is entitled to freedom, equality, and democracy)."
Gelernter also theorizes that his Americanism is Puritanism "transformed" and that "part of Americanism is the American version of biblical Zionism: in short, American Zionism" where Americans are a "chosen people," "living in a promised land" with a "divinely ordained mission."
I would be sad if the Americanism that Gelernter proposes is what happened to the Puritan movement. The Americanism that Gelernter proposes is more of a idolatrous nationalism than a "Judeo-Christian" religion. This nationalism sees America as a new Israel, a "city on the hill" which is a godly nation that shines the light to lead the way for other nations. It seems to deify the American nation and its institutions over God. It makes the spread of freedom and democracy primary over the spreading the Gospel. It takes promises, such as 2nd Chronicles 7:14, intended for the immortal body of Christian believers around the world and converts them into promises for a mortal nation-state whose geography and inhabitants have changed dramatically over time. This Americanism seems to think that salvation is brought about by allowing people to be "free" and not thru faith in Jesus Christ and the grace of God who sent His Son to die and atone for our sins.
1 Peter 2:9 says, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
The "holy nation" in this verse isn't America but the people who belong to God. The people of God have been called out of the darkness and into His light, not America, even though many people who belong to the body of believers also take pride in America and its institutions.
Though I believe America is the greatest nation on earth and I strongly agree with the notion of spreading freedom to the people of nation-states that have been brutalized by dictators or regimes, I can't see America as the or a "holy nation." We hardly have the market cornered on biblical values or behavior. Though our nation might not be as bad as the Netherlands or China, we are hardly a "city on the hill" when it comes to biblical morals. Our nation allows 1.3 million abortions every year. We tolerated the adultery of our former President. Sexual fornication is the main subject of numerous popular television shows and movies. Humbleness is too often replaced by pride and boasting. We've spread freedom to Afghanistan and Iraq but haven't dealt well with the genocidal atrocities in the Sudan and Rwanda.
Gelernter's triangle of one fact, two premises, and three conclusions seems to break down after the first fact. If the Bible is the Word of God - how is America the "holy nation?" The Bible never says that. It seems like to make the rest of Gelernter's triangle work, the one fact must be the incorrect assertion that "America is God's Holy Nation." Wouldn't there be different premises if the one fact was that the Bible is the Word of God? Wouldn't the premises be more along the lines of "every member of the Christian community has his own individual dignity, insofar as he deals individually with God; second, the community of Christian believers has a divine mission to all mankind." This mission then, instead of offering "freedom, equality, and democracy" would be to offer the good news of salvation by grace thru faith in Jesus Christ.
I also disagree somewhat with Gelernter's perception that "Anti-Americans are still fascinated and enraged by Americans' bizarre tendency to believe in God." Though this certainly might fit for some in Europe it hardly makes sense for the numerous Muslims who despise our freedom. They have a belief in a higher being and even consider Christians to be "people of the book". They seem to despise Americans less for their belief in God and more for the way they perceive us materialistic, greedy, and prideful along with various military maneuvers, especially our support for Israel.
Overall, I thought this was an extremely interesting piece that was well-researched and quite thought provoking. Gelernter might be right. Puritanism may have transformed into Gelernter's Americanism. But if it has transformed, it was not for the better.