Has the U.S. become “The Great Satan”?
Or, Is it still ok for American Christians to love their country?
By Brent Hardaway
For me, the day of September 11th began, as it did for most other Americans, like any other. I was awakened by the alarm clock at 6 AM Pacific Time, oblivious that the world, and how I and others viewed it, was rapidly changing. I first heard the news of the tragic events of that day on the way to work, about 45 minutes later, while listening to my local Christian music station. I immediately switched to the top AM news station, in absolute shock as the newscasters described the horror of what was happening. At work most people just moped around in a daze, unable to fathom what the implications were.
And a few days later, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, two of the most high-profile members in the Christian community, voiced that this was something that America had coming . They even identified those that they felt were responsible, such as homosexuals, the pro-choice movement, and The People for the American Way. The reaction to these statements was as rapid as it was harsh. Eventually, both felt the pressure to apologize, and they did so.
There was another voice that also argued that in some sense America deserved this and had it coming. Ironically, this came from the other end of the political spectrum, those on the far left who believe America is a war-mongering nation who bullies the rest of the world in order to exploit them economically. The terrorist actions were even said by some to be a symbolic gesture, attacking the greatest symbols of American capitalism and the American war machine (Such is the counsel of despair of postmodern deconstructionism. In renouncing Western Imperialism, it commits an intellectual imperialism of its own by claiming to speak for those it does not in fact speak for. In reality, it is very doubtful that multi-millionaire Osama Bin Laden, or the mostly upper-middle class Al Queda members who planned the attack, felt economically exploited. It is ultimately about an ideology, one that its proponents have no reservations about spreading with aggression, and one that makes Falwell and Robertson seem like Berkeley radicals in regards to homosexuals, women, and free speech). This view has less support among American Christians than the right does, but it is there nonetheless, particularly among Christians of a strongly pacifist mindset.
So what are Christians now to think about their country? Love it? Hate it? Be indifferent? Is there anything good that we can say about our society and culture in 2001? That leads me here. Christians have spilled a great deal of ink on the moral failings of America. There certainly is a place for that. But, just once, I’m going to do something different for a change, if I may. I’m going to go to bat for my fellow countrymen, Christian and non, and do something that may seem radical and perhaps even dangerous - I’m going to list and applaud the things about America that I find good, praiseworthy, and pleasing in the eyes of God.
I realize that in doing so, there are those who might say that I am downplaying the sinfulness of our nation and denying that America is ripe for God’s destruction. I am doing neither. I further maintain that many Christians now have downplayed the sinfulness of our nation in the past with the implication that America did not deserve God’s wrath in the past while now it does. I would maintain that all nations of the earth deserve God‘s punishment, and it will come one day.
In this discussion, Christians have stated the things about our country that they think God was pleased with in the past. And if that is not wrong, then I do not think that it is wrong to point out the things that I think pleases God about America at present.
And so, if you’re wondering why God hasn’t yet wiped America off the face of the earth, you may want to consider the following
America has blessed the Jewish people. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, in his book America’s Real War (p. 320), says “while it is true that American Jews have experienced difficulties, it is crucial to note that the American Jewish community has lived for an historically unparalleled length of time with no pogroms or massacres, with no official government sanctions, without even a special Jewish tax levied against them. A cursory overview of Jewish history will reveal this peaceful state to be highly unusual.”
America remains firmly committed to the continued survival of the nation of Israel, which has, since its inception, been surrounded by hostile enemies who wish to exterminate it. Israel is, of course, not always right, and the U.S. is usually quick to criticize it when it isn’t, but it still remains a true friend. It has also sought to broker lasting peace agreements between Israel and its enemies, even when doing so seems futile.
America is a generous nation. It is often said that American people are self-centered and materialistic. While there is some truth in this , we are also generous with what we have. As Gordon Sinclair, a Canadian broadcaster said in 1973,
“As long as sixty years ago, when I first started to read newspapers, I read of floods on the Yellow River and the Yangtse. Who rushed in with men and money to help? The Americans did. They have helped control floods on the Nile, the Amazon, the Ganges and the Niger. Today, the rich bottom land of the Mississippi is under water and no foreign land has sent a dollar to help. Germany, Japan and, to a lesser extent, Britain and Italy, were lifted out of the debris of war by the Americans who poured in billions of dollars and forgave other billions in debts. None of those countries is today paying even the interest on its remaining debts to the United States. When the franc was in danger of collapsing in 1956, it was the Americans who propped it up and their reward was to be insulted and swindled on the streets of Paris. I was there. I saw it. When distant cities are hit by earthquakes, it is the United States that hurries into help... Managua Nicaragua is one of the most recent examples. So far this spring, 59 American communities have been flattened by tornadoes. Nobody has helped. The Marshall Plan .. the Truman Policy .. all pumped billions upon billions of dollars into discouraged countries….…When the railways of France, Germany and India were breaking down through age, it was the Americans who rebuilt them. When the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central went broke, nobody loaned them an old caboose. Both are still broke. I can name to you 5,000 times when the Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble.”
Since Sinclair wrote, other examples can be mentioned, like the famine in Eithiopia in the mid 1980s, or Somalia in 1992.
We also believe in helping the less fortunate here at home. Count the number of Americans that you have actually known who, knowing of a person that is hungry, would not try to make sure that they are fed. You may well be able to count them on a single hand. While working with the homeless in one city, one homeless man told me that help for the homeless was so plentiful that “if you starve to death here, it’s your own fault.” All of us are aware of reports that some panhandlers that we see are not truly needy and use begging to bring in a good-sized sum. It is truly lamentable that there are those who would take advantage of people’s generosity, but the fact that the generosity is there to be taken advantage of is revealing. The Super-rich in America give billions to those in need. Is this good PR? Tax breaks? Genuine altruism? Maybe a combination of all three, depending on the individual. But Americans fully that there is something wrong with someone hoarding far more wealth than they could ever need without doing something without helping those in need, and our society fully expects them to do so.
Numerous times, I have seen communities rally around a person who has fallen ill and racked up large medical bills. Great efforts are made to raise funds to help that person and alleviate the financial burden. There are many examples that may also be added, like the people who stood in line for hours to give blood to those injured in the Sept. 11th tragedy. Or the millions of dollars that poured into the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
Americans wish God to be invoked in public life. One of the things that is commonly cited as a sign of America’s great moral decline is the removal of prayer from schools and other public venues. Yet despite consistent court rulings affirming this, the vast majority of Americans look for ways to circumvent and find loopholes in such laws. High school sports teams have students give prayers, and there is usually little objection.
I can here the objections already. “This is just a shallow spirituality. Americans believe in God, but are unwilling to submit to his moral requirements.” As I shall show later, this is really no different than the past we so triumphantly revere as a time of great holiness.
Americans are committed to a just-war doctrine in the use of military force. It is necessary to qualify the dimensions of this statement, as U.S. foreign policy is a quagmire of controversy. Certainly there have been lamentable episodes of aggression during America’s expansionist period, but my main focus is recent history. Even so, it must be admitted that in recent years, some very dark covert operations committed by the CIA during the Cold War have been brought to light. The latter has caused the most resentment of America in foreign countries.
In many of these cases, however, most elected officials and the general population were either kept in the dark or misled. And that is who I am speaking about. Between these entities, in recent public discourse, it is clear that a valid moral pretext for conflict is always required. War in Korea was supported because it was seen as having a moral cause - containing Communist aggression. Vietnam was more controversial, and it enjoyed much less public support because of the lack of a clear picture of what good we were trying to accomplish. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the Gulf War was fought primarily to protect the free flow of oil - but it was also perceived as having an egalitarian component as well, freeing Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s illegitimate invasion.
The U.S. hasn’t always done right. But if it is hated in some parts of the world, it is also admired and appreciated by others in those same parts.
This topic also leads into another point:
America is a merciful nation. The American Armed Forces comply with the standards set by the Geneva Convention regarding the humane treatment of POW’s. They are given food and their wounds are treated by our doctors. In addition, as Sinclair noted, when the U.S. had brought the Axis powers to its knees in World War II, it rebuilt the very countries that it had defeated and provided enough aid to get their economies back on track. The outlandishness of this and incongruity with human history was so great that it was affectionately lampooned in the 1959 Peter Sellers classic The Mouse That Roared. In it a tiny European state decides to revive its sagging economy by declaring war on America in the hopes that it will be defeated and receive large infusions of aid. America, at the end of the day, loves even its enemies.
American people care more about religious and moral values than is commonly believed. To a lot of Christians the Clinton impeachment scandal was the final straw. Americans only cared about how fat their wallets were, nothing else. We would tolerate the lawlessness of our leaders, as long as peace and prosperity were preserved. The nail in the coffin. The end of the line. To hell in a hand basket.
But a funny thing happened on the way to hell. As Americans were willing to look the other way, the polls also showed an increase in the number of people who ranked “moral values” as one of the top problems facing today’s society. Large numbers also thought religion should play a greater, not a lesser role in society. And then, something completely contrary to the seeming moral apathy . Vice President Al Gore began his campaign for the White House with the wind at his sails like no other candidate in recent memory; a member of the incumbent administration that was perceived to be responsible for a strong economy that had only begun to wane slightly, crime levels at their lowest rates in years, and a balanced budget. All things being equal, Gore should have steamrolled to victory.
However, early on, it was apparent that it was going to a fight, and the primary reason was that Gore was perceived as a less moral and honest candidate than his opponent, George W. Bush. The problem was so pressing that Gore chose Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who was well-respected for his moral credibility and who had even partnered with the Christian right on some issues, to be his running mate. Yet it was still not enough, and despite all the controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election, it was conceded by even Gore’s supporters, at the end of the day, that he had been tarnished by Clinton’s behavior.
Consider; would a presidential candidate who ran a campaign that openly mocked Christianity as the delusions of fools and ridiculed Christian values as Dark Age as nonsense ever have a chance? It appears not. All candidates, regardless of actual practice, try to at least give lip service to being believers. Once again, this may only reflect a cultural spirituality, but once again, it has almost always been this way. It also shows that there has not been a total hardening of towards the things of God.
Even in the world of entertainment, which is rightly a main target of Christian criticism, there are some definite bright spots that we should be thankful for. The television show “Touched by an Angel” has been among America’s top rated TV shows of all time. This is a show with strong moral themes. Also, among the Top 10 shows watched by teenagers is the WB’s “7th Heaven” (remarkable since the WB does not reach nationwide), about a pastor who, with his wife, raise 7 children. Confronting issues like pre-marital sex, peer pressure, teen pregnancy, and drug use, the Rev. Camden and his wife are very firm in their moral stands, but are compassionate and forgiving. Overall, the show beats out the networks’ own “Dawson’s Creek”, which deals with many of these issues from a much less moral perspective.
Some Christians object to these shows because of the former’s not always correct theology/angelology and the latter’s tendency to show the family’s faith and church life in an incidental fashion. Also, in both shows Jesus is never mentioned. To those I only have to say 1) Evangelism is your job, not Hollywood executives (who must make their shows appeal to a broad audience and not just evangelical Christians) 2) Maybe you’d prefer they be replaced by more shows like “Dawson’s Creek” instead? and 3) The point to be gathered here is that Americans are more sensitive to, and respect, spiritual and moral issues than we have come to believe.
America leads the world in racial integration. This is one area where America has actually made great strides over a previous wickedness. Despite occasional flare-ups in tensions (e.g. The Rodney King and O.J. Simpson trials, crimes against Arabs and Muslims in the wake of Sept. 11th), and some continued racism and discrimination, no nation has made as much progress in mixing so many races successfully. Our racial divisions and number of incidents are a very long way from the ones that have plagued places like Yugoslavia, former Soviet Republics, and, as we’re seeing now, Afghanistan. A great deal of institutionalized racism of the past has been eliminated. Can we deny that slavery, segregation, and the deplorable mistreatment of the American Indians caused God a great deal of grief? Can we honestly think that God is not pleased with the amount of progress made on this front? We must not think this a trivial issue just because these are causes usually championed by “Liberals”. For those who wish America to return to its moral state in 1950 or 1900, ask yourself this; Would I want to go back to the past if I was black?
As we evaluate and comment on our society, we need to take the WHOLE Bible into account and ALL of the things that God requires. The things that I have mentioned are things that we Christians tend to take for granted about our countrymen, and we shouldn’t, because in many cases they are things that are hard to come by in this world. There are also two things that we need to keep in mind that would help greatly.
America was not as “Christian” in the past as we like to think. We tend to evaluate present-day America based on the way it was, or at least as we like to think it was. The expressed or at least heavily implied story runs something like this - America from its inception was a land of deeply dedicated believers and pristine holiness. It remained that way until the sixties, when Christian values were thrown away en masse. Ever since then, America has slid deeper and deeper into immorality, far, far away from its roots.
But that isn’t quite the way it really happened. Church attendance in the 1930s was about the same as it is today. It did swing upwards in the 1950s, but it appears to have been a very shallow growth, a sort of fad in response to the atheism of Communism. In 1954, near the height of the “revival”, a Gallup poll found that only 35 percent of the population knew who gave the Sermon on the Mount or could name all four gospels - about the same as today. Statistics like these cannot of course judge hearts, but to say that a significantly larger percentage of people had a saving relationship with Jesus Christ in the middle years of last century seems highly questionable to me. It sounds more like the superficial kind of “cultural” Christianity that we decry today. And a look at religious behavior for periods prior to that reveals a similar ebb and flow. There were places and periods where sinfulness seemed to reign. There was the lawlessness of the Old West, and the revelry of the roaring twenties. Homicide rates in the 1930s mirrored those of the 1980s, as mobsters stood in as clean-cut versions of the Bloods and the Crips. Our battle cry has become “We are in a battle for the very soul of America.” Yes, I agree. But what we fail to realize is that it HAS ALWAYS BEEN THIS WAY. And if ever there was a time that the American church didn’t think so, then there was something seriously wrong.
One issue that bears looking at here is abortion. While the pro-choice claim that there were the same number of abortions before Roe v. Wade as after is unsubstantiated, we cannot deny that there was a great deal of abortion before then. Francis Beckwith, in Politically Correct Death, references one study that showed that in 1961, about 200,000 illegal abortions were performed. Adjusted for population growth, this would translate out to about 300,000 today. This also corresponds well with a poll that Beckwith references that finds that 75% of women who have had abortions say that the illegality of abortion would have affected their decision to have one (since in 1997 just under 1.2 million abortions were performed). A few hundred thousand abortions is still a great deal of killing of the innocent. Why was America not ripe for God’s judgment then? A drop in abortions to 300,000 would of course be a great cause for celebration (and we should celebrate that abortions are down from their peak of nearly 1.5 million in 1990). I just hope we wouldn’t think that the battle was won.
We look on abortion as the greatest evil of our society, and rightly so. But there is a very sad and tragic irony in all of this. When abortion was first legalized in several states prior to 1973, the church was deafly silent. When Roe v. Wade made abortion legal throughout the land, at first only a handful of evangelicals raised concerns, and they were afraid that the church was indifferent. The Southern Baptist Convention even APPROVED of Roe v. Wade for nearly five years because it “kept church and state separate!!!” It’s not like we had any excuse, either, since many of the greatest minds stretched out over 2000 years of church history had analyzed this issue and had concluded that it was murder. If it is right to ask “How could our society be so indifferent to this?”, then it is just ask right to ask “How could we have been so indifferent?”
America has not fallen to the depths of barbarianism that we like to say it has. Numerous times I have heard things said like “Paul has living in a completely decadent society - much like ours today” , or “America has become like Sodom and Gomorrah”. But let‘s take a look. Do we REALLY think that America has become like Sodom? In Genesis 19, it tells us that ALL the men of Sodom, young and old, gathered in front of Lot’s door and demanded that he present his visitors for them to gang-rape. Every single one. Where in America would this occur? Where would this be tolerated? And as for Rome, are you concerned about homosexuality in America? It happened in Rome, too, with wealthy men using young boys as sex slaves. Are you concerned about America’s taste for violent entertainment? In the Roman coliseum, people lustily cheered as REAL people were killed. Americans think even bullfighting is too cruel. Hardly anyone in ancient Rome cared about suicide (for any reason, not just euthanasia) or infanticide. In America, euthanasia and abortion are challenged by many people. Things that were widely accepted and frequently practiced in ancient Rome are severely punished by contemporary America. That also is a key difference between America and many reprobate societies that God brought judgment on. The judgment came largely when there was no moral sensitivity left in the nation.
With this in mind, it seems to me that these statements are careless. It also seems to reflect the fact that American Christians are really unaware of the true depths of depravity that a society can fall to. Just because we live in a society that is more evil than anything we personally have ever known doesn’t mean that it can’t get much, much worse.
By making these points, I am in no way implying that our stand for biblical values and morality should be any less rigorous. But we need to put our struggle in what has been called “The Culture War” in proper perspective. By only focusing on the sinfulness of our society and comparing it to our supposedly righteous past, we begin to feel that we are being bludgeoned at every turn. Well, we’re not, but I’m pretty sure that’s what Satan wants us to believe. How effective can we be when we’re more worried about what the devil is doing than we are excited about what God is doing? If you examine Paul’s letters, written in a much more immoral society, the latter attitude comes shining through.
When American Christians tell of the reasons why they love America, they frequently talk about its founding principles, its freedom of worship, and the material blessings that they enjoy. This is right and proper. But there are things that they can appreciate about its people as well.