Tuesday, July 04, 2006

God Bless America—Please!

Since it’s July 4, I think I ought to say something about the U.S. of A. I’m not too sure, though, what is most appropriate. I really do love America, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Not that I have all that much experience of anywhere else. I’ve been to Canada and Mexico, and to all the countries of Western Europe and to one in Eastern Europe (though I must confess I spent a little too much time in Amsterdam—hey, it was the ‘70s!). But I’ve never lived anywhere but America—in which I’ve lived in New York, Connecticut, Florida, Oregon, and California, but nothing in between! Must be those oceans…

All the same, I think I’m less a “love it or leave it” American than a “change it or lose it” one. I should hasten to add that I’m no flag-burner, or one who reaps all the benefits of a free and affluent society while relentlessly vilifying it and biting the hand that feeds me. It is good and healthy to love one’s country, and it is also good and healthy to love it enough to sometimes point out its errors for the sake of the country’s goodness and health.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was the darling of the West, as long as his incisive critiques were directed against the repressive communist regime. He lost favor as soon as he took aim at the self-absorbed, materialistic consumer society of the West. But he was not interested in currying anyone’s favor, nor in advancing the cause of any particular social or political system. He wanted to uphold the spiritual values which guaranteed the dignity, integrity, and freedom (in the best sense) of the human being, and neither the Soviet East nor the European/American West was doing so, but for different reasons. There’s nothing inherently evil about socialism or capitalism as such—though their various historical manifestations show how evil they can become—but the best spiritual and moral values should guide any system of government if it is to be truly human and humane.

I’m not competent in political discourse, so I’ll stick to the spiritual and moral. America has experienced a real moral and spiritual (can’t really separate the two) degeneration over the past few decades. Perhaps they could be called the decadent decades. While technological prowess has advanced remarkably, traditional faith and morals have been mercilessly shredded in the public eye by all the high-profile evildoers who are hammering away at the spiritual foundations of America. Abortion, euthanasia, and wanton war-making have claimed the lives of millions of innocents. Pornography, promiscuity, and the veritable explosion of “gay” militancy and advocacy, are enervating the soul of our country. The near-total rejection of all norms of sexual morality is devastating to America, and despite her ubiquitous churches and high percentage (according to pollsters) of belief in God, she is among the chief exporters of smut and hedonism around the world. Corruption or lack of honesty and integrity among politicians is certainly not a phenomenon proper to America (in some places it is much worse), but I for one have become sufficiently disillusioned to have almost no trust at all in the system.

It might seem to be a truism simply to say that if they would all repent and believe in the Gospel, everything would change, but truisms usually become such because they are true. America was founded on Christian principles (or at least theistic ones), which could have set the course for a more just, righteous, and even spiritually sound society. It seems, however, that (humanly seen) we’re on an irreversible course to self-destruction, and maybe the whole world is going to blow up before we recognize not only the futility but the horror of the disastrous detours from the divine decrees that we have arrogantly taken.

But as long as the Lord has not yet returned on the clouds, we still have time to repent and change. Even when a forest entirely burns down, it can restore itself. There are certain kinds of seeds that will be released from their pods only under conditions of extreme heat. So God built recovery into disaster. Likewise, when Elijah claimed that he was the only faithful one left in a thoroughly idolatrous society, God told him: “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bent the knee to Baal” (see Rom. 11:2-5). God always reserves a remnant (at least) for Himself, so that through the faithful few, the many may be enlightened and saved.

America’s heritage is in many ways noble and good, and God really has blessed America abundantly with natural beauty, material abundance, significant levels of freedom and peace, and a rich mix of peoples and cultures that have great potential for good. The freedom of religion has allowed the Church to grow and flourish (though the PC Police and special-interest groups give us ominous signs of the curtailment of that freedom). We must admit, however, that the Church in America has drunk a little too deeply from the tainted flagons of popular trends. But throughout her history (at least before she adopted sleaze-culture and me-generation paradigms), America has produced many admirable men and women, and a kind of spirit or ethos that in many ways encourages virtue.

Well, no need to go on and on. Fire up the barbecue and have a cold one for me. We must celebrate what is good while working to heal what has gone awry. Surely a country of our size and resources is not without a significant place in the plans of God. But we have to do what it takes to realize the divine plans, and it will mean, in Solzhenitsyn’s words, “repentance and self-limitation,” that is, changing arrogant and greedy attitudes, learning to live simply and share generously, abstaining from evil and blessing the Lord. Then God will bless America not only with abundance and beauty, but with purity, holiness, and salvation. That nation is greatest whose citizens are simultaneously citizens of Heaven.