Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion by David Gerlernter

In the beginning God created the world and universe with His words. But can the Word of God as embodied in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (The Holy Bible) continue to create worlds? In Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion, author David Gelernter (himself a Jewish-American) gives an emphatic yes to that question because America as a place and idea was itself built by the Bible. Gerlernter says you don’t have to believe in God or be a Christian to be a good American or to believe in Americanism, but you must respect the fact that historically, the core of America was completely founded on Christianity and to deny this is to deny reality. In the book, Gerlernter carefully traces most American values back to the Christianity practiced by the Puritans of New England. Besides the well-known Puritan work ethic, there is the American value of being able to pursue happiness under God. The Puritans were austere to some degree but they were happy and especially happy to be in America with all its possibilities. The view of American Exceptionalism or the idea that America is a nation with a unique mission in the world can be traced back to American Zionism, the puritan belief brought from England that the British Empire (and by connection the American Colonies) were ancient Israel reconstituted with a land and covenant with God. If we are true to the covenant, God will favor us and if not, we shall find judgment. Even the American preference of no-nonsense simplicity in all things finds its foundation in the mental furniture of the Puritan fathers. They were of the mind that the excision of traditions and embellishments of the Christian faith that had begun with the Reformation, should be continued in all of life. Thus the architecture, clothing, and furniture of America is not only simple, but democratic and virtuous. The reason “Americanism” is a fourth Western religion is that it is an offshoot of Judeo-Christian thought and its core values have spread around the world in the democratizing of other nations. Gerlernter does an effective job in his presentation and synthesis of history and in an age of secularism and growing anti-american sentiment, he reminds Americans of Christian and non-Christian persuasions that we come from noble roots and have nothing to be ashamed of.