“America” as a religion

Is turning America into a religion the original sin of modern American conservatism? As a pre-1968 schoolboy I was taught faith in America. It wasn’t altogether clear what that meant, but it’s what I was taught and it’s what the revolution of the ’60s attacked. Popular American conservatism and neoconservatism are still mostly a defense of that old-time religion, more or less updated to accommodate whatever happens to be going on. Conservatives who praise D’Souza’s recent book, like Lowell Ponte and Thomas Sowell, do so because D’Souza says America is good. Apparently, that’s all that matters to them.

However much it can be manipulated, it seems to me the sentiment is real. America really is one basic principle of Norman Podhoretz’s religion (others include Norman Podhoretz and the Jews). The problem, though, is that America can’t be a religion. The “new way of being human” that results from making it one is another name for the abandonment of all independence of thought and stability of principle. Even if the intent is sincere the result is manipulation in favor of whatever gets the upper hand. Richard Rorty can propose achieving America as a national goal, and People for the American Way can, with a straight face, claim to be just that. Who can say they’re wrong, if the standard by which America is defined and judged is simply America?

The advantage of America as a religion, of course, is that it obviates the need to decide what you stand for and puts you on the side of whatever is successful. To the extent our national life is more good than bad it also puts you, mostly, on the right side. That not enough, though, because our national life won’t stay good if it owes no loyalty to anything higher than itself. The history of the United States since the ’60s is proof of that. A basic task for conservatives today is therefore to clarify, to themselves and others, which America it is that is the object of their attachment and why.
Posted by Jim Kalb at May 30, 2002 01:29 PM | Send


Didn’t see Sowell’s review of D’Souza, but it’s interesting that he can praise that book *and* PJB’s latest.

When you refer to yourself as a “pre-1968 schoolboy” I’m reminded of a passage in Judge Posner’s book on the Lewinsky scandal. The libertarian Posner is trying to explain why what he calls “moralistic conservatives” dislike Clinton. “To anyone whose sense of morality and decorum assumed its permanent form before 1968 and who thinks the nation has undergone a precipitous moral decline since, this man is a scandal whatever his policies.”

WW (Pre-1968 Schoolboy)

Posted by: on May 30, 2002 3:22 PM

I have a theory about Sowell’s paradox. To understand it, you have to understand him:

Thomas Sowell is a Black intellectual who believes none of the standard orthodoxies about Black America. He is also a classical liberal with conservative social tendencies, much like many of us here.

Now, Sowell believes that:

1.) His fellow blacks are slaves to the managerial state and its allies in the mass media and official “African-American” culture.

2.) His life would have been a mess had he been born 30 years later. He thinks the average Black family was actually better off under segregation: parental units were intact, drugs were scarcer, the church and other institutions were stronger, etc.

3.) Multiculturalism, Afrocentrism, and the other ideologies used to prop up Black self-esteem are a pack of lies.

This are thought crimes of the highest order. Even a man in his position must state them with some deft. But his overall worldview is more dangergous to the zeitgeist.

Sowell wants his fellow blacks to escape the liberal plantation. To do this, they must assimilating to WASP notions: social civility, strict sexual morality and the work ethic. So that means he would like D’Souza’s book because it argues for something he wants dearly: minority assimilation.

Now, Sowell may want open borders and all that, but I must assume that when he considers the “proposition nation” ideal, he thinks of new generations of Blacks who consider themselves full members of Western Civilization.

This brings Sowell to a problem: existing minorities need large numbers of conservative WASPs if they are going to digest Western mores. If the white birth rate drops too far, the population drowns in unassimilated minorities and assimilation becomes impossible. In fact, America would kick into reverse and join the Third World. So, naturally, Sowell would like Pat’s book too.

I’ll bet you a box of cigars that D’Souza and many other movement conservatives secretly agree with this, but can’t admit as much.

Make sense?

Posted by: Jim Carver on May 30, 2002 3:58 PM

It’s an interesting line of thought. I do think there’s a large group of people who admire traditional WASP culture and basically want to join it but they’re not WASPs so they insist that it be separated from religious and ethnic affiliations. That can’t be done, really, unless WASPs continue in fact to set the tone so that the background assumptions that all respectable people accept are WASP assumptions. So people like that would favor a theoretically universalist reading of American principles while also (if they’re intelligent) opposing large-scale radically non-WASP immigration.

Posted by: Jim Kalb on May 30, 2002 8:44 PM

1- On Saturday the 1st of Mai 2004 at 9.00pm , it was so windy .. at this time in a village called “Taha El Aa’meda “ (in the north of Minia Governorate ) Belongs to Samalout , Minia – Upper Egypt , Egypt – in the Church of Saint Mina ancient Church from the 6th century … the wind made a wall 3m fall down from a building belongs to the church (this building is in front of the Church ) .
2- Beside the Church and that building is the house of the priest Father of the Church called Father Ibrahim Michael .. when he saw what happened he started with sons of the church to build the wall at 9.30pm , were at this time more than 30 Christians helping to finish the work and they already finished it at 1.00am means after like 5 hours .
3- At that time the chief of the police came with the officer of the police station(he is Muslim and hate the Christian so much and he is called Ahmed Kylany ) who (the officer ) came with a solder in a car (pick up ) belongs to one of the citizen in the village called Effet Fahmy Rashed . the chef found that every thing is ok but the officer insisted to take the priest to the prison in Samalout (it is a city in minia –province).
4- At that time a lawyer called Gaber Abd El Malak (Christian) came trying to help the priest and the other but the officer insisted to take the father with the others to the prison , then the lawyer asked him to give him just 5 minutes to get his car to take the priest with him because the priest is old and he was coming before all that happened from Cairo checking him self in the hospital … first the officer refused , but after long time he accepted that, and he asked the lawyer to bring his car .
5- At the same time when the lawyer went to get his own car the officer start to take the father of the church with others with him in the pick up without wait for the lawyer(this because he was arranged to kill the priest with the others ) the wife of the priest asked the officer to just 5 minutes till the lawyer come and she kissed his hand but the officer refused and insulted her with bad words and he wanted to slap her on the face .
6- Suppose that the driver he own the car drive him self and it is forbidden that the officer drive the car but the officer insisted to drive the car him self and refused to listen to the driver who was asking him to drive the car , the officer threats him and he took the priest father Ibrahim Michael and some other christens they are ( Mahrous Milad , Nasif Faheem , Polis Akhnoukh , Reda Mina ) . the officer (the killer ) ride the car beside him the priest and in the back there were the other people with a solder and the driver .
7- The officer refused to take the way that the chef took (the main road) and he took anther way not the main road (this is not normal ) why? no body doubt that he was arranging to kill every body .. he drove the car so fast more than 150km/h .. and suddenly the killer jumped from the car in the same time the solder did the same (the solder was in the back but it seems that it was agreement with the officer that the tow jump while the car was driven so fast of course you can find out what happened car crash into the lack …
the priest died, the head of the church ,the angle died the Muslim officer killed him .. yes this is not a story or movie from American movie it is what happened the father of the church dies not a lone but with some other they are (Mahrous Milad – Nasif Faheem ) and the other in the bed of the death in a real bad condition suffering in the hospital … the officer escaped and the government protecting him .. the government protect the killer because he is a Muslim … guess what? he is free till now …
8- From all this we can find out what exactly happened : the officer arranged all this to kill , he refused to wait until the lawyer come to drive father Ibrahim , he refused that the driver , the owner of the car drive his car , he refused to take the main road that the chef of the police took , he was driving so fast ,he jumped from the car suddenly with the solder , he escaped without help any of them , he is now free , no one punish him …
9- That is not all , the Muslims in the village ,where is the church and the priest from , made revolution not to support the Christians but to support the officer saying that the Pope of the Christians (Pope Shenouda III) is the enemy of God and he has to be killed .. what else will happen ?we don’t know …
I’m taking to every body now we need your support ,tell every body tell your friends , the human rights , the religions rights protectors ,, tell the story of the church and the priest and the Christians to the press we need your support .. they kill the Christians … we need the help of every body we need that the leaders every where hear our voice .. we need support of every body …
When Israel killed the Sheikh Yassine who is a killer by the way .. every body support Palestine people ..here the Muslims killed the Christians what you will do ? we need your support …

Ibrahim Guirguis
Son from the Church

Posted by: ibrahim on May 3, 2004 5:06 PM
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