What’s so wrong with America?

Yesterday we discussed what’s so great about America, covering the gamut of national greatness from Americans’ strong professions of faith to the superiority of American ketchup. Now, following those great American traditions of giving everyone equal time and of welcoming patriotic self-criticism, let us discuss what is wrong about America.

No bigoted anti-Americanism from our international readers, please, just helpful suggestions for what we need to improve, if we only could. As for American cultural critics, I have noticed that those on the right and those on the left often complain about the same things!

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Jonathan

    The new hate crime law. Similar laws in progressive northern European countries are being used to muzzle Christians from even speaking the truth in love.

  • Jonathan

    The new hate crime law. Similar laws in progressive northern European countries are being used to muzzle Christians from even speaking the truth in love.

  • fws

    polarization. calling others less than americans. thinly veiled divisive phrases such as “people from the heartland” and “joe six pack” (ie: do these phrases evoke images of immigrants or non-white folks?). not only criticizing actions and policies but also the motives of those one disagrees with.

    I think that the vast, vast majority of people think that drugs are destructive, that abortions are not a great thing and that we should care about those less fortunate than ourselves.

    Instead of running with this common ground, we allow political parties to make the issue about “what” rather than “how” to approximate the ideal or worse, have them tell us that to practice the art of politics (ie compromise with those we disagree with) is to be immoral or sell out or condone or…

    For american christians, the problem is that we often expect non-christians to keep the first table of the law, fear love and trust in God. we cannot see that they are FULLY capable of meticulously keeping the second table and at the same time reject all ideas of the one true God. We are not able, as the augsburg confession is able, to mentally uncouple the two.

    Precisely because of this, we risk losing the Gospel that our lives as “just ones” depends on.

    Augsburg Confession:

    Article XVIII: Of Free Will.
    [Outward righteousness. Law. Second Table. God´s Will. God´s Work. VISIBLE fruit. This all includes, in an IDENTICAL way, Christians and pagans and THIS is NOT sanctification!]: man’s will has liberty to choose civil righteousness… to work things subject to reason…. in works of this life….”Good” I call those works which spring from the good in nature, such as, willing to labor in the field, to eat and drink, to have a friend, to clothe oneself, to build a house, to marry a wife, to raise cattle, to learn divers useful arts, or whatsoever good 6]pertains to this life. For all of these things are not without dependence on the providence of God; yea, of Him and through Him they are and have their being ….nature is able in a manner to do the outward work, 9] (for it is able to keep the hands from theft and murder,)

    [Inner righteousness. INVISIBLE heart fruit. First Table of the Law keeping. God´s Will. Sanctification!:]
    But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness; since the natural man 3] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2:14; but this righteousness is wrought in the heart when the Holy Ghost is received 4] through the Word. …not that it is thereby capable, without God, either to begin, or, at least, to complete aught in things pertaining to God . [we cannot] without the Holy Ghost, by the power of nature alone, we are able to love God above all things; also to do the commandments of God as touching “the substance of the act.” For, although yet it cannot produce the inward motions, such as the fear of God, trust in God, chastity, patience, etc.

    Article XX: Of Good Works.
    …15] But, although this doctrine is despised by the inexperienced, nevertheless God-fearing and anxious consciences find by experience that it brings the greatest consolation, because consciences cannot be set at rest through any works, but only by faith, when they take the sure ground that for Christ’s sake they have a reconciled God. As Paul teaches Rom. 5:1: 16]Being justified by faith, we have peace with God. 17] This whole doctrine is to be referred to that conflict of the terrified conscience, neither can it be understood apart from that conflict….

    35] Hence it may be readily seen that this doctrine is not to be charged with prohibiting good works, but rather the more to be commended, because it shows how we are enabled to do good works.

    36] For without faith human nature can in no wise do the works of the First or of the Second Commandment.

    37] Without faith it does not call upon God, nor expect anything from God, nor bear the cross, but seeks, and trusts in, man’s help. 38] And thus, when there is no faith and trust in God all manner of lusts and human devices rule in the heart.

    39] Wherefore Christ said, John 15:5: Without Me ye can do nothing; 40] and the Church sings:
    Lacking Thy divine favor,
    There is nothing found in man,
    Naught in him is harmless.

  • fws

    polarization. calling others less than americans. thinly veiled divisive phrases such as “people from the heartland” and “joe six pack” (ie: do these phrases evoke images of immigrants or non-white folks?). not only criticizing actions and policies but also the motives of those one disagrees with.

    I think that the vast, vast majority of people think that drugs are destructive, that abortions are not a great thing and that we should care about those less fortunate than ourselves.

    Instead of running with this common ground, we allow political parties to make the issue about “what” rather than “how” to approximate the ideal or worse, have them tell us that to practice the art of politics (ie compromise with those we disagree with) is to be immoral or sell out or condone or…

    For american christians, the problem is that we often expect non-christians to keep the first table of the law, fear love and trust in God. we cannot see that they are FULLY capable of meticulously keeping the second table and at the same time reject all ideas of the one true God. We are not able, as the augsburg confession is able, to mentally uncouple the two.

    Precisely because of this, we risk losing the Gospel that our lives as “just ones” depends on.

    Augsburg Confession:

    Article XVIII: Of Free Will.
    [Outward righteousness. Law. Second Table. God´s Will. God´s Work. VISIBLE fruit. This all includes, in an IDENTICAL way, Christians and pagans and THIS is NOT sanctification!]: man’s will has liberty to choose civil righteousness… to work things subject to reason…. in works of this life….”Good” I call those works which spring from the good in nature, such as, willing to labor in the field, to eat and drink, to have a friend, to clothe oneself, to build a house, to marry a wife, to raise cattle, to learn divers useful arts, or whatsoever good 6]pertains to this life. For all of these things are not without dependence on the providence of God; yea, of Him and through Him they are and have their being ….nature is able in a manner to do the outward work, 9] (for it is able to keep the hands from theft and murder,)

    [Inner righteousness. INVISIBLE heart fruit. First Table of the Law keeping. God´s Will. Sanctification!:]
    But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness; since the natural man 3] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2:14; but this righteousness is wrought in the heart when the Holy Ghost is received 4] through the Word. …not that it is thereby capable, without God, either to begin, or, at least, to complete aught in things pertaining to God . [we cannot] without the Holy Ghost, by the power of nature alone, we are able to love God above all things; also to do the commandments of God as touching “the substance of the act.” For, although yet it cannot produce the inward motions, such as the fear of God, trust in God, chastity, patience, etc.

    Article XX: Of Good Works.
    …15] But, although this doctrine is despised by the inexperienced, nevertheless God-fearing and anxious consciences find by experience that it brings the greatest consolation, because consciences cannot be set at rest through any works, but only by faith, when they take the sure ground that for Christ’s sake they have a reconciled God. As Paul teaches Rom. 5:1: 16]Being justified by faith, we have peace with God. 17] This whole doctrine is to be referred to that conflict of the terrified conscience, neither can it be understood apart from that conflict….

    35] Hence it may be readily seen that this doctrine is not to be charged with prohibiting good works, but rather the more to be commended, because it shows how we are enabled to do good works.

    36] For without faith human nature can in no wise do the works of the First or of the Second Commandment.

    37] Without faith it does not call upon God, nor expect anything from God, nor bear the cross, but seeks, and trusts in, man’s help. 38] And thus, when there is no faith and trust in God all manner of lusts and human devices rule in the heart.

    39] Wherefore Christ said, John 15:5: Without Me ye can do nothing; 40] and the Church sings:
    Lacking Thy divine favor,
    There is nothing found in man,
    Naught in him is harmless.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Overall, sin in general, of course, but in a way more specific to our political problems, the biggest issue I see is that too many Americans see government as a sugar daddy, and are voting to plunder the wallets and freedoms of their neighbors–and themselves.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Overall, sin in general, of course, but in a way more specific to our political problems, the biggest issue I see is that too many Americans see government as a sugar daddy, and are voting to plunder the wallets and freedoms of their neighbors–and themselves.

  • Joe

    I really think most of our national political problems stem from the fact that we have created two classes of citizens: payers and takers.

    It distorts the idea of self-government because there are two group level common goods that compete with one another instead of a unified common good that we could work toward. It is rational for people who pay no federal income taxes to seek to get more benefits and it is rational for those who are stuck paying for them but not benefiting from them to resent it.

    As an aside, I blame this on both parties.

  • Joe

    I really think most of our national political problems stem from the fact that we have created two classes of citizens: payers and takers.

    It distorts the idea of self-government because there are two group level common goods that compete with one another instead of a unified common good that we could work toward. It is rational for people who pay no federal income taxes to seek to get more benefits and it is rational for those who are stuck paying for them but not benefiting from them to resent it.

    As an aside, I blame this on both parties.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    There is no viable 2nd Party (I count Republicans and Democrats as a huge all encompassing single party system).

  • Bryan Lindemood

    There is no viable 2nd Party (I count Republicans and Democrats as a huge all encompassing single party system).

  • Richard

    Rampant individualism and self-centerdness.

  • Richard

    Rampant individualism and self-centerdness.

  • Mary Jack

    Bias that points away from recognizing the assumptions of others.

  • Mary Jack

    Bias that points away from recognizing the assumptions of others.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    How about corruption in ever increasing amounts? This Rolling Stone article on the “financial meltdown’ of last year shows Wall Street in bed with the Federal Government.

    Absolutely stunning. Shows we don’t really have a ‘free market’ and haven’t in a long time.

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/30481512/wall_streets_naked_swindle/1

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    How about corruption in ever increasing amounts? This Rolling Stone article on the “financial meltdown’ of last year shows Wall Street in bed with the Federal Government.

    Absolutely stunning. Shows we don’t really have a ‘free market’ and haven’t in a long time.

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/30481512/wall_streets_naked_swindle/1

  • http://ledtoethiopiabyhim.blogspot.com/ Matthew Christians

    How about this from over at Lutheran Surrealism (http://lutheransurrealism.blogspot.com)? He’s quoting from the provocatively titled book “Can Asians Think?” by Kishore Mahbubani (Steerforth Press, 2002, p.97):

    Since the decline of church attendance in the 1950s “The United States has undertaken a massive social experiment, tearing down social institution after social institution that restrained the individual. The results have been disastrous. Since 1960 the US population has increased 41 percent while violent crime has risen by 560 percent, single-mother births by 419 percent, divorce rates by 300 percent, and children living in single-parent homes by 300 percent. This is massive social decay. Many a society shudders at the prospect of this happening on its shores. But instead of travelling overseas with humility, Americans confidently preach the virtues of unfettered individual freedom, blithely ignoring the social consequences.”

  • http://ledtoethiopiabyhim.blogspot.com/ Matthew Christians

    How about this from over at Lutheran Surrealism (http://lutheransurrealism.blogspot.com)? He’s quoting from the provocatively titled book “Can Asians Think?” by Kishore Mahbubani (Steerforth Press, 2002, p.97):

    Since the decline of church attendance in the 1950s “The United States has undertaken a massive social experiment, tearing down social institution after social institution that restrained the individual. The results have been disastrous. Since 1960 the US population has increased 41 percent while violent crime has risen by 560 percent, single-mother births by 419 percent, divorce rates by 300 percent, and children living in single-parent homes by 300 percent. This is massive social decay. Many a society shudders at the prospect of this happening on its shores. But instead of travelling overseas with humility, Americans confidently preach the virtues of unfettered individual freedom, blithely ignoring the social consequences.”

  • http://ledtoethiopiabyhim.blogspot.com/ Matthew Christians

    ow about this from over at Lutheran Surrealism (http://lutheransurrealism.blogspot.com)? He’s quoting from the provocatively titled book “Can Asians Think?” by Kishore Mahbubani (Steerforth Press, 2002, p.97):

    Since the decline of church attendance in the 1950s “The United States has undertaken a massive social experiment, tearing down social institution after social institution that restrained the individual. The results have been disastrous. Since 1960 the US population has increased 41 percent while violent crime has risen by 560 percent, single-mother births by 419 percent, divorce rates by 300 percent, and children living in single-parent homes by 300 percent. This is massive social decay. Many a society shudders at the prospect of this happening on its shores. But instead of travelling overseas with humility, Americans confidently preach the virtues of unfettered individual freedom, blithely ignoring the social consequences.”

  • http://ledtoethiopiabyhim.blogspot.com/ Matthew Christians

    ow about this from over at Lutheran Surrealism (http://lutheransurrealism.blogspot.com)? He’s quoting from the provocatively titled book “Can Asians Think?” by Kishore Mahbubani (Steerforth Press, 2002, p.97):

    Since the decline of church attendance in the 1950s “The United States has undertaken a massive social experiment, tearing down social institution after social institution that restrained the individual. The results have been disastrous. Since 1960 the US population has increased 41 percent while violent crime has risen by 560 percent, single-mother births by 419 percent, divorce rates by 300 percent, and children living in single-parent homes by 300 percent. This is massive social decay. Many a society shudders at the prospect of this happening on its shores. But instead of travelling overseas with humility, Americans confidently preach the virtues of unfettered individual freedom, blithely ignoring the social consequences.”

  • Tom Hering

    The flip side of what I thought was great about us. The administration is seriously considering canceling or emasculating the Constellation Program. A vision we’ve just taken the first step toward achieving, can indeed achieve, and that only costs each taxpayer an average of $3.25 per year.

    So, I think we Americans can be “sensible” to a fault. For example, the PBS News Hour last night spent about 15 seconds reporting the successful launch of Ares (with no mention of what it meant for the future of our nation), and then immediately followed that with a ten-minute special report on alternative energy – produced, ironically enough, by the program’s science unit!

    We may be lying on our backs in a gutter right now, but we’re not looking up at the stars.

  • Tom Hering

    The flip side of what I thought was great about us. The administration is seriously considering canceling or emasculating the Constellation Program. A vision we’ve just taken the first step toward achieving, can indeed achieve, and that only costs each taxpayer an average of $3.25 per year.

    So, I think we Americans can be “sensible” to a fault. For example, the PBS News Hour last night spent about 15 seconds reporting the successful launch of Ares (with no mention of what it meant for the future of our nation), and then immediately followed that with a ten-minute special report on alternative energy – produced, ironically enough, by the program’s science unit!

    We may be lying on our backs in a gutter right now, but we’re not looking up at the stars.

  • http://ihoppe.com/blog/ Philip Hoppe

    I think the idea in America that welfare is the work of the government and not the church is a terrible idea that both government and church have embraced.

  • http://ihoppe.com/blog/ Philip Hoppe

    I think the idea in America that welfare is the work of the government and not the church is a terrible idea that both government and church have embraced.

  • DonS

    What Joe @ 4 said. Following on that point, the twisted concept of “separation of church and state” as a mandate to force any kind of religious expression or activity from any sphere of society in which the government is even tangentially involved, coupled with the massive expansion of government into almost every sphere of society. Which results, of course, in a society which has become exceedingly secularized and anti-faith. A long way from our roots, to be sure.

  • DonS

    What Joe @ 4 said. Following on that point, the twisted concept of “separation of church and state” as a mandate to force any kind of religious expression or activity from any sphere of society in which the government is even tangentially involved, coupled with the massive expansion of government into almost every sphere of society. Which results, of course, in a society which has become exceedingly secularized and anti-faith. A long way from our roots, to be sure.

  • Manxman

    For a host of reasons, our country and our culture have cut themselves off from God’s truth and authority, and have substituted the stability of a fixed, true, God-ordained value system for an evolutionary, Hegelian system where EVERYTHING, even the most basic traditional moral values are ever morphing into whatever seems to “work” at the time. Once you cut loose from God & go the Hegelian route with no fixed standards, ANYTHING is possible. And because human character and reason have been corrupted by the Fall, the direction, over time, will be toward Hell on earth. For the average American, the world is, AND OUGHT TO BE – Hegelian. For them, evolutionary, pragmatic, Hegelian change, no matter how far it takes us from where we started, IS the AMERICAN WAY. Such people simply cannot understand the idea that our Constitution’s purpose was to fix and limit the power and function of government.

  • Manxman

    For a host of reasons, our country and our culture have cut themselves off from God’s truth and authority, and have substituted the stability of a fixed, true, God-ordained value system for an evolutionary, Hegelian system where EVERYTHING, even the most basic traditional moral values are ever morphing into whatever seems to “work” at the time. Once you cut loose from God & go the Hegelian route with no fixed standards, ANYTHING is possible. And because human character and reason have been corrupted by the Fall, the direction, over time, will be toward Hell on earth. For the average American, the world is, AND OUGHT TO BE – Hegelian. For them, evolutionary, pragmatic, Hegelian change, no matter how far it takes us from where we started, IS the AMERICAN WAY. Such people simply cannot understand the idea that our Constitution’s purpose was to fix and limit the power and function of government.

  • DonS

    Philip @ 12: Great point!

  • DonS

    Philip @ 12: Great point!

  • Richard

    Rampant individualism No sense of community.

  • Richard

    Rampant individualism No sense of community.

  • http://mesamike.org Mike Westfall

    The wholesale embracing of feelings and emotion in place of thought and analysis in public policy making.

    It’s as if intentions are what counts and not actual results, despite the fact that we know which road is paved with good intentions.

  • http://mesamike.org Mike Westfall

    The wholesale embracing of feelings and emotion in place of thought and analysis in public policy making.

    It’s as if intentions are what counts and not actual results, despite the fact that we know which road is paved with good intentions.

  • John C

    It is difficult to believe that a government with a majority in both houses of Congress cannot ensure the passage of a bill into law thus denying the will of the people.

  • John C

    It is difficult to believe that a government with a majority in both houses of Congress cannot ensure the passage of a bill into law thus denying the will of the people.

  • Manxman

    Environmental idolatry, not stewardship, has become the order of the day in America, and is rapidly being set in stone in our government bureaucracies. We are being taken over by a self-righteous, legalistic, authoritarian environmental elite. More and more, all the important parts of our life are being centered around hyper-environmentalism.

  • Manxman

    Environmental idolatry, not stewardship, has become the order of the day in America, and is rapidly being set in stone in our government bureaucracies. We are being taken over by a self-righteous, legalistic, authoritarian environmental elite. More and more, all the important parts of our life are being centered around hyper-environmentalism.

  • Kirk

    @19

    As opposed to pouring so much waste into our rivers that they to burned uncontrollably for days. Ahh… I miss our 19th century environmental sensibilities. Those were the days of true stewardship!

  • Kirk

    @19

    As opposed to pouring so much waste into our rivers that they to burned uncontrollably for days. Ahh… I miss our 19th century environmental sensibilities. Those were the days of true stewardship!

  • Kirk

    As for the actual question, I’m going to have to agree with Richard. Individualism is part of what makes our society great, but we take it to the point of selfishness. Our economy is strengthened by seeking our own well being and self-determination is the basis of our liberty. I feel that people tend to approach capitalism and liberty in a purely physical sense and ignore the metaphysical good they gain and do by loving their neighbors as themselves.

  • Kirk

    As for the actual question, I’m going to have to agree with Richard. Individualism is part of what makes our society great, but we take it to the point of selfishness. Our economy is strengthened by seeking our own well being and self-determination is the basis of our liberty. I feel that people tend to approach capitalism and liberty in a purely physical sense and ignore the metaphysical good they gain and do by loving their neighbors as themselves.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I think one thing that’s wrong is that few actually believe in “patriotic self-criticism”, as you put it. They consider criticism of America and what it does to be unpatriotic. At least, if their guy is in the White House, they do.

    And that’s the real problem. It seems we’ve lost the notion of true patriotism, of love of country. We only like the country when our guys are in power. When they’re not, we whine and complain, believing the worst about the “other side”, and considering them to be somehow not a real part of the country. We’re a divided nation, and each side seems bent on revenge whenever it gets back into power.

    Maybe this hasn’t come to pass yet. But I feel like it’s getting worse.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I think one thing that’s wrong is that few actually believe in “patriotic self-criticism”, as you put it. They consider criticism of America and what it does to be unpatriotic. At least, if their guy is in the White House, they do.

    And that’s the real problem. It seems we’ve lost the notion of true patriotism, of love of country. We only like the country when our guys are in power. When they’re not, we whine and complain, believing the worst about the “other side”, and considering them to be somehow not a real part of the country. We’re a divided nation, and each side seems bent on revenge whenever it gets back into power.

    Maybe this hasn’t come to pass yet. But I feel like it’s getting worse.

  • Kelly

    Having lived in a more-or-less small town in Canada for the past five years, I become surprised at times when I visit the States again. Everything seems hyper-sensationalistic, and people often act entitled to have everything they want exactly when they want it, with every option in the world at their fingertips.

  • Kelly

    Having lived in a more-or-less small town in Canada for the past five years, I become surprised at times when I visit the States again. Everything seems hyper-sensationalistic, and people often act entitled to have everything they want exactly when they want it, with every option in the world at their fingertips.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    Thanks to the influence of the Left (in the public schools especially)…we have become a nation of wimps that want to be taken care of, rather than have the freedom that our forefathers fought and died for.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    Thanks to the influence of the Left (in the public schools especially)…we have become a nation of wimps that want to be taken care of, rather than have the freedom that our forefathers fought and died for.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    I was away from the internet for a couple of days, so apologies for the late comment. I agree strongly with Kelly, and FWS. Also,in spite of its heritage, America has garnered a culture (or reputation) of cheesiness – in the bad sense. Of disrespecting tradition. Of willingly to water down anything for the sake of a buck (read Alice Feiring on the wine industry, or Michael Pollan on “big organics”).

    And in international relations, there is this jingoist thing which is rather irritating. Make no mistake, though, Dem’s are as bad at it as Rep’s. But to be fair, all empires suffer(-ed) from that.. ;)

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    I was away from the internet for a couple of days, so apologies for the late comment. I agree strongly with Kelly, and FWS. Also,in spite of its heritage, America has garnered a culture (or reputation) of cheesiness – in the bad sense. Of disrespecting tradition. Of willingly to water down anything for the sake of a buck (read Alice Feiring on the wine industry, or Michael Pollan on “big organics”).

    And in international relations, there is this jingoist thing which is rather irritating. Make no mistake, though, Dem’s are as bad at it as Rep’s. But to be fair, all empires suffer(-ed) from that.. ;)

  • http://onbrettsmind.blogspot.com Brett

    Dear Sir:
    Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am.
    Yours truly,
    G.K. Chesterton

  • http://onbrettsmind.blogspot.com Brett

    Dear Sir:
    Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am.
    Yours truly,
    G.K. Chesterton


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