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!

Why America Is So Great

In taking a look at my trackbacks, I came across the blog of Cameron Buettel, an Australian living in Denmark. He wrote a post entitled Why America Is So Great!. After conceding to his anti-American friends and countrymen some of the problems of America and its global influence, he makes three observations:

Observation 1
One thing I continually find to be overwhelmingly different in the USA is the common belief that there are still things worth fighting for. Right now there is a truth war going on over the Christian Gospel. In both Europe and Australia, the passivity of professing Christians concerning the fundamental truths of the Christian faith has allowed the false gospels of life enhancement and post modern philosophy to have an open door into mainstream evangelical churches. This has also happened in America but at least there is a fight going on over it. We seem to roll over and play dead when it comes to defending the once for all delivered glorious Gospel purchased with the precious blood of Christ. Meanwhile in America, there are still great preachers who are leading a growing phenomenon of churches and young preachers who will not compromise on the purity of the true Christian Gospel. This is important for all of our sakes. It is also a call to men who have relinquished the roles of priest in their home and guardian in their church to man up, realize that there are hills worth dying on, identify those hills, and go out there and fight to the death.

Observation 2
For many years I have heard the anti-American tirades of many a man on the street and sometimes even in the pulpit. There is no doubt that there is legitimate criticism that can be levelled at the American culture – not least of which their disastrous choice of a radical pro-abortionist President. People certainly vary from state to state and demographic to demographic but I have to say that when it comes to Christian hospitality and compassionate love, I have never experienced it on the level that I have in the local church communities that dot the American landscape. This is something that has humbled me in my travels and caused me to reexamine my own life and conduct among the body of Christ. So instead of taking up the popular pastime of "yank bashing" maybe it's time to at least try to adopt one of the finer points of their culture. . . .

Observation 3
May we never forget that America is the engine room of missions giving, missionary activity, and theological training. The global blessing that this has been is a sleeping giant that those of us who are Christians living outside the USA take for granted. (It also needs to be said, in fairness, that much of what is bad has also emmanated from the USA and we have been quick to embrace many of these in the name of pragmatism). In spite of all the flaws, there is a lot for us to be thankful for when it comes to American contributions to the Great Commission. And pray for the great arsenal of faithful preachers as they persevere in the "Truth War" that rages over there.

The focus here is on American Christianity, which he finds famous, though it’s interesting how he laments the impact of America’s religious pragmatism. I criticize contemporary American culture and contemporary American religion all the time–while still being something of a flag waver–but it was refreshing to get this perspective. Along these lines, what else is great about America? (I’d especially like to hear from denizens of other countries, including expatriates such as FWS.) [OK, we'll give critics a shot later.]

Moses and America

Bruce Feiler points out that Moses is depicted all over the place in our nation’s capital–at the Supreme Court, the House of Representatives, the Library of Congress, the National Archives–virtually every president has invoked him, and his story has been drawn upon in America at nearly every point in its history:

Moses is the patron saint of Washington — and a potent spiritual force in nearly every great transformation in American history, from the nation’s founding to the Civil War to the civil rights movement.

Why did a 3,000-year-old prophet, played down by Jews and Christians for centuries and portrayed in the Bible as a reluctant leader, become such a presence in American public life?

Because, more than any other figure in the ancient world, Moses embodies the American story. He is the champion of oppressed people; he transforms disparate tribes in a forbidding wilderness into a nation of laws; he is the original proponent of freedom and justice for all. . . .

Most striking about Moses’s enduring appeal is that a figure introduced into America by white Protestants proved equally appealing for blacks as well as whites, immigrants as well as the native-born. Moses fits the American story because he embodies the courage to escape hardship and seek a better world. He keeps alive the ministry of hope.

He also encapsulates the American juggling act between freedom and law. Moses represents independence, but as the deliverer of the Ten Commandments, he also represents the discipline of being a people of laws.

This goes beyond the formation of America’s civil religion, in my opinion. It has to do with the way the Bible has not just been influential in this point or that point, but how the Bible has shaped the “deep structure” of our imagination and our thinking. I am especially intrigued with that last point, that Moses is both liberator and law-giver, the embodiment of both freedom and order.

National sovereignty vs. international law

Thanks to our constitutional guarantees, Americans have much more freedom of speech than other countries do. This shows up in the different libel laws of different countries. But now, thanks to international trade agreements such as NAFTA, Americans are being sued for violating other country’s Alibel laws. From American Journalists Silenced in Foreign Lands, which tells about some specific cases:

NAFTA was signed into law in 1994 eliminating most trade barriers. However, an unintended consequence of NAFTA was the ability for foreign individuals and entities to sue American journalists and authors on libel and defamation suits much harder to adjudicate in America.

Under Canadian law [currently being invoked against American investigative reporter Paul Williams], once an accusation of libel is made, the respondent must prove they are innocent rather than the plaintiff proving guilt. . . .

Foreign citizens or entities suing American journalists in foreign courts for libel and defamation is a growing trend, and as a result Congress is stepping into this issue to fortify free speech protection.

US Citizen, Rachel Ehrenfeld, author, and lecturer was also sued for libel in a British court over her controversial book, Funding Evil. She counter sued stating that under American defamation laws her book was not libelous, but her case was dismissed in a New York court. As a result of her case, theNew York legislature passed a law called Rachel’s Law, protecting New York citizens against libel judgements not recognized under American libel jurisprudence.

Senator Arlen Spector (D-PA), alarmed at the increase of libel suits against the American press, has sponsored The Free Speech Protection Act.

Here is a bipartisan issue that Americans should be able to rally around. The relationship between our laws and international laws is going to be a bigger and bigger issue in this age of globalization. International treaties generally trump local and national ordinances. Some people–both those who like the prospect and those who are horrified at the thought–see international law as making possible a de facto world government at the expense of national sovereignty. What do you think?

HT: Carl

Happy Columbus Day

Today is Columbus Day. Not only that, this year Columbus Day falls on the actual day that Columbus discovered America, October 12, rather than just a three-day-weekend Monday in October. The Europeans have now know about what they called the New World for 517 years. This day is now celebrated by saying that Columbus really didn’t discover America, since the Native Americans were already here, and by saying that his discovering America was a bad thing. The mood seems to be not to celebrate it, except that there is no way federal workers would give up a three-day weekend. Is there any way of rehabilitating this holiday?

One thing we can all do, though, is fight the myth that in Columbus’s day people thought the earth was flat. In the Middle Ages and going back through the time of the Greeks, it was common knowledge that the earth was a sphere. It was the Enlightenment, which sought to discredit the past, that came up with the myth (along with others, such as confusing “the Dark Ages” with the “Middle Ages”). See this classic post for evidence.

Another 9/11

We should always honor the victims and the heroes who gave their lives on this date. And it should remind us to be always vigilant against the threat of terrorism. But, at some point, do we need to put what happened on September 11, 2001, behind us? Can fear of another 9/11 or desire for retribution for 9/11 distort our foreign and domestic policies?

Back then, we were filled with an exhilarating national unity and a righteous desire for revenge. We attacked Afghanistan and we took the country. But that did not slake our thirst for vengeance. We attacked Iraq. 9/11 was the reason for the Iraq war–not weapons of mass destruction or certainly not oil. Nor did it matter that Iraq was not particularly involved with the 9/11 attacks. We needed someone to fight. We had scores to settle with Saddam Hussein, and he was a convenient target. We defeated his army, overthrew his government, and delivered him to the hangman.

Such acts of vengeance when a great nation is enraged may not be just, but the phenomenon is a commonplace of history, and America arguably was more restrained than others. What then complicated our actions was our ideals and our good intentions. We could have gone in, overthrew the existing powers, and left, making it clear that any other aid to jihadists would bring us back. In retrospect, that may have sent the strongest message. But we not only wanted to defeat Muslim extremists, we wanted to make them free, like us. We wanted them to have a democratic republic with inalienable rights like we have. So we stayed in both countries to build up their own nations in our image. We assumed that the desire for political freedom is natural to human beings, thinking that if these people were just released from their shackles they would rejoice in the better life we would give them. We forgot that our own liberties had as their necessary foundation a religious and cultural and historical foundation that these countries lacked. But that didn’t stop us, even though our entanglement inspired resistance in those countries, bloody guerrilla war, and more and more and more terrorism–precisely what we had gotten into these wars to stop.

The left blames the wars on all kinds of American villainy–on big oil, Halliburton, imperialism, and the alleged psychosis of our president. I blame the wars not on American evil. I blame them on American goodness.

Ironically, even a left-leaning president, with high ideals of his own, is unable to extract us from these conflicts and even looks to be escalating the one in Afghanistan. I’m not sure what we should do now. Pulling out would deliver a victory to the jihadists that would only ensure a revival of their movement and ever more terrorism. But all of this is the legacy of 9/11.