The American Idea

My family and I lived overseas for eight years while serving as missionaries in Siberia. On the 4th of July, American Independence Day, we often gathered together with the other American expatriates who were serving along with us to celebrate our joint identity as Americans. Living elsewhere had underscored for each of us just how much there was to cherish about our country. Americans are at their worst when we claim to be the greatest country in the free world. Jingoism does not serve us well. Yet we’re at our best when we remember what really informs the American idea, which has and does yet serve as a torch of hope for the other peoples of the world. In so much of the world corruption and oppression predominate, but here, we remain for the most part free and prosperous.

Why is this the case? Geography? Dumb luck? Well . . . (as President Ronald Reagan often used to begin with a shake of his head down and to one side), these may be secondary factors, but the primary factor is the American Idea itself. As the Declaration of Independence puts it so eloquently:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Note what this says: our government has been lаin on the foundation of the inalienable rights endowed by our Creator. The primary factor for our freedom and prosperity is the correspondence of the principles on which our government is based to reality as it really is. The truth is that human beings are more than dust: we are the creations of a Creator who so blessed us as to make us in his own image.

The issue is not whether or not America is a Christian nation. Thomas Jefferson, the drafter of this Declaration, was probably a deist more than an orthodox Christian. The issue is rather that the Christian worldview provided a consensus, framework, and accountability under which people of varying religious convictions, Christian, Jewish, or otherwise, could thrive.
We may not be able to agree on exactly who God is, but let us agree as a nation that someone or something is there and that we live under this higher authority. Only then will we remain on a bulwark that can stand firm against the ravages of man’s sinful tendency to corruption and oppression. Only then can our torch continue to shine brightly to a world in great need.

For you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
– John 10:10


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