Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Uniter vs. The Divider

Peggy Noonan last week in her op ‘Ed “The Divider vs. the Thinker” in the Wall Street Journal, asked the question, what is the glue that has held America together for the past 200 years that now appears to be cracking, threatening to allow the many divisions in our nation to drive us to destruction? Ms. Noonan’s answer:

A love of country based on a shared knowledge of how and why it began; a broad feeling among our citizens that there was something providential in our beginnings; a gratitude that left us with a sense that we should comport ourselves in a way unlike the other nations of the world, that more was expected of us, and not unjustly— "To whom much is given much is expected"; a general understanding that we were something new in history, a nation founded on ideals and aspirations—liberty, equality—and not mere grunting tribal wants. We were from Europe but would not be European: No formal class structure here, no limits, from the time you touched ground all roads would lead forward. You would be treated not as your father was but as you deserved. That's from "The Killer Angels," a historical novel about the Civil War fought to right a wrong the Founders didn't right. We did in time, and at great cost. What a country.
Ms. Noonan is on to something, but what she is on to remains remotely hidden in the background, hidden behind the word “providential.” There is much good in Ms. Noonan’s piece, much worthy in the way of good advice. However, unless what remains in the background is brought forth, her proposition ironically will simply add to the decline. Ms. Noonan has adequately expressed in her piece the modern day, American secular gospel, something that has come to be known as American exceptionalism. But this secular gospel is a cheap, superficial imitation of the true source of social unity.

At the founding of our nation, there was a common consensus that the God of the Bible was the king of the universe. The world and the nation were ruled by a king that had given himself to die for the sins of all those who sought to subject themselves to him. This God of mercy and grace not only made a way for a sinner to obtain a right relationship with God and with his fellow man. He taught his subjects how to conduct themselves in society. Our founding fathers established this nation on the proposition that its people would act as Christians, in the same character of mercy and grace as their heavenly father. John Adams claimed that, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that, “The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other.” Patrick Henry proclaimed, "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians not on religionists, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ! For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here.”

Scripture is replete with declarations that a man or woman will take on the characteristics of his god. If we are being divided, it is only because we have taken on the characteristic of our god. The secular gospel, American exceptionalism, and the Federal Government have become our god. Who do we turn to for security in our employment? The Federal Government. Who do we turn to for security in our old age? The Federal Government. Who do we turn to for the security in our healthcare? The Federal Government. The Federal Government has become our god. Is it any wonder that we are being divided?

Government as god inculcates the character of litigation. In government, there is no room for mercy or compassion. There is only law. Law begets demands of right and obligation. When confiscation through tax policy becomes law, confiscation becomes justice, greed becomes institutionalized.

The core character of government today is divisiveness. White House advisors recommend that the victor in the White House should reap the spoils of his victory for his followers. The media echoes this refrain. Democrats seek to structure tax policy to take away blessings from the rich. Republicans seek to give tax benefits to select mercantile interests. If an interest can obtain 51% of the vote of the elected legislative body, government can legislate a solution and declare more rights and obligations. With each declaration of rights and obligations, we become more and more slaves to our governments.

Occupy Wall Street is a perfect example of how we have taken on the characteristic of our god the Federal Government. Those who occupy Wall Street have some apparent claim that they are entitled to some interest in Wall Street. However, they refuse to share what they have with the less privileged. They occupy but they do not bless. They claim and commit acts of violence. This attitude is far from the attitude embraced by our founders: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (Eph 4:28 ESV)”

America is exceptional. It is exceptional because it was founded upon two millennia of a growing and developing Christian heritage. To look to America without looking through America to that heritage will reinforce the American idolatry that is making us a divisive nation. It is better to look through America to the God that gave it liberty in the first place. Benjamin Franklin, no evangelical apologist, observed, “The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?” Better than depending on American exceptionalism is the praying the third verse of the old hymn of Henry Harbaugh:

Let our rulers ever be
Men that love and honor Thee;
Let the powers by Thee ordained
Be in righteousness maintained;
In the people's hearts increase
Love of piety and peace;
Thus united we shall stand
One wide, free, and happy land.

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