God Bless America
Few experiences in life can equal for drama or sheer delight that of standing with a group of fellow believers on the deck of an Israeli boat shoving off from Tiberius toward Capernaum across the Sea of Galilee. Shortly after the little vessel leaves the dock, the crew conducts a time-honored ceremony of raising the flags of Israel and the United States.
With hands on hearts and eyes fixed on the Stars and Stripes fluttering in the wind, we anticipate the familiar strains of our national anthem. But, as often as not, it is not the familiar “Star Spangled Banner” we hear but a rousing rendition of the late Kate Smith singing Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.”
Things being what they are today, the choice of “God Bless America” as a theme song for those of us who love this country and what it stands for seems to be a pretty good idea. Above the sound and fury of the acrimonious political battle now swirling about us is a far greater and potentially more devastating conflict. It is the all-out struggle for the soul of America and, for that matter, the entire Western world.
In his 1996 best-seller, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, attorney Robert Bork spoke like a modern-day prophet:
The late Christopher Lasch, who was by no means a conservative, asked “what accounts for [our society’s] wholesale defection from the standards of personal conduct—civility, industry, self-restraint—that were once considered indispensable to democracy?” He answered that a major reason is the “gradual decay of religion.” Our liberal elites, whose “attitude to religion,” Lasch said, “ranges from indifference to active hostility,” have succeeded in removing religion from public recognition and debate.1
“Only religion,” Bork added, “can accomplish for a modern society what tradition, reason, and empirical observation cannot. Christianity and Judaism provide the major premises of moral reasoning by revelation and by the stories in the Bible. There is no need to attempt the impossible task of reasoning your way to first principles. Those principles are accepted as given by God.”2
The Down-With-America Syndrome
When, in your most negatively contemplative moods, have you ever believed that you would one day hear a pastor in an American pulpit petition God to “damn America,” only to be lionized as some kind of hero and role model for the “disenfranchised” of this country? But it has happened.
Or consider the latest flavor-of-the-month, New Age gibberish in Eckhart Tolle’s latest book, A New Earth. Following an endorsement by the current diva of pop TV, Oprah Winfrey, Mr. Tolle’s “spiritual self-help guide” has sold in massive numbers (3.5 million) and has topped the best-seller list on Amazon.com from the time it appeared as a Winfrey book choice. It has reportedly become the fastest pick ever at Barnes & Noble. We learn the following from Mr. Tolle’s Web site:
Tolle describes in detail how our current ego-based state of consciousness operates. Then . . . he leads us into this new consciousness. We will come to experience who we truly are—which is something infinitely greater than anything we currently think we are—and learn to live and breathe freely….“The terminology used needs to be as neutral as possible so that it transcends the confines of any one culture, religion, or spiritual tradition. Only then will it be accessible to a broad range of readers world-wide, regardless of cultural background.”3
In other words, traditional, biblical Christianity goes into the trash bucket in favor of an amalgamation of Eastern mysticism and self-adoring, New Age “philobabble” that delivers nothing but more of the ego-centric fumbling that the purveyors promise us deliverance from.
What Tolle and his fans propose is a return to what we humans, thanks to biblical Judaism and Christianity, escaped from: pagan adoration of and servitude to false gods. Only this time, the god under construction is centered in self. It is a contemporary miniversion of the pagan “many gods” lore that stamps out tolerance for the one true God who is as equally despised by the neopagans as He was by their ancient forebears.
In the mix are the radical, secular-left revolutionaries who have a deep-seated hatred for America and its traditions and for people whose lifestyles and values differ from theirs. And while they are fond of shouting “bigot” to any who dare disagree with them (especially evangelical Christians), they, in fact, rabidly suppress the rights of their opponents.
We all know that America is not perfect. There are flaws that need to be analyzed objectively and addressed. But though this is true, there is still a vast difference between self-analysis and self-loathing. Objective self-analysis leads to correction; self-loathing, on the other hand, can lead to despair, violence, and even suicide.
The principle of objective self-evaluation is made plain in the instructions for communion. The apostle Paul admonished believers to examine and judge themselves for the purpose of correction before partaking of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:28, 31).
However, if you fancy every terrorist or tyrannical, religious political element to be a victim of Western imperialism and aggression, you have no time or inclination to think through the issues. The method is strictly Pogoian: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
For example, Israel is considered an oppressor of people who desire to wipe the Jewish state off the map. And when these “victims” are finished with Israel, they plan to move on to Europe and the United States.
This pandering to those who deign to destroy was highly evident when former President Jimmy Carter journeyed to the Middle East recently to consort with Israel’s and America’s avowed and unrepentant enemies. Carter provided aid and comfort—not to mention credibility—to Hamas, one of this planet’s foremost bands of thugs, terrorists, and murderers.
For advocates of the “Vietnamization” of American foreign policy, the mission is surrender and humiliation as opposed to honor and victory. To their way of thinking, freedom and democracy are not worth fighting for. So give up, and hope your adversaries will show themselves reasonable humanitarians.
Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Freedom is hard to come by and even more difficult to sustain. Wars are always unfortunate and unpopular. But when the issue is survival, there is no other option if one wants life and liberty rather than perpetual servitude or death.
America the Beautiful
Few who know the sonnet of the eminent Jewish poet Emma Lazarus (1849–1887), which is immortalized on the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, know much about her or why she was so dramatically inspired.
Emma was born to a wealthy Jewish family in New York City that descended from the first Jewish settlers in the New World. Highly motivated by the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Russia, she wrote with conviction about the necessity of a homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people. In 1883 she wrote the poem The New Colossus, from which her compassionate words beckoning immigrants to these shores were taken:
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she/With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me,/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
In her poem 1492, lamenting the expulsion of the Jewish people from Spain, her words could be linked to the invitation inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:
…when Spain cast forth with flaming sword,/The children of the prophets of the Lord,/Prince, priest, and people, spurned by zealot hate./Hounded from sea to sea, from state to state,/The West refused them, and the East abhorred…./Close-locked was every port, barred every gate./Then smiling, thou unveil’dst, O two-faced year,/A virgin world where doors of sunset part,/Saying, “Ho, all who weary, enter here! / There falls each ancient barrier that the art/Of race or creed or rank devised, to rear…”
All but forgotten in the current American age of too much is the suppression and anguish of the tattered masses—despondent, deprived, desperate, and “yearning to breathe free” and escape their grinding existence in the Old World. Then came America, carefully designed by courageous founders as a land for the free and haven for the oppressed.
And despite derision from America-loathers, the “Four Freedoms” articulated by the late President Franklin Roosevelt are no laughing matter. President Roosevelt spelled them out to the 77th Congress on January 6, 1941: freedom of speech and expression, “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way,” freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
When the “golden door” to the colonies and then the gates of Ellis Island were flung open, we came. With grimy faces, ragged clothes, and suitcases hardly worthy of the name, waves of immigrants arrived on these shores. Among them were the forebears of practically every person reading this article.
In my case, my mother’s family escaped from the Germany of the Kaiser and the looming great wars. In 1743 my family patriarch arrived in the colonies from Ireland, eventually landing a spot in the Continental Army. Later a hoard of McQuaids were starved out of Ireland by the Great Potato Famine of the mid-1800s. If they came looking for a place to plant potatoes, they found plenty of room in America.
A fellow of Italian descent I once worked with shared the jubilation of his family as their steamship entered New York Harbor and caught sight of the Statue of Liberty. “We yelled so loud,” he said, “that we couldn’t hear the noise of the cattle on the boat!”
They came here looking for a hand up, not a handout. A shovel, hammer, or seat at a sewing machine in a garment factory became the start of a new life.
One might ask what held together such a diverse aggregation without common heritage; language; or, in many cases, worship forms. Basically, I think it was a great pride in their adopted home, a passion to become American citizens, and a sense that they were on their way to something better.
And as the history of this republic has borne out, their passion was well founded. The words land of opportunity were more than a slogan. They represented hope—real hope. And there was change here, not the strident cries for change promised today that might better be called social revolution. Immigrants who revered the flag and country that had become theirs set out with simple tools and limited advantages. But from their simplicity and determination arose something profound beyond comprehension: It’s called America.
And when families can walk in tranquility to their chosen houses of worship on a Saturday or Sunday morning without fear of bombs, clubs, or political-religious enforcers, that’s progress worth defending with every fiber of our collective being.
The big question now is, How long will this progress last? That’s up to you and me. What we do will become the legacy we leave behind.
And it will not be much of a legacy unless we remember where the foundation rests:
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lᴏʀᴅ (Ps. 33:12).
Irving Berlin was right: God Bless America!
- Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah (New York: Regan Books, 1996), 274.
- Ibid., 278.
- “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” <http://eckharttolle.com/a_new_earth>.