CIVIL: USA as Political Messiah

Richard Gamble on Civil Religion:

“America’s anointment as the world’s political messiah did not end when demobilized troops returned from Europe in 1919. It did not end with America’s opposition to the Treaty of Versailles, nor with America’s refusal to join the League of Nations. The cumulative product of generations of reflection, experience, and anticipation, the American identity reached too deep and far to have been uprooted in a moment of supposed renunciation. Transcending party politics and most ideological boundaries, nearly all of the language of universality and emancipation, of the “city on a hill” and the world’s rebirth, of light and dark, Messiah and Armageddon, reverberates down to the present moment. Like Woodrow Wilson before them, few modern presidents have been able to resist the allure of America’s global redemptive consciousness. In the 1940s, Franklin Roosevelt planned for a future refounded on four freedoms, freedoms that would prevail “everywhere in the world.” In the fourth of these universal freedoms, freedom from fear, he anticipated a day when “no nation will be in a position to commit and act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.”

“In countless speeches from the 1960s through the 1980s, moreover, Ronald Reagan reached back to the earliest metaphors of America’s divine destiny” to reaffirm the nation’s special calling as a “city on a hill.” Combining the Puritan errand with the Enlightenment dream of earthly regeneration, he also embraced Tom Pain’s longing to “begin the world over again.” And on September 11, 2002, George W. Bush, speaking with the colossus of the Statue of Liberty behind him, called America the “hope of all mankind” and appropriated the world of John 1:5 as if they described not just the Incarnation of Christ but the mission of the United States: “And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness will not overcome it.” To one degree or another and with varying motives and consequences, each of these men continued to speak of the United States as if it were the Salvator Mundi, following a pattern of thought that has endured for more than four centuries.”

[HT: DG Hart]

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