America: Not The New Jerusalem, Merely Another Rome
”When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” -- Paul the Apostle (1 Corinthians 13:11 KJV)
”And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” -- Jesus Christ of Nazareth (John 8:34 KJV)
Ronald Reagan, tending the garden of thorns Dick Nixon had sown, referred to America as “a city on a hill”, thus appropriating Jesus’ words via John Winthrop through John F. Kennedy.
It’s interesting to chart the progression. Let’s do so in reverse.
”I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.”
”I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before…’We must always consider…that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us’. Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us—and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill—constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities…History will not judge our endeavors—and a government cannot be selected—merely on the basis of color or creed or even party affiliation. Neither will competence and loyalty and stature, while essential to the utmost, suffice in times such as these. For of those to whom much is given, much is required…”
”Now the only way to…provide for our posterity is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God, for this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man, we must entertain each other in brotherly affection, we must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities, we must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality, we must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor, and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body, so shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace… for we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak…curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whether we are going”
”Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” (Matthew 5:14 KJV)
Go back and read Reagan’s statement.
While I’ve trimmed Kennedy and Winthrop’s quotes and edited the latter for clarity (God bless Noah Webster for standardized spelling!), there’s a striking difference between what they saw as a city on a hill and what Reagan saw.
Reagan operates under the presumption that of course we’re the best, of course everyone else will look up to us, of course we are the New Jerusalem referenced in the Bible.
We are God’s anointed, His new chosen people. America is God’s Promised Land, a nation to which all other nations can merely hope to aspire to be.
Our shitte truly stinketh notte.
Reality? We have fucked up and we have fucked up badly.
Compare Reagan’s self-congratulatory, ignorant nostalgia with the dire warnings of Kenney and Winthrop.
Yes, there is great promise.
Yes, there is great potential.
Yes, we are a city on a hill.
But Kennedy and Winthrop both cautioned that history and the world would not be kind if we failed to live up to our own grandiose promises.
(And, yeah, there’s irony in that, considering how both failed to make good on those promises, but at least they knew the danger was there.)
Look at Matthew 5:13, the verse immediately preceding Jesus’ original “city on a hill” reference: ”Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”
America is no New Jerusalem, no Holy Israel of the New World, no Promised Land.
Rather, we are the New Rome, an empire built on greed and ruthlessness and blood and genocide.
And slavery. Let us never omit that original sin, or its bastard step-sibling, white supremacy.
As long as the history of this nation was written by the Parson Weems of the world, be they well meaning hagiographers or unprincipled propagandists, it was the history of white Christianist* men of property succeeding because God and / or providence had deemed them the masters of the universe, the unquestioned rulers of the earth.
(Oh, there might be a mean one once in a while, maybe an occasional bad one, but it was a white man with money’s world, and if non-whites and non-males wanted to enjoy even the slightest taste, the first thing they had to doo was make sure white Christianist male supremacy reigned supreme.)
Our nation has been at war virtually its entire existence.
It has slaughtered and subjugated literally millions of people around the world.
Don’t give me that bullshit about the American Revolution being a good and just war -- Canada stayed under British rule and did just fine, thank you, and although they have their own problems, a far less bloody history than the United States.**
Don’t give me that bullshit about the Civil War being a good and just war -- there shouldn’t have been any need for a civil war if the first shipload of African slaves to arrive in North America had simply been seized and freed.
Don’t give me that bullshit on World War Two being a good and just war -- if Hitler hadn’t declared war on us, we would have never gotten involved in Europe.***
America has waged incessant war against other nations and native peoples in order to make a few wealthy people even wealthier.
Can we justify the War of 1812? No.
Can we Justify the Mexican War? No.
Can we justify the Spanish-American War or the too numerous to recount Latin American bush wars? No.
Can we justify the Philippines, or Korea, or Vietnam?
Don’t even pretend we can justify what we’ve done in the Middle East.
And as terrible as those are, those are the crimes we’ve committed against others.
Look at how terribly we treat one another.
After centuries of enslavement, African-Americans then needed to endure the humiliation of segregation.
Hispanic Americans who can trace their ancestry in this land much further back than any Anglo found themselves aliens in their own country.
Women and non-Christians and anybody outside of toxic white male heterosexual norms declared unfit and excluded from the public sphere.
And we allowed the tiny greedy few at the very top to rob us and pick our pockets and let our families and children suffer because they promised us if we did so, they’d let us feel that we were the best simply because we were white Christianist males.
We are long overdue for our moment of clarity, our agonizing reappraisal, our “come to Jesus” moment when we recognize our sins and shortcomings.
We gotta stop eating our own bullshit and recognize ourselves for the villains we are.
Only by identify the source of the contagion and draining the virulent infection can we hope to cure it.
”Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
”And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.” -- Jesus Christ of Nazareth (John 8:44-45 KJV)
© Buzz Dixon
* “Christianist” is a term coined by the political commentator Andrew Sullivan to refer to those people who are culturally Christian, who may even think of themselves as Christian, but in reality are as far from the teachings of Christ as is possible and just use their so-called Christian identity as an excuse to do whatever the fuck they feel like doing because “God loves us and forgives us and wants us to be in charge”.
** The taxation in “no taxation without representation” referred to England trying to get the colonies to take at least partial responsibility for triggering the bloody Seven Years War (in the U.S., the French & Indian War) that virtually drained England’s treasury and wrecked a couple of European empires in the process. One may argue the crown made a fatal misstep in not allowing token colonial participation in parliament, but you can’t say they were unfair in wanting the colonials to help pay for a war ///we started/// in direct violation of international treaties.
*** Not only were many prominent Americans against getting involved in European affairs, but a large number were pro-Nazi to boot, and they went to ground only when Hitler made it impossible to defend him any longer. And while we’re at it, let’s dispel with the myth that Hitler and the Axis would have won if the U.S. hadn’t stepped into the fray; Hitler lost WWII on June 22, 1941 when he invaded Russia. Contrary to the popular culture of the US and western Europe, it was Russia that took on the brunt of the German war machine, and Russia that painstakingly ground them down at great cost. To put it simply, Russia would have still beaten Germany without the help of the Allies; the Allies might not have beaten Germany without the help of the Russians. And while Japan was reeling from saturation bombings and the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Russia declaring war on them was the moment they realized there was no hope left.