Slightly to the Left of King Arthur

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I have added a new category for the blog because sometime in the near future I intend to work my way through David Gelernter new book, Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion. I have some other projects going, so this might not go as fast as some other books have. But it is important to do this because Americanism is a religion. Where Gelernter and I part company is that he thinks it is a good religion. For those who want an great initial take on the book, let me recommend Peter Leithart’s review of it here.

Gelernter writes winsomely, and he makes many strong points, particularly in the realm of history. But his central theological assumptions are extremely troubling, and all the more troubling because the kind of idolatry being advanced here is the kind that many red state Christians could be vulnerable to. If there is anything that conservative American Christians need to learn, it is how to relate to our growing American Empire, an entity which wants (as all empires do) compromised older religions around to help give their civic religion the kind of patina it needs to shine properly on civic holidays.

But if Americanism is a false religion, so is anti-Americanism. If Americanism is pragmatic and therefore (on one level) sane, anti-Americanism is rabid and just plain nuts. My opposition to the former should in no wise be taken as evidencing any sympathy whatever for the latter. About the only argument I can think of for supporting the war in Iraq is that it would place me at odds with Michael Moore, a result greatly to be desired.

I write as a paleo-conservative, an anti-statist to the bone. If you have your charts handy, you can see that on the political spectrum I am slightly to the left of King Arthur. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve in our submarine service in the Cold War — I have seen Russia through a periscope. I have hated communism from my youth, and I hate it still. I love my country because this is where God put me. I love my country for the same reasons I love and honor my father and mother.

But I love my country as a son, not as a devotee. The America I love is not an idea, and especially not a religious idea. I am a Christian first. And how to sort all this out — the right relation between Christian faith and national identity — is one of the things we really need to work through, and Gelernter’s book promises to be just the kind of foil that will enable us to do that thoroughly.

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