Every July, Americans hold the Secular Feast of St. Thomas Jefferson and take a little time out to renew their baptismal vows of citizenship in the American Experiment. As part of that rite, Americans take a small amount of time (between the sacred meals of fried chicken and spare ribs and the lighting of the sacred fireworks) to contemplate the American creed summed up in the Declaration of Independence.
Some readers may think I am being sacrilegious by speaking of the Fourth of July in religious terms, but I’m not. G.K. Chesterton (no blasphemer he) once remarked that America was “a nation with the soul of a Church” and said that it was the only country founded on a creed. I think he is dead on. We show our religious roots in every way, from our evangelistic zeal to export “the American way” to our anti-Christian zeal to press down upon the heads of every person in the world the claptrap chicanery of Hollywood and the pro-abortion fanaticism of the self-appointed “population planners.” Americans always act as though they felt they were a City on a Hill, just as much as the Puritans did, even when they are pursuing the destruction of all that is holy.
Peter Berger once remarked that if India is the most religious country in the world and Sweden is the most secularized, then America could best be described as a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes. I think this is exactly right (and that it is the faith of the vast “Indian” population of America that keeps us in such sanity as we still possess.) For to put it bluntly, the Swedes who run things wish that God was dead and they pursue the agenda of killing him with missionary zeal. They sneer at the “superstition” of the religious. They mock anything that cannot be accounted for by science and materialistic philosophy. They reject Christianity as “mystical” and fancy themselves hard-nosed empiricists.
Yet at the same time, they chatter incessantly about something called “equality.” They point us to the founding documents of the nation and intone, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Now honestly. Take a good hard look at that statement. What is it but a piece of pure, unadulterated Christian mysticism as unverifiable by scientific experiment as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? What could be less self-evident (empirically speaking) than that “all men are created equal.” To the naked eye, people are vastly different: smarter, dumber, faster, slower, stronger, and weaker than one another. And yet, by a sort of dead inertia, our cultural elites go on talking about “equality” as though it were something you could see and measure with a scale or an electroencephalogram. No one (yet) has alerted them to the fact that they are in fact mouthing a piece of utterly mystical Christian doctrine as rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition (and in nothing else) as the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. No one has pointed out to them that when we confess “all men are created equal” we mean, and can only mean, that all people are equally precious to God and are creatures made in his image.
So far, we have coasted along on custom in continuing to talk as though our culture still is founded on that mystical Christian faith in human equality. I fear, however, that sooner or later, it will occur to somebody to get rid of this mystical Christian belief in equality as they have gotten rid of so much of the rest of the Christian tradition.
Either that, or we will have to repent of getting rid of the Christian tradition.
But we can’t coast forever.