Still One Nation?
Despite differences, those groups had one thing in common: All had come out of one of the most turbulent periods of European history -- when religious issues were decided on the battlefield. For those groups who valued their faith in God above all things, the eternal was more important than the temporal. However, they had also witnessed the carnage that results when religion becomes political.
You may recall that the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 ended the Thirty Years War, a war so fierce that it depopulated large areas of Germany. Battles, one after another, between warring religious factions plagued England during the 17th century, finally culminating in civil war and regicide, the execution of Charles the First in 1649.
Beginning in the mid-1500s, Protestant French Huguenots struggled to exist. With the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685, Huguenots had little choice but to renounce their faith or flee. Two hundred thousand of them fled France.
And so they came to America: Pilgrims to Plymouth, Puritans to Massachusetts Bay, Catholics to Maryland, Quakers to Pennsylvania, Dutch Reformed to New York and Huguenots to Charleston, S.C., to name only a few. They saw the North American wilderness as a place where they could worship God, unrestrained by political persecution. They came here to get away from religious persecution -- not to get away from religion.
The genesis of the soul of the American nation is a hunger to worship God, a desire to live by His laws, an eagerness that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Our forebears were determined not to recapitulate the useless religious wars of Europe, and they developed a pattern of tolerance for religious differences.
It was not that religion was unimportant but that it was so important that "if you will respect my right to worship according to the dictates of my conscience, I will respect yours as well."
For a century and a half, they grew, interacted and discovered that they had common cause. They may not have agreed in the particulars of worship or theology, but they did agree that there was a God.
All were convinced that the providence of God had brought them to America and that it was His mercy that sustained them. All of them accepted God's law, the Ten Commandments, as the most succinct expression of the rule by which humankind should conduct itself.
And while they unabashedly considered this a Christian land, they extended to Jews and others the right to exercise their faith. Freedom was to be realized here, and its most profound expression was found in the exercise of worship.
Distracted by Glitz
But, as the Scripture says, "There arose in Egypt a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph."
Essentially, vast numbers of Americans have forgotten who we are as a people. They do not remember the faith of our forebears. They are distracted by a glitzy and plastic culture where we know the cost of everything and the value of little.
Training ourselves and our children to live off the 15-second sound bite and superficial analysis, we are less and less unified as a people. Our historic unity was that we were a community of diverse faiths aspiring to fulfill our God-appointed destiny.
If it were not so dangerous, so foolish and so predictably destructive, our current national fascination with multiculturalism, bilingualism and the minimization of religion would be simply an example of wrongheaded miscalculation, faulty reasoning and historical ignorance. But since current fascinations are dangerous to our continued existence, we do not have the luxury of benign neglect. We desperately need to call our people back to their unity: One nation, under God.
You see, a diverse people, such as America, must have a core identity if they are to long endure. Historically, that which has held a people together is a common ethos. If a people inhabit a common territory, have similar cultural patterns and a common language, if their fundamental understanding of the world -- read "religion" -- is held by all, they generally are able to maintain themselves.
America has never fit that pattern. Our geography is large and diverse. From seacoast to mountains to fertile plain, we live in different settings. And the land does shape the people.
A Fragmented Culture
Our culture is unbelievably fragmented. Urban city dwellers, Western cowboys and Southern good ole boys are far apart in terms of cultural norms. Further complicating the issue is the recent emphasis on maintaining the languages of our immigrants. Los Angles has over 80 language groups, and most other cities are not far behind.
On the surface, there is nothing wrong with remembering our roots. We can even tolerate diverse languages, while those who come to our shores are assimilated and adopt English as a primary language.
However, from the standpoint of helping immigrants to adapt to and adopt America as their native land, maintaining the ability to easily function in their native language is detrimental to the immigrant and hostile to our unity as a nation.
And those who press for a multilingual culture are actually hastening the day when these "united states" are no longer viable. If trends continue, California, for example, will soon look back on the brief period of Anglo dominance.
In fact, the whole ideal of multiculturalism -- the living together in national harmony of people with diverse cultures and languages -- is unrealistic and doomed to failure. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s "The Disuniting of America" (published by W.W. Norton) is a brilliant little book that should be required reading for every American. He writes that if one wishes to see the future of multiculturalism, he should look at Bosnia or the Soviet Union or even Canada.
A Foundation of Submission
America possesses almost none of the things that have classically created and maintained a nation. But we have had something far better.
We have had a sense that our existence was an act of God, that our maintenance was a sacred obligation, that our destiny was to model God's will for humankind, and that our greatness was our goodness.
How sad it will be, if in forgetting the God who called us into existence, we lose our way and become another example of a broken dream. God forbid we should forget that we are and always have been "one nation under God."
If we cease to be a nation under God, we will soon be no nation at all. For this nation, there is no better way, no other way than "under God." If we forget that, we will lose our way, and unity will be extinguished in our midst.
Let us therefore resolve that by God's grace and help this nation shall always rest upon a foundation of submission to God and His law. As we love our land, let us love our God, so that the blessings of God may continue to be showered upon us and our children and our children's children. Amen.
Dr. Larry H. Ellis, associate pastor at The Village Chapel of Pinehurst, is a retired Navy captain who served his entire career as a chaplain. He served in Vietnam and as senior Protestant chaplain at the U.S. Naval Academy.
More like this story