Maybe instead of pouring all this energy into haggling over claims in watered-down, non-primary source, lowest-common-denominator, utterly de-contextualized, ponderous textbooks, we ought to try harder to get kids to read more, and read more of what matters. Does anyone really think that one sentence about Cesar Chavez or Samuel Gompers is going to be the clincher between an educated citizen and a mouth-breathing, video-game playing doofus? Primary texts, people. Lots of primary texts is what we need. Which means, for starters, turning off the bloody television.
And please, can we stop with the Protestant self-aggrandizement about Christian America? What part of America do you think Jesus is especially pleased with — slavery, internment of the Japanese, or our singular focus on entertainment and the amassing of wealth?
Don’t get me wrong, I love this country, and believe that as far as brutality, racism, and oppression go, we are a far sight better than most civilizations in human history. But perhaps, when the instinct to start painting an ethereal Jesus into those pictures of the Founders signing the Constitution takes hold, we would do well to remember that no one is righteous, no, not one, and that all this business about God’s special purpose for America makes a heretical muddle of Biblical teaching about the citizenship of God’s people.
It seems far more likely that we are born into this country, fellow Christians, not because God decided to bless us, but because He knows our weak faiths and frames couldn’t handle being truly oppressed in places like Somalia or Pakistan or China. Think about it — God can place you anywhere in history and space, and he chooses not to make you a martyr under the Romans or Muslims or Communists, but an upper-middle class white person in the most prosperous, healthiest, and safest country on the planet. You think that’s because you’re especially righteous? Think again. If America is a special haven carved out by God, it’s because he knew his weakest children needed a safe place.
And as far as this whole debate between conservative white Protestants who want to make St. Paul one of the Founders, and aggrieved atheists who imagine Adams, Hamilton, and company sitting around the hookah bar riffing on Foucault, I side with Richard Brookhiser: “The founders were not as Christian as those people would like them to be, though they weren’t as secularist as Christopher Hitchens would like them to be.”
Finally, since this has become a full-on rant, given that most American Christians can neither recite nor explain the Nicene Creed, it seems a bit silly of us to be giving history lessons to the rest of the country. Perhaps, if we get our own house in order, we’ll be more persuasive when we lecture people about this nation’s deeply Christian roots. But when the average Christian can’t even explain what Christianity is, the whole enterprise seems foolish: either we were a Christian nation and now we are not, or we never were. Fixing the textbooks, in other words, seems the least of our concerns.