OUR BEFUDDLING NATION


By: TOM MINNERY.



E uropeans have alway s had a tough time trying to understand Americans. Long ago a French aristocrat and his companion were so determined to explain this befuddling breed of people to their countrymen that they spent nearly a year observing us close up.


The more gilled of the two, Alexis de Toequeville, wrote a book about the trip. Democracy in America, published in 1835, still remains one of the very best explanations ever written about the United States.


Tocqueville found the country’s deep devotion to Christianity to be a defining characteristic of its success. Among his many’ observations was his belief that religion preserves freedom in America, because it constantly invigorates the government’s judgment.


He offered a simple example. He described a scene in a county courtroom in up-state New York in 1831, in which a man appeared, intending to be a witness. But the man told the judge that he did not believe in God. The judge refused to allow him to testify, stating that the court could have no faith in a man who had no faith in God. The newspapers found nothing unusual in this reasoning.


If a judge tried that today, the news media ( TV, press and radio) would hyper-ventilate at the ACLU’s press conference . Much has certainly changed since Tocqueville’s day.


But perhaps not as much as we think. Two more Europeans—Brits this time—have just finished a reporting tour of the United States, once again seeking to explain this befuddling country’. The authors are John Mickelthwait and Adrian Wooldridge, journalists for the The Economist magazine.


And once again, the authors have found a vigorous religious culture to he a keystone of what they call American exceptionalism,” that is, America’s uniqueness in the world. Their book is titled The Right Nation and the cover bears the famous Norman Rockwell illustration of a matron and small child at a diner praying over their meal while two young men, apparently befuddled study, study them intently.



The cover is a metaphor for the theme of the book. Two Americas exist—red and blue—but red, praying America is on the ascendancy and blue, secularist America cannot grasp why nor can the rest of the developed world.


To help explain things, the authors compare two divergent congressional districts. Pelosiville” is San Francisco, overwhelmingly liberal and Democrat and the home of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “ Hastertland” is the wide swath of Illinois, conservative and relentlessly Republican, represented by House Speaker Dennis Hastert.


In Pelosiville, poor schools and rent controls have forced out middle-class families, leaving predominantly the wealthy and the homeless, and a high proportion of single young professionals. Vagrants abound, subsidized by misguided local policies. In Hastertlancl, the schools are good and houses affordable, and the authors find life to be “cheerfully middle American.”


In Pelosiville, churches are closing, and the once influential Catholic archbishop is now marginalized among a religious brew that boasts every brand from Buddhism to Satanism . In Hastertland, Christian evangelical churches flourish and in some locales now vastly outnumber the bars.


The authors conclude that America is the most religious country in the rich world, with churches full, evangelicals on the march and the Almighty popping up all over public policy” They see liberalism, and secularism, on the decline.


In the early years of our democracy, Toequeville told us that Christianity played a vital role in the emerging nation, and the new book by Miekelthwait and Wooldridge tell us that the same continues today. The consensus in these books, written some 170 years apart, is striking, and is a source of encouragement.


The books remind us that the cause we represent—the cause of Christ—is essential, not only for the eternal good of individuals, hut for the collective good of the country



                                                             Torn Minneiy is vice-president of gove:n-

                                                             rnent and public policy for Focus on the

                                                             Family and author of Why You Can’t Stay

                                                             Silent: A Biblical Mandate to Shape

                                                             Our Culture.



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