Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Is America God's Mediator to the Globe?
September 11, 2000
Both George W. Bush and Joe Lieberman have recently expressed their confidence that America is God's specially chosen nation. That old-time confession of civil-religious faith is intended to assure Americans of their high status both in the world and as a model for the world.
If power and wealth are signs of divine election, then evidence abounds to support this bipartisan theology. The American economy in general and its dollar and stock markets in particular rise high above all competitors. Militarily the picture is equally impressive. As Gregg Easterbrook explains: "The American military is, at this moment, more powerful relative to its foes than any armed force in history—stronger than the Roman legions at the peak of the empire, stronger than Britannia when the sun never set on the Royal Navy, stronger than the Wehrmacht on the day it entered Paris" (The New Republic, 9/11/00).
What kind of model does the United States present to the world? If God chose us to be Number One, does that mean every other country in the world should try to become Number One? If so, America's civic theology confronts an internal conflict: For, if God chose us to be Number One, then any nation that tries to surpass us must be stopped. Does this mean that our example to the world—our special calling from God—is to stand against the world?
Or perhaps the model America is supposed to exhibit is one that, if followed, will allow all nations to prosper as we do. However, if that is true, then our greatest responsibility, surely, must be to reduce our gluttony. For how can every nation in the world, all at the same time, consume the quantity of nonrenewable resources and create as much waste as Americans do? The finite limits of the universe appear to make that impossible.
Or maybe it is democracy and freedom that the United States is supposed to model to the world. Our endurance as a republic, except for one Civil War, and the openness of our society, certainly represent a bright contrast to the political systems of North Korea, China, Nigeria, and dozens of other states.
Yet even here, a question must be raised. If America is God's messiah of democratic freedom to the world, why does the current presidential campaign look and sound so parochial—so much like a school-yard squabble—when our leadership of the globe is at stake? Why do the candidates say so little about the meaning of this moment in history and America's responsibility (other than to its own self-interest) in the world? Why do so few citizens show interest in the democratic process, with only half of the electorate expected to vote? Is this our example to the world?
Last week, leaders from almost every nation on earth gathered at the United Nations in New York. In many respects it looked and sounded like a modern Tower of Babel after God had disrupted communications. In their disunion, few expressed enthusiasm for the theology of America's divinely appointed leadership. On the other hand, one could sense very strongly that globalization demands clear thinking about how best to govern the world; it is not just about the globe's intensifying technological, environmental, and economic interconnectedness. All of the world's leaders can now meet in one place, and all must confront the question anew: What is the meaning of this one world and what responsibility do the governments of this world bear, both together and individually, for its well-being?
The theology of America's messianic civil religion sounds strangely inadequate and unorthodox at this moment in history. And neither our presidential candidates nor the supposedly "chosen people" appear up to the task of mediating God to the world. Could it be that the theology is wrong and that there is another mediator of God to the globe?
—James W. Skillen, Executive Director
Center for Public Justice
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”