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Americanity: The State Religion (Part Two)

I first came across the concept of " Americanity" in a book about Minister Farrakhan and the Nation Of Islam entitled, In The Name Of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan And The Nation Of Islam written by Mattias Gardell. In the book Gardell attempts to explain why the FBI would view the Nation of Islam as a threat. The argument that he makes is very interesting and one that deserves attention on another day. But to follow the line of reasoning that I began yesterday, it is helpful to see exactly what "Americanity" is and then compare it to the worldview and strategy of today's conservative establishment. A quick review of Americanity reveals that even the world's major religions, including the Christianity and Judaism that most conservatives claim, are forced to take a back seat to the true state religion. To many conservatives, though they say otherwise, it is really "One Nation as God..." and not "One Nation Under God...".

We quote from Gardell's book:

The religion of the Republic, alternatively known as "Americanity" or the "civil religion" of the United States, is the semi religious dimension of the notion of America as a melting pot. Immigrants from various European countries, adhering to different religions and denominations, were supposed to substitute their particular identities for their new identities as Americans. A child of the Enlightenment and the Hegelian notion of progressive evolution, the creation of the United States of America was depicted as a fulfillment of mankind's ambitions to create a better world. Multicultural tolerance was achieved through transcending the specific, by projecting unifying fundamentals on a higher level of abstraction. The separation of church and state was supplemented by introducing a religious dimension as a central rationale for the American project, making Americanity a creed and the United States an instrument of God's work in the world. As discussed by Robert N. Bellah in his classic essay on the American civil religion, Biblical themes and symbols are used in the historiography of the United States. The Americans are identified as the "chosen people", who through an "exodus" from Europe reached the "promised land" and there founded the "New Jerusalem"." American civil religion has its own prophets (Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington), its own martyrs (Abraham Lincoln, the Kennedys, all soldiers killed in war), its own sacred events (the Declaration of Independence, the Boston Tea Party), its own sacred places to which pilgrimage is made (Gettysburg, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Lincoln Memorial), its solemn rituals of commemoration (Independence Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving Day, Veterans Day), and its sacred symbols (the Stars and Stripes, the White House, the Statute of Liberty). As the sacred expression of the American dream, Americanity preaches all the values, norms, and ideas associated with the American way of life. The United States is the defender of freedom, democracy, and moral decency against every form of totalitarianism, which during the Cold War was principally defined as communism but is now increasingly being replaced by Islam. In this fortress of individual liberty with equal opportunities for all, each man can reach success... The ideology of Americanism pays homage to the lonely individual with a trust in God and denies the existence of collective injustices.

And so we return to the issue of justice and how many Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos and progressive/liberal and poor Whites have a vastly different concept of how American history weighs on the scales of justice than do white conservatives. To most conservatives, there is no room for America, as a collective, or society or even government, performing an injustice to a particular ethnic group inside of her borders. The concept simply doesn't register on their radar screen and if it does - it is neatly tucked away in a box called "the past".

In the conservative mind, non-Whites don't need historical injustices addressed; they need only to pick themselves up by the bootstraps. The subtle implication is that conservatives believe that any current hardships endured by non-whites or the poor of all colors, is not due to any real inequalities or injustices of the past but only from that individual or group not fully accepting their "American" status. This is most apparent among conservatives who reject any connection (in fact) between the poverty and broken families in Black America today and the institution of slavery yesterday.

Recommending the solution to all of the problems of non-Whites and the poor (accepting Americanity) absolves the conservative from listening to an articulation of the problem (historical injustices, America's bad fiscal and monetary policies that disproportionately affect the poor or a flawed criminal justice system). They do this in spite of the fact that the Torah and Bible from Genesis to Revelation deal with the transferring of good and evil down through the generations and in particular, that the specific teachings of Jesus and Moses explain how children, generations down the road, will face the consequences of the evil that their fathers performed on others. Collective injustices and how they are to be redressed are a major theme in the very scriptures that conservatives claim liberals want out of America's education system. Well, the argument can be made with ease, that if liberals want God out of the classroom, conservatives want God out of the courtroom and left out of any critique of U.S. history.

Before, there once was an unspoken rule among elite liberals and conservatives to cooperate, now there increasingly appears to be little or no room for the white American liberal critique of America history and justice. Now, in the eyes of conservatives, white liberals are committing treason or worse - blasphemy- when they say America is not a righteous nation and has committed serious injustices against her own citizens and that something must be done to repair the damage.

Such criticism, if it were true, would seem to destroy the validity of Americanity but the conservative wiggles out of such a predicament by hiding behind the individual successes of various individual "case studies", in other words "If Bill Gates, Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey and Tiger Woods can do it why can't you?". The glory of individual achievement and the dismissal of collective injustices present a maze of argument that most liberals and non-white intellectuals find difficult to navigate. But in the final analysis, the conservative movement will have to ask itself whether its worldview and strategy will continue to make it a ruling class, firmly entrenched in the American political establishment or simply a group of martyrs who irritated the majority with their apparent self-righteousness, elitism and yes, religion.

Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, July 6, 2000

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