Though the idea has been ridiculed relentlessly, and for good reason, there really is something exceptional about the United States, and it lies in the terrible hubris of their view of their place in world history.
Every normal, traditional people, tribe, nation, etc., has had as its ultimate goal the friendship or union with some divine Absolute principle or being; everything for them was subordinated to that end. The ‘American experiment’ turned that ideal on its head. The idea of an Absolute remains, called by them ‘sacred liberty’ and other such names, but the attainment of it is gained not by subordination but by insubordination, by the dissolution of traditional restraints upon individuals. Furthermore, the practice of a traditional religion has been relegated from an essential communal act to an optional private act, to be done however one’s conscience directs him. Religion has become a means to an end, not the end itself.
If liberty is the American god, then the sacred writings are things like the Declaration of Independence and the 1787 Philadelphia constitution (ranked in eminence with the Bible by such prominent Americans as Ralph Waldo Emerson); the prophets and apostles of this new religion are her philosopher-statesmen like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and others; and the central, sacramental, uniting, Grace-conferring rite is the election of public officials by the voters.
We can trace the lineaments of this religion through the political literature and rhetoric produced throughout American history. One of the clearest statements about it comes from President Thomas Jefferson (1801-9) in his Farewell Address. There, he wrote about the special place of the American Union in history:
‘The station we occupy among the nations of the earth is honorable, but awful. Trusted with the destinies of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole repository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence, it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth, if other regions of the earth ever become susceptible of its genial influence. All mankind ought, then, with us, to rejoice in its prosperous, and sympathize in its adverse fortunes, as involving everything dear to man.’
No fixed doctrines must be permitted that would restrain the freedom/self-government that he extols; relativism must reign:
‘And to what sacrifices of interest or convenience, ought not these considerations to animate us! To what compromises of opinion and inclination, to maintain harmony and union among ourselves, and to preserve from all danger this hallowed ark of human hope and happiness! That differences of opinion should arise among men, on politics, on religion, and on every topic of human inquiry, and that these should be freely expressed in a country where all our facilities are free, is to be expected. But these valuable privileges are much perverted when permitted to disturb the harmony of social intercourse, and to lessen the tolerance of opinion. To the honor of society here, it has been characterized by a just and generous liberality, and an indulgence of those affections which, without regard to political creeds, constitute the happiness of life.’
President George Washington (1789-97) displays in his own Farewell Address the typical utilitarian American attitude toward religion – it makes freedom and ‘happiness’ possible, but that is about the extent of its goodness:
‘Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
‘It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?
‘Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.’
‘Promote then,’ what? Churches? No. Institutions that diffuse knowledge (schools, libraries, etc., it would seem).
And he hallows the new American order with these words: ‘the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained . . .’
President John Adams (1797-1801), in his Inaugural Address, proclaims that the most pleasant vision the world has ever seen is the election of public officials by voters:
‘There may be little solidity in an ancient idea that congregations of men into cities and nations are the most pleasing objects in the sight of superior intelligences, but this is very certain, that to a benevolent human mind there can be no spectacle presented by any nation more pleasing, more noble, majestic, or august, than an assembly like that which has so often been seen in this and the other Chamber of Congress, of a Government in which the Executive authority, as well as that of all the branches of the Legislature, are exercised by citizens selected at regular periods by their neighbors to make and execute laws for the general good. Can anything essential, anything more than mere ornament and decoration, be added to this by robes and diamonds? Can authority be more amiable and respectable when it descends from accidents or institutions established in remote antiquity than when it springs fresh from the hearts and judgments of an honest and enlightened people? For it is the people only that are represented. It is their power and majesty that is reflected, and only for their good, in every legitimate government, under whatever form it may appear. The existence of such a government as ours for any length of time is a full proof of a general dissemination of knowledge and virtue throughout the whole body of the people. And what object or consideration more pleasing than this can be presented to the human mind? If national pride is ever justifiable or excusable it is when it springs, not from power or riches, grandeur or glory, but from conviction of national innocence, information, and benevolence.’
And if a rightly conducted election is the highest good, if it is the standard of right belief in the American religious system, then heresy is the corruption of the voting process (we will note in passing how hypocritical the United States have been over the years in interfering in the elections of other countries when, here, as elsewhere, they bemoan any outside influence in their own election processes):
‘In the midst of these pleasing ideas we should be unfaithful to ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections. If an election is to be determined by a majority of a single vote, and that can be procured by a party through artifice or corruption, the Government may be the choice of a party for its own ends, not of the nation for the national good. If that solitary suffrage can be obtained by foreign nations by flattery or menaces, by fraud or violence, by terror, intrigue, or venality, the Government may not be the choice of the American people, but of foreign nations. It may be foreign nations who govern us, and not we, the people, who govern ourselves; and candid men will acknowledge that in such cases choice would have little advantage to boast of over lot or chance.’
A later president, Andrew Jackson (1829-37), confirms the views of his predecessors in his Farewell Address, saying,
‘You have the highest of human trusts committed to your care. Providence has showered on this favored land blessings without number, and has chosen you as the guardians of freedom, to preserve it for the benefit of the human race. May He who holds in His hands the destinies of nations make you worthy of the favors He has bestowed and enable you, with pure hearts and pure hands and sleepless vigilance, to guard and defend to the end of time the great charge He has committed to your keeping.’
The rather low view of the traditional role of religion in American society is seen also in the various political documents written to give life to their political beliefs. The silence of the Philadelphia constitution’s Preamble regarding the need to worship the God of the Christians or any other divine being is telling:
‘We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.’
The 1819 constitution of the State of Alabama is explicit in its support for religious relativism (always a great seedbed of social discord):
‘SEC. 3. No person within this state shall, upon, any pretence, be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshipping God in the manner most agreeable to his own conscience; nor be compelled to attend any place of worship, nor shall any one ever be obliged to pay any tythes, taxes, or other rate, for the building or repairing any place of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry.
‘SEC. 4. No human authority ought, in any case whatever, to control or interfere with the rights of conscience.
‘SEC. 5. No person shall be hurt, molested, or restrained in his religious profession, sentiments, or persuasion, provided he does not disturb others in their religious worship.
‘SEC. 6. The civil rights, privileges, or capacities of any citizen, shall in no way be diminished, or enlarged, on account of his religious principles.
‘SEC. 7. There shall be no establishment of religion by law; no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship; and no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state.’
New Jersey’s 1776 charter is a little better in that it upholds Protestantism as a norm of sorts, but it nevertheless empowers the individual conscience to worship as it pleases (again an invitation to moral anarchy):
‘XVIII. That no person shall ever, within this Colony, be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshipping Almighty God in a manner, agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; nor, under any presence whatever, be compelled to attend any place of worship, contrary to his own faith and judgment; nor shall any person, within this Colony, ever be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or any other rates, for the purpose of building or repairing any other church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right, or has deliberately or voluntarily engaged himself to perform.
‘XIX. That there shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this Province, in preference to another; and that no Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right, merely on account of his religious principles; but that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect. who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government, as hereby established, shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the Legislature, and shall fully and freely enjoy every privilege and immunity, enjoyed by others their fellow subjects.’
Once the South realized the tremendous dangers inherent in the American political ideology that was set up in 1776, a realization that dawned on her as she watched it moving toward its logical end in New England with her burgeoning free-love/open-marriage communities, communists, feminists, Unitarians, Mormons, and so on, she began to distance herself from it. But such is the power of the new American religion that President Lincoln (1861-5) led New England and the rest of the Northern States on a crusade against Dixie and gave her such a comeuppance that her identity as a people has been nearly erased, and the standard American ideology has been imposed upon her instead.
This notwithstanding, Pres Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address (1863) would give the American religion its deepest stamp of messianic fervor by dedicating all future generations of Americans to the ‘unfinished work’ of ensuring ‘that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth’ (a rather bald renunciation of God’s sovereignty over the nations and an equally over-bold affirmation of the American’s own self-sufficient, Gnostic divinity – per M. E. Bradford, whose analysis of this speech in some of his essays is invaluable).
The final amalgamation of the American religion under Pres Lincoln continues to reverberate in recent American history. Pres George W. Bush (2001-9) repeated its main tenets in his 2005 Inaugural Address:
‘We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
‘America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.
‘So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.’
The current president, Joe Biden, at his recent democracy summit, spoke words with the familiar divine ring to them both in his opening remarks:
‘To ensure that our democracies are strengthening by the voice — are strengthened by the voice of all citizens, this Presidential Initiative includes programs to advance women and girls and civic engagement and political leadership, empowering the LGBTQL [sic] community — plus community — individuals to participate in democratic institutions, promote labor law reform, working or — and worker organizations.
‘ . . .
‘My fellow leaders, members of civil society, activists, advocates, citizens: We stand at an inflection point in our history, in my view. The choices we make, in my view, in the next — in this moment are going to fundamentally determine the direction our world is going to take in the coming decades.
‘Will we allow the backward slide of rights and democracy to continue unchecked? Or will we together — together — have a vision and the vision — not just “a” vision, “the” vision — and courage to once more lead the march of human progress and human freedom forward?
‘I believe we can do that and we will if we have faith in ourselves, in our — and in our democracies, and in each other.’
And in his closing remarks:
‘And as we close out the first gathering, let’s — let us together reaffirm our determination that the future will belong to those who embrace human dignity, not those who trample it; who unleash the potential of their people, not those who stifle it; and who give their people the ability to breathe free, not those who seek to suffocate their people with an iron hand.
‘You know, as the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney once wrote:
‘“…once in a lifetime,
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.”
‘That tidal wave doesn’t come out of nowhere. It doesn’t happen by accident.
‘It happens because people unleash the irresistible power of their dreams and their determination.
‘Democracy is what makes it possible for hope and history to rhyme.
‘And today, hope and history lie in our hands.
‘So let’s raise up our ambitions and rise up to meet the challenges together.’
In all of this, the opposition to the Orthodox Church’s view of man’s goal, given him by God, is very pronounced. To the Declaration of Independence’s (1776) ideal of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ is Christ’s injunction that man ‘deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me’ (St Mark’s Gospel 8:34, KJV).
The Holy Apostle Paul says further, ‘“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor’ (I Cor. 10:23-4).
The other Holy Apostles and the Fathers of the Orthodox Church who have come after them are quite clear that obedience to spiritual fathers, fasting, and other acts of self-denial are necessary for attaining the holiness and union with Christ that are mankind’s true goal; such commands, however, chafe the typical rebellious American greatly.
His creed of the autonomous individual subject only to the cries of his own conscience is an abhorrent anomaly in the world. It shares the same seductive satanic spirit as Aleister Crowley’s dictum, ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’.
Because of this, the American definition of national greatness, material prosperity and hegemonic power over the world, is also lacking. The little Orthodox country of Georgia, so much persecuted by the great powers of the world over the centuries, is a wonderful foil to the American idea of greatness:
‘Having examined the history of Georgia and the hagiographical treasures attesting to the faith of the Georgian nation, we become convinced that Heavenly Georgia— the legion of Georgian saints, extolling the Lord in the Heavenly Kingdom with a single voice—is infinitely glorious. It is unknown how many cleansed themselves of their earthly sins in merciless warfare with the enemy of Christ, or how many purified their souls in unheated cells through prayer, fasting, and ascetic labors.
‘To God alone are known the names of those ascetics, forgotten by history, who by their humble labors tirelessly forged the future of the Georgian Church and people.
‘St. George of the Holy Mountain wrote: “From the time we recognized the one true God, we have never renounced Him, nor have our people ever yielded to heresy.”
‘A decree of the Church Council of Ruisi-Urbnisi states: “We will not depart from thee, the Catholic Church which bore us in holiness, nor will we betray thee, our pride—Orthodoxy—to which we have always been faithful, for we have been granted the honor to know thee, the witness of the Truth Itself!” This relationship to Orthodoxy is the cornerstone of the life of every Georgian believer.’
The American experiment is, quite simply, yet another gigantic, mesmerizing, diabolical idol, not unlike the one King Nebuchadnezzar set up in Babylon (Daniel ch. 3) – pleasing to the carnal eye with its golden exterior, it nevertheless devours with fire both those who voluntarily approach it and those who refuse to worship it, only the American idol-monster is far more destructive in its effects than King Nebuchadnezzar’s ever was. The sooner the earth is rid of it, the better.1