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December 11, 2009


The Fourth Great Western Religion
David Gelernter 9780385513128

No matter how convinced you are about the secular foundation of America, if you still believe that on completion of this tome it will have been accomplished by willful misunderstanding of the facts as exposed by Gelernter!

Gelernter was one of the first victims of the Unabomber, and suffered grievous wounds which left him badly crippled, but he has resurrected himself from the awful consequences of that act to become a well recognized writer, as he continues to be a noteworthy professor of computer technology. This is one of his best books; clear, concise, well written and meaningful. He refuses to apologize for the America most of us love, which pleased me immensely.

This Jewish man begins with a message for the Christians of America: "You built America and Americanism. In so doing you gave mankind one of the greatest gifts it has ever received. Do not allow yourselves to be spiritually disposed in your own homes! This country will never have an established, official religion; it will never abandon religious freedom. But neither should it be allowed to abandon its history and origins, or lie about them. Christians are (rightly) prohibited to preach Christianity in public schools; secularists should be prohibited to preach secularism, too!" (Emphasis in the original)

While we are used to hearing that the basis of any Creed is philosophical, our creed is, at root, religious. "The intensity of belief in the [American] Creed among people who have never heard a philosophical argument in their lives belies the assertion that these ideas are 'philosophical.'" In his Gettysburg Address Lincoln "built out of words a sacred shrine" for our fundamental tenets, and it is "one of the most beautiful shrines mankind has ever seen, and one of the holiest."

Those of us who accept Americanism simply believe her principles to be true, not because anyone argued philosophically that this is so. He continues by showing how the Bible and Puritanism molded America, including the south--Anglicans notwithstanding. Indeed, as modern Puritan country becomes more liberal, the south stands strong. Further, contrary to received wisdom, America was founded by religious fanatics. The Puritans were zealously dedicated to their God, but quite different from modern Islamic fanatics who murder as they claim to be doing God's work--"a slander on every religious believer who ever lived."

Others are proud of their countries, but few are able to recite the principles upon which their nations were founded . . . because there are none. Other countries are based upon shared descent or ethnicity, or were cobbled together by conquest or decree. America is more, and she is a biblical, not secular republic.

Liberty, equality and democracy were ordained by God for all mankind; Americanism is humane in the best sense. While you can believe in Americanism without believing in God, you cannot, without believing in man. And you must not neglect the fact that America grew on "a strong Judeo-Christian stem, rooted in the rich, deep soil of the Bible."

These and other facts are argued persuasively between the covers of this brilliant book, emphasizing that one of the all-important missing ingredients in American intellectuals' worldview today--and far too many of our young--is chivalry (in its largest sense.) Chivalry itself is biblical and worthy of armed defense. Valor, honor, bravery and heroism are Godly causes, though most American intellectuals draw a blank when you mention these things." (See my relevant review of the book Honor, a History)

Traditional business, commerce and hard work are more reputable in America than in Europe--or in most of the rest of the world for that matter. Having learned at Plymouth Plantation that socialism didn't work, personal responsibility was found to encourage all hands to be industrious. Property, comfort, even honor were to be earned, not passed along by progenitors as was the case in Europe.

Most think the Declaration of Independence and the Revolution were rational, secular and "Enlightenment" in spirit. Not so. The cousins, Puritanism and American Zionism, were crucial. The first written constitution of modern democracy was inspired not by democratic Athens, or republican Rome, or Enlightenment philosophy or British commercial practice, but by a Puritan (Thomas Hooker of Hartford, CT in 1638) preacher's interpretation of a verse in the Hebrew Bible: "The choice of public magistrate belongs unto the people by God's own allowance . . . The foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people."

He lectures on the religion of the founders as well as Lincoln, indicating that Lincoln's second Inaugural Address is the incandescent core of the American Religion. Abe "transformed Americanism into a full-fledged, mature religion--not by causing America to embody its noble ideals, but by teaching the nation that it ought to embody them. "In the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural, Lincoln produced the two greatest sacred narratives in the English language (outside of the English Bible itself.)" He was inspired by the Puritan message, and delivered it in the language of Americanism, marking the evolution of one to the other. Lincoln achieved the completion of the creation of Americanism which exceeds mere patriotism and philosophic doctrine. He didn't Christianize America; rather, he Americanized Christianity. His martyrdom was catastrophic, politically and in human terms, but in religions terms it sealed his achievement. He deserves to be remembered as the most important religions figure America has ever produced.

At Gettysburg he commented on the new birth of America. In actuality it was the third birth:
• The first was the arrival of Puritans in the new world
• The second was the revolution and independence
• The third was the freeing of the slaves
Each was a monumental event in world history, and illuminated the biblical text: let my people go.

Gelernter goes on to review in some detail subsequent history, noting that the First World War authored the modern world, as it cemented American dominance of the world thereafter. As well it confirmed modern Americanism and with it, modern anti-Americanism.

European nations tended to feel guilty, drifted toward pacifism and appeasement. They learned that war was unthinkably awful, pacifism was mandatory, nationalism was dangerous and that world organizations like the League of Nations and the UN were mankind's only hope. Americans had no such crisis of conscience--"a hugely important fact that continues to shape world politics to this day." America had done nothing to start or fuel the war and had not rejoiced when it started. We helped the Allies to win, then came home to forget about it. Most Americans, he comments, remember WW I -the "war to end all wars" -- only because there was a WW II.

And the end of the Cold War with the dissolution of the USSR, in fact, represented the long delayed end of WW II. That war was, in reality, the "semi-finals in a long match for world domination." While America and the allies contributed mightily to winning the war, it must be acknowledged that the USSR was the main player, and it transformed the USSR from a staggering ex-empire to a superpower with only one serious rival on earth.

"Europe today is essentially the Europe that emerged from the First World War." The similarity is amazing, with its love of self-determination and its loathing of imperialism and war; its liberal Germany and its weak, shrunken Russia; its map crammed with small states; its causal, endemic anti-Semitism; its politically, financially and masochistically rewarding fascination with Muslim states that despise it; its undertone of self hatred and guile, and of course its contempt for America.

Europe's passion for appeasement, born of WW I, is now back in vogue. Rather than challenge or defeat one's enemies, placate them and make them your friends. More than a little of their disdain for America is that the American mainstream, with equal passion, studiously--even contemptuously--rejects appeasement.

To understand the Vietnam War's effect on the U.S. one needs recognize that it was our WW I. American intellectuals responded by preaching appeasement and pacifism. They still do. Conservative Americans still believe in Americanism. Liberals do not. Their attitudes are dominated by four falsehoods

• We were wrong to fight the communists in the first place since they only wanted what was best for their country
• The war was unwinnable and we had no business sending our men to a war they were bound to lose.
• As the people learned the facts they turned against the war and forced our withdrawal from Vietnam
• The real heroes of Vietnam were the protesters and draft resisters who forced America to give up a disastrously wrong policy

He deals with each of these "falsehoods" in sufficient detail to justify the fact that they are false, as he emphasizes that they weren't necessarily wrongheaded during the war, but it now requires a mighty act of will to maintain such pristine ignorance.

Americans continue overwhelmingly to believe in God, much to the bemusement and frustration of the intellectual and secular classes. The founders believed that a religious public was necessary for our way of government/life. Ultimately morality can get no purchase without religion. Without divinity to hold on to, morality is like a first-time roller skater trying but failing to avoid falling. Secularists have left morality behind. They foresee a society where human rights replace human duties, where only the state has obligations as the bovine citizenry relaxes and permits the government to take care of everything. Secular ethics suggests that we must be "careful, and mature, and imaginative, and fair and nice, and lucky." Nothing there is inspiring, noble or even difficult. Nothing exhorts us to be generous or just, decent, honest or kind; gracious or merciful, patriotic or brave; loving or good. All of that is biblical, and part of the American Creed

Someday soon someone will remind this whole nation that tolerance is American but secularism is not. Absolute religious freedom is American but contempt for religion is not. Religious doubt is American but religious indifference is not. Heated religious debate is American but cold academic disdain is not. Chivalry is American but complacency is not.

Six cheers and a 42 gun salute for and to "Americanism." This is a profoundly moving book which properly dispels any notion that America is wrong, or evil, or in need of the changes to be wrought by secularism and the modernity proposed by the left.

Read it. Enjoy it. Think on it. It is well worth the time, the effort and the indulgence. If you are not already so inclined you might even be moved to again love our country. And be willing to fight for it, by debate or by force of arms. America is indisputably worth it!

PS: sorry this review is so long, but it was necessary to properly address this masterpiece.

Posted by Curmudgeon at December 11, 2009 3:47 PM