"Americanity" is a secularized version of what Carl F. Ellis, in Free At Last describes as "Christianity-ism," which is the worship of Christianity, as opposed to the actual practice of Christianity. As I attempt to navigate that tricky nexus between religion and politics, it seems that there is frequently some confusion between true Christianity and the worship of America and/or the worship of the religion of Christianity. My first exposure to the idea of the differentiation came when I was 14. I read "Black Power and the American Christ" on the way to Philadelphia and right away, I knew I was on to something. Biblical Jesus would never condone slavery, particularly as it was practiced in the West; American Jesus was all for it. The essay didn't question Jesus but it did question his "followers'" commitment to Him, as opposed to their commitment to themselves and their way of life and their willingness to use Jesus to justify what they were doing. The following quote is from Mattias Gardell's book, In The Name Of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan And The Nation Of Islam
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.
If anybody wants to question the veracity of what Gardell says about the exaltation of American individuals and documents as near-canonical, just look at the names of American history textbooks. For a math book, I might get "Statistics" or "Multivariate Statistics," if they get expansive. History? From McGraw Hill/Glencoe we get, "History of a Free Nation" and "The American Odyssey." In other words, we are expected to take the "official" version of American history as gospel truth; there is no valid reason to question the moral consistency of the Founding Fathers. Hence the consistent need to define the United States in Judeo-Christian terms. And really, I don't even disagree that there is a strong religious theme in the documents that define our country. I wouldn't even question that there is a definite Judeo-Christian foundation. That ain't the only foundation, though. For as much as America was founded in pursuit of religious freedom, etc., etc., it was also founded in pursuit of profit. America is now as it has always been, about the dollar. Of course there are always other considerations, but whatever the intention, noble or ignoble, the economic aspect provides tension. Everybody talks about the 3/5 compromise because of what it literally meant, but why compromise in the first place? If, as was actually the case, many of the delegates from the free(er) states did not want to allow slavery under the new government, why did they do it? Why include the slave-holding states? Can't tax 'em if they're not included. But that's not all there is to it. I just looked at a site called Accuracy in Academia, where the author of this article claims that Christianity is a neglected motivating force in American history. Luckily for me, he uses Christopher Columbus, which more than makes my case for me. Even as Columbus was giving thanks to God, he and his men were slaughtering natives for less than nothing. If Christianity is about talking it, then what's all the fuss about Bill Clinton? If it's about what you do, then America was never fully a Christian nation. That doesn't mean it's not a great place to live (now, at least), but it does mean that we don't need to make up stories about how great and magnificent we are while trying to ignore the parts of the story that don't fit that framework. Likewise, that movie about the Alamo is coming out. Wanna know one of the main reasons Texas wanted to secede from Mexico? They wanted to be able to keep slaves. Remember the Alamo. How about know the Alamo. I mentioned in my post on Black History Month that people don't really know American history. They know the version whose purpose is to inculcate them to the "Americanity." The most disturbing thing to me is that some people, when confronted with the facts of Columbus' actions, make accusations of "revisionist" history, like what's being said is inaccurate. My point here is not to venerate or vilify Christopher Columbus or any other figure in Amerian history but to say that if we taught history instead of Americanity, there would be no need for correcting the historical narratives we know. Seriously. If we're supposed to be representing Christianity, then we can't hold on to Americanity; we can't venerate the heroes without addressing their shortcomings as well. They were men. If the Bible details the shortcomings of every figure except Jesus, who had no shortcomings to detail, then why do we try to pretend like the Founding Fathers were flawless? David doesn't stop being Israel's best king because of the situation with Bathsheeba. Acknowledging that American figures had conflicts and contradictions wouldn't hurt them either. We still do the same thing, by the way. When I talked about Paul Robeson before, I mentioned that many people pay homage to Muhammad Ali because he was willing to risk everything he had earned for what he believed. What they don't realize is that if Big George had pummeled Ali in 1974, Ali would be an afterthought today. Furthermore, most of the people who write abut Ali these days attempt to gloss over his treatment of Joe Frazier, lumping it in with all Ali's other pre-fight antics. While acknowledging that Ali was pure-D wrong for his treatment of Frazier may diminish his legend somewhat, it's the truth. That's what we should be shooting for.