- Created: Monday, 02 April 2012 12:20
Quite often today, it seems, phrases like, or similar to, "our American way of life" are being used by commentators, historians and journalists, as well as by ordinary rank-and-file observers of the passing scene.
Such phrases are literally overfilled not only with meaning, but also with endless questions. "Is America really a melting pot, or is it rather a mosaic?" is one such inquiry heard or seen almost at every turn.
"Our American Way of Life"? The famed sociologist of religion, Will Herberg (d. 1977), wrestled with this subject in what is still indispensable reading for Americans in general; namely, Protestant-Catholic-Jew (Doubleday, 1955). Even after over a half century, Professor Herberg’s thoughts help us probe seriously the questions he posed. "Spiritually," he wrote, "the American Way of Life is best expressed in a certain kind of ‘idealism’ which has come to be recognized as characteristically American. It is a faith that has its symbols and rituals, its holidays and its liturgy, its saints and its sancta; and it is a faith that every American, to the degree that he is an American, knows and understands."
For Professor Herberg, the American Way acknowledges the intrinsic dignity of each person; likewise, the God-given freedom to forge ahead, while observing the ethics of self-reliance, merit, a sense of responsibility and sound character. Actual "deeds," and not merely "creeds," are relentlessly sought after.
Also, the American Way of Life is humanitarian (in service to others) and, despite an obvious sense of pragmatism, refreshingly idealistic. Here Dwight D. Eisenhower’s words are cited: "The things that make us proud to be Americans are of the soul and of the spirit."
Exceptions, of course, occur with regularity. But the noble vision at large is commonplace, as American history attests. All one need do to test this observation is to read or reread America’s literary classics; Willa Cather’s O Pioneers, for instance; or Death Comes for the Archbishop. Think also of Rölvaag’s (d. 1931) Giants in the Earth.
American history and literature remind us of the first New England colonists’ dreams of a new "Promised Land" – the novus ordo seclorum inscribed on the Great Seal of the United States. In America a new world was born and cradled; a world that has been – in Professor Herberg’s words – "continuously nourished through the many decades of immigration into the present century by the residual hopes and expectations of the immigrants." And these "hopes and expectations" still remain "pervasive in American life, hardly shaken by the new shape of the world and the challenge of the new orders."
The American Way of Life? It begins and rests with religion; the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is at its core. Religion is always the heart of culture.
Hence a "war against religion" in America is not only patently unconstitutional. It is also absurd, since it means that America is undermining its very self.