The American Spirit vs. Woke-ism
A Nation Founded on a Creed
The founding of the American nation was a profoundly spiritual event. As the English author G.K. Chesterton noted a century ago, “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.”
At the time, all European states were based on a common ethnicity. Blood, language, and shared historical experience defined those nations. America’s founding based solely on a common set of beliefs stood alone among the nations of the world.
How could such a nation determine who belonged and who did not? That is not a technical or legal question of determining who qualifies for U.S. citizenship. It’s a metaphysical, philosophical question that goes straight to the heart of what it means to be “an American.”
The answer lies at the very start of the document that declared the American nation into existence: The Declaration of Independence. The Declaration’s establishment of a new nation based on a common set of beliefs, or creed, is hardly subtle.
Ponder for a moment the meaning of “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In 1776 there was nothing remotely self-evident about equality or rights. No society had ever been organized along those lines before. An actual “self-evident truth” is an assertion that all would acknowledge, and few would bother debating. “That all men are created equal” was not self-evident at the time either . To get a better understanding of this new creed, we need to start by asking what was Jefferson thinking when he wrote these words?
What Jefferson Meant
Jefferson’s curious phrasing is deeply profound. He put forth that the only bonds for this new nation was this creed. It defined the new American nation. As with the core beliefs of all faiths or ideologies, certain core axioms are “self-evident” only among the faithful. God gave the Torah to the children of Israel at Sinai? God sent His only Son to die for our sins? There is no God but God and Mohammed is His prophet? All of these beliefs are accepted and understood truths only among believers.
So too with the American Declaration. The defining principle of the American system is “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Don’t believe it? You’re not an American. We wish you well, but you don’t belong to our nation, even if you’re a U.S. citizen. It really is not more complicated than that.
Much as nations born of blood defend the blood, a nation born by creed must defend the creed. An American nation where its defining self-evident truths are optional is an American nation on the brink of extinction. A nation founded on creed must demand allegiance to its founding creed or that nation will cease to exist.
The American nation was not really founded without a religion as many today claim. A “religion” is little more than an expanded creed plus a set of rituals and practices. The American creed is far simpler, far shorter, and far less demanding than the creeds of any pre-existing faith traditions. It is, however, quite real. Full membership in the American nation may not demand much, but it does demand something. It demands fidelity to the basic defining creed of the Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson didn’t create that creed from whole cloth; he extracted it from the core ethical foundations of the biblical tradition. Per the Declaration, full membership in the American nation requires faith in a Creator, natural law, the inherent equality of all humans, and a set and individual rights. It recognizes no divine authority in government, which is a man-made entity, whose sole purpose is supposed to be securing those natural rights. It promises to welcome as equals all people who share these beliefs and are capable of building upon our shared ethical platform. It is THAT creed which defines America’s spiritual underpinnings and what the American spirit is.
America’s Spiritual Platform
The American spirit is also incomplete by design. It was built as a framework and foundation broad enough to embrace Americans arriving from every faith tradition of which the founders were aware but as important, not necessarily every denominational interpretation or every practice of every faith tradition. It presumed that most Americans would indeed adhere to a faith tradition, even if nominally, and that most of the remainder would seek connection, guidance, and completion in civil society organizations. Only the combination of that uniquely American platform and a faith tradition (or a civil substitute) could meet the full range of human ethical, spiritual, and communal needs.
There are many anti-biblical traditions that have sprung forth after the Declaration. Woke-ism is but the latest example in this long line of failed utopian traditions, whose creed and practices are incompatible with the American creed. In recent history, Communism and Fascism are the two most prominent examples. Woke-ism, which also seeks to impose its beliefs and practices on all Americans, threatens to become another.
Stopping the onslaught of Woke-ism is only part of the challenge. To prevail, we must reconnect with the spirit of our founding. This essay series will explore the three prongs of the challenge we face if we are to remain an American nation in more than just name. One, we are mired in a deep spiritual crisis. Two, Woke-ism is a new religion that has arisen to meet the spiritual need of the most spirit-starved Americans. Three, only a revival of America’s founding spirit can preserve the American nation and the American republic.