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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Faith-based patriot fails to pursuade

    David Gelernter, author of “”Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion,”” believes very strongly in a good many things, all of which he explains very well.

    The trouble is that most of these things contradiction another. The result is a book with no real point.

    The book’s thesis, as the title suggests, is that “”Americanism”” is a “”global religion”” that transcends America itself, to rank with Christianity, Judaism and Islam. (Or even above them: Christianity and Judaism have entries in the index, but Islam does not. “”Islamic terrorism”” does, of course.)

    Gelernter’s devotion to this creed is total. He adores it so much that he values it far, far above the mere country that allegedly created it. The creed leads him to pit himself against the very freedoms he claims to cherish.

    For Gelernter, everything good in America comes from the Bible; everything bad comes from “”secularism”” – everything that is not traceable to the Bible. Since the Founding Fathers, by and large, were not particularly religious, Gelernter can back up this claim only by making hollow claims about Thomas Jefferson’s “”respect”” for Christianity. (He respected it so much he regarded Revelation as “”the ravings of a maniac.””)

    Religious freedom in this “”biblical republic,”” Gelernter argues, simply means the freedom to choose which version of “”biblical religion”” you believe in. America, he says, “”is not unconcerned about whether you choose to be religious or an atheist”” any more than your parents are unconcerned about whom you marry.

    That rather sinister simile makes it clear that Gelernter does not cherish the republic that exists, but rather a nation that exists only in his imagination.

    He admires above all the Puritans who came to America in the 17th century and spoke of a “”city on a hill.”” He longs for a “”Bill of Duties”” to stand next to the Bill of Rights, to instruct young Americans in the noble creed of Americanism, so they can learn to be “”chivalrous”” again.

    “”Chivalry,”” in Gelernter’s view, consists of “”knocking down tyrants”” in the name of liberty. Gelernter is so taken by this notion of chivalry that he detests the idea that America could do anything for ordinary selfish reasons. He even blames FDR for not taking America into World War II before Pearl Harbor; fighting a war simply because you are attacked fails to measure up to his high standards.

    Gelernter concedes that this creed is “”controversial,”” and that it goes against “”the isolationism and antimilitarism that comes naturally to Americans.”” This is a revealing concession, for it stands in stark contradiction to Gelernter’s praise of “”America.”” What exactly is this “”Americanism”” if ordinary Americans do not espouse it? Merely a pretext for American presidents to sally forth and win glory for themselves.

    In Gelernter’s peculiarly self-contradictory vision, mere Americans are an obstruction to American greatness. The fact that his invented faith does not correspond to what Americans actually want does not deter him; like a dutiful parent, he’s determined to make everyone eat their vegetables and be chivalrous.

    Gelernter is a professor of computer science at Yale. Judging by his grasp of politics, history and mere common sense, he clearly picked the right profession.

    -Justyn Dillingham

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