Who Are Americans?
Nations around the world are suffering from identity crises. Perhaps it began two decades ago, when the last European holdouts were dragged in and the European Union was finally established, a move described by one journalist as "the triumph of the Eurocrats over the peoples of Europe." More recently, The New York Times reported on France's efforts to articulate its national identity. Soon thereafter, controversy erupted when Switzerland banned the construction of Muslim minarets. The Times and Forbes have reported on identity crises facing South Korea and China, as immigration makes largely homogenous nations increasingly diverse.
All these reports raise the question, "Who are we?"—which is also the title of scholar Samuel P. Huntington's final and most prophetic book. "The more general causes of these … questionings," wrote Huntington, "include the emergence of a global economy, tremendous improvements in communications and transportation, rising levels of migration, [and] the global expansion of democracy …."
There's also an identity crisis bubbling just under the surface in the United States.
Huntington documents several challenges to a cohesive sense of American identity. First, while early settlers and immigrants were never ethnically homogenous, they largely traded in the same Anglo-Protestant cultural currency. But as 21st-century demographic trends increasingly draw people from other quadrants of the world, shared cultural assumptions erode.
Exacerbating the problem is a rise in dual citizenship and more subnational identities, which have created divided loyalties. Meanwhile, in the business community, an increasingly globalized economy has caused leaders to adopt a more transnational identity, what some call "Davos man." And aside from a temporary resurgence of patriotism after September 11, Huntington documents how academic elites have led the way in devaluing patriotism and American history.
We rightly pride ourselves on our multiethnic, multiracial society. But as our society grows ever more diverse, how will we understand our national identity?
Huntington poses four possible solutions. The first is a creedal community whose identity exists only in a social contract embodied in the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents. This has historically provided cohesion. The next option is a bifurcated America, one that is bilingual and bicultural like Canada or Belgium. The third option is an exclusivist or imperial notion of America. And the last alternative, the one Huntington clearly favored, is a reinvigorated core culture and religion coupled with the earlier solution of a reinvigorated creedal community.
Can a Christian worldview inform us as we wrestle with our national identity?
Any kind of racially or ethnically intolerant society would be incompatible with Christian principles.
Further, we know that the core values of our creeds, which in particular promote the dignity of all people, resonate with Scripture and are worth preserving. American patriotism does not rest on jingoistic nationalism but on a universal creed that says, "All men are … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."
Liberty is one of those unalienable rights. And this core value, also emphasized in Scripture, teaches us that we cannot force beliefs on others. Our founders understood, however, that freedom of religion is not synonymous with expunging religion from public life, a problem that I and others addressed last fall in the Manhattan Declaration. So if Huntington is in fact right that the U.S. needs a reinvigorated religious commitment, it won't come from a nation-mandated religion but rather from a reinvigorated populace.
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