Spiritual Perspectives on America's Role as Superpower
The Editors at SkyLight Paths
SkyLight Paths Publishing, 229 pages, $16.95

More than anything since the blessed collapse of the Soviet Union, the Iraq War has highlighted America's role as the world's lone superpower. In a recent Wall Street Journal, columnist Daniel Henninger explored how America rose to this role.

"Yes, the military inventory and tactical skills on display for all the world to see right now are one reason the U.S. has sole claim to the title of superpower, but that stuff's just one piece of it," Henninger wrote. "It's a social and political system rooted in mavericks, innovation, risk-taking, open intellectual argument, impatience, creative change, failure, the frontier spirit, competition, and a compulsion to get ahead."

Dennis Prager, an observant Jew and one of the few conservatives in Spiritual Perspectives on America's Role as Superpower, suggests a more spiritual reason: "There are, and have been, many Christian countries. There are many secular countries. But only America is Judeo-Christian, and it has always seen itself as such."

Others see this nation's superpower status in gloomy terms, and they protest the war as a manifestation of arrogance. Whatever Christians think about America, we face this reality: America's power is not merely a question of economic or military dominance, but also of its moral and spiritual health.

Some of the 16 contributors to this volume cite John Winthrop's concept of America as a city upon a hill, and many cite Jesus' principle that much will be required from those who have received abundantly. That principle leaves many people concerned for America's future. It's easy to find American examples of cultural self-indulgence and the intoxicating powers of an empire, and empires do not fare well in God's economy.

As Sufi sheik Kabir Helminski writes, "If the world were reduced to the scale of a neighborhood, a third of the neighborhood would be without safe drinking water, sufficient food, and adequate shelter. The United States would be an expensive apartment building with a sophisticated alarm system and armed guards."

Compared to our global neighbors, few Americans must think about whether our children will reach adulthood or whether we will become martyrs. We are more likely concerned about which restaurant to visit or what to do for weekend entertainment.

Discuss Among Yourselves

The editors at SkyLight Paths have designed this book for small groups, offering a few questions about each brief essay. The volume overly favors the cultural left, with very few of its contributors showing openness even to the concept of just war—much less to whether the Iraq War qualifies as such.

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"No blood for oil" is a cheap slogan about the Iraq War, but it could be a valid concern, if worded with greater care. Francis Schaeffer once worried that Americans would readily choose authoritarianism to preserve their personal peace and affluence.

Some contributors to this volume clearly believe that the Iraq War is strictly a matter of American self-interest. Contributors furthest to the political left deliver predictable finger-shakings in the face of the Evil Other (which, for them, means America's Republican President rather than Iraq's Republican Guard).

Rosemary Radford Ruether of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary blasts a "new alliance of the Christian right, with its wars on gays, feminists, and reproductive rights, with national security and free trade neoconservatives," which contributed to "the nonelection of George W. Bush in 2000." She is displeased by "hard-right ideologues" because they see the world through a lens of good versus evil.

Essays by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh and liberal Catholic Wayne Teasdale leave the impression that the universe would be more balanced if only President Bush were a Buddhist instead of a Christian.

But John Wilson, editor of CT's sister publication Books & Culture, contributes a helpful dose of realism: "Far from being doomed to sentimentality, a Christian understanding of politics—and hence a Christian perspective on America's role as a superpower—must begin with our fallenness, a condition that results not only in tragedy but also in dark absurdity."

One priest, William McD. Tully of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Manhattan, delivers the most honest reflections on the inescapability of using force in this dangerous world. He quotes from one of his sermons: "Who among us would not use force to protect our children and others in our household—or even in a flash to guard our property? … though Christianity began as, and has often been, the cradle of prophetic pacifism, it's very tough to practice a radically consistent nonviolence—at least if you are honest enough to begin with yourself."

Beatrice Bruteau, author of What We Can Learn From the East, uses plenty of globalist jargon in her chapter, but her closing sentences are stirring: "It is not an honor or a victory or a success story to be the superpower. If it has to be, then we have to shoulder it as a terribly serious task. To what do we now devote ourselves? We can't be local any longer. We have to care for the whole world."

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Tully, Prager, and Unitarian pastor Forrest Church could expand their essays into book-length reflections on how being a superpower is both a daunting responsibility and fraught with temptations. For now, this volume has begun an important conversation, in which evangelicals need to play a larger role, about what America is and what it can yet become.

Douglas LeBlanc edits The CT Review.

Related Elsewhere

Spiritual Perspectives on America's Role as Superpower is available at Amazon.com.

In March, Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger wrote, "Why We're No. 1."

For more reviews, see Christianity Today'sBooks archive.

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