One name appears in every speech pronounced by the president of the United States (of
America): the name of God. This direct line from the United States to God sounds
very strange to foreign ears. Here in Western Europe you will almost never hear a politician
invoke the name of God, because he represents the citizens of his country, and these citizens
either think God doesn't exist or do not agree on his nature. So why is God so present in
American culture and politics?
It is necessary to understand that a certain feeling is attached to the way the USA see
themselves, which is little known in Europe. That feeling is: We have been chosen by God to
achieve a task in America, we are the new Hebrews. "God hath opened this passage unto
us," Alexander Whitaker preached in 1613, "and led us by the hand unto this work."
The expedition of the Mayflower, often considered as the origin of the American people, was
initiated for religious reasons by Separatists from Holland and England, in the same way
as Israel was founded by the Hebrews leaving Egypt.
As always with religion, this divine mission both pushed the people to the good and justified
the worst. "We cannot but acknowledge that God hath graciously patronized our cause and
taken us under his special care, as he did his ancient covenant people", said Samuel
Langdon in 1788. The mission could apply to a specific part of the people. See for example
John Ford's beautiful movie, The Wagon Master: it shows very well how the Mormons
dared to go west in the most difficult conditions to settle in places that God had given to
them. This idea was probably one of the reasons behind the fabulous destiny of that country
(along with the historical chance of living in a vast and rich country with peaceful or weak
On the dark side, the divine mission theory was used as an excuse to destroy the preexisting
people. In the same way as Israel had taken its territory from the Canaanites after leaving
Egypt, the American-English felt entitled to take the land of the Indians according to God's
will. After an Indian village was destroyed, Ezra Stiles explained that "George
Washington was the `American Joshua,` and never was the possession of arms used with more
glory or for a better cause, since the days of Joshua." That theory was later known as
Manifest Destiny: the natural territory of the (European-)American people would and
should expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
This idea of God choosing the people of America is as strong today as it was three centuries
ago. In 1983, President Reagan explained that fighting Russia was a mission
given by God: "Therefore, this country is compelled by scripture and the Lord Jesus Christ
to oppose Russia with all military and political means."
It was easy for some people to interpret the September 11th
terrorist attacks from a religious point of view. In the same way as Israel, according to the
Old Testament, won the battles when it obeyed God and lost them when it rejected him,
America was victim of a foreign attack because it had misbehaved in the eyes of God. Reverend
Jerry Falwell explained that the people who promote a behaviour contrary to God's teaching
"have removed our nation from its relationship with Christ on which it was founded".
These people are "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays
and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU,
People For the American Way". According to Falwell, even if these people are not namely
responsible for the events, the situation "created an environment which possibly has caused
God to lift the veil of protection which has allowed no one to attack America on our soil since
1812." Falwell spoke exactly like the prophets in Ancient Israel.
Maybe the average American, if asked "Do you think your country has been chosen by God just
like Israel in the Old Testament?", will answer "No, of course not, " but this kind of idea
is so deeply entrenched in the national spirit that it comes back instinctively when facing
other nations or extraordinary events like the September 11th attacks. In the same way, I feel
very patriotic, to my own surprise, when I hear a foreigner criticize my country, even when he
uses the very words I would use to complain about my country in another context.
So the idea that a country may be chosen by God, especially the rich and violent United States,
is difficult to understand from a European point of view. Everybody would laugh if a politician or
a religious leader said that his country holds a particular position with regard to God.
However some old European countries feel they may have a mission, as long as it is not
related to religion: French leaders, for example, tend or pretend to think their mission
consists in bringing Freedom, Human Rights and Culture to the world, which may look
ridiculous from the outside because France, which seems so large when you're inside, looks very
small on a map of the world. In such cases, mankind is involved, not religion. Remember that if
you wonder why European countries favor Israel less than the United States do: they will not
accept religion as a valid reason for holding special rights.
The first Americans probably inherited this feeling of being chosen from their English culture. Read Noung's writeup about Israel.