Land That I Love: Part 7 - A Beacon
"America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” - Alexis de Tocqueville
There is much to love about America. I’ve tried—and I feel as if I’ve been trying to paint the Sistine Chapel with crayons—to articulate the sentiment that has grabbed me, the stirring in my soul regarding this great nation. I don’t love everything about her. I don’t condone everything she’s done. I don’t agree with everything legislated by Congress or adjudicated by the Supreme Court or voiced under protection of the First Amendment. But there is much that I love, from the God-revering documents on which this nation is founded to the freedoms and rights I exercise daily without even recognizing them, from the innovators and inventors who have achieved the incredible and unbelievable to a military that is strong enough and brave enough to keep us safe, and from the majestic, wide-ranging landscapes to the heart and soul of the American people. To borrow the motto of my home state, there is no place like America.
If you’re reading this in Canada or Mexico, in Europe or South America, in Africa, Asia, or Australia, my goal is not to belittle your country or your way of life. Perhaps your chest swells when you hear your national anthem and see your colors hoisted. That’s great! It should. Maybe your culture and your heritage bring you great pride and honor. Outstanding! I don’t want to nitpick and disparage. But I do hope that those of you in other countries—and particularly your leaders—would be inspired to pursue the same freedom that provides opportunity that leads to accomplishment as we have here in America. I hope that you will embrace the principles and ideals that have made America great, just as I would hope America would adopt and integrate those qualities at which your nation excels.
But this series of essays has been written with an internal mindset. It’s geared for folks in Seattle and Miami, Boston and San Diego, from Dallas to Denver and New York to Chicago, in all the small towns and rural communities, and across the open countryside in between. I want those of us here in America, who live in the land of the free, to embrace it. Yes, we should criticize when criticism is warranted. But we should do so constructively. Yes, we should point out flaws and failures. But we should do with a mind toward mending them. However, we should also focus and draw attention to the successes, to the benefits, to the values of America. We should celebrate and cherish this homeland—its freedoms and opportunities and accomplishments, its privileges, its responsibilities, its land, its people, its indomitable spirit—and do so unabashedly. We should do so proudly. We should also do so circumspectly, with sober realization that we did not create these rights and freedoms and that if we aren’t careful, they could be taken away.
I’ve said it again and again: America is not perfect. I’ve never claimed so. No nation’s flag has ever been raised higher than all others, has flapped in the breeze with moral superiority. America is no different, no better than any other in this regard. But America is no worse. She is not a blight on the world, as some would claim. Opponents of America can point to a long list of wrongs and errors, born of affluence and autonomy. And they’re right. Just like I could pick out any other country and point to a list of wrongs and injustices and mistakes directly correlated to their system of government, social status, or culture. I tend to believe that America has less faults and flaws than most other nations, but if we engage in a mud-slinging contest, we’ll both get quite dirty. And to do so would miss the point of these essays. It is not that America is inherently better than everybody else, but that the idea behind her is grander and loftier. Or, to quote the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”
America isn’t the world’s savior. The flaws and failures, the imperfections and injustices of mankind can’t be erased by a nationality, by a flag or an anthem, or even a Constitution or Bill of Rights. Only Jesus Christ can take away sins. And only when He reigns with an iron scepter will all wrongs be righted. Until that day, we are in darkness. We are limited by human beings, who being human, are going to fail. They will lie, cheat, steal, become corrupt. And the more power they have, the more they will lie, cheat, steal, and become corrupt. This is what our founding fathers realized. They knew they couldn’t create a perfect system of government where imperfect people were involved. That’s why they set up a system of checks and balances. That’s why they limited the powers of the government, lest abuses be carried out. That’s why they appealed to an Almighty God. To again quote de Tocqueville: “The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other.”(1)
Held high in the arms of the Statue of Liberty is a torch. And it is that torch that is so perfectly symbolic of America. She is not a savior. She is not a utopian state. Rather, she is a beacon, a light showing the way. Showing, in a corrupt world, a highest ideal of how to live, how to govern, how to rely on a set of values and beliefs derived from the Creator. She is an unprecedented idea, one which has inspired for centuries, and she is an example of that idea, put into practice over and over again. Sometimes that light has flickered. Sometimes the gloom has nearly obscured her. She has been spit upon, blown at by gale-force winds, covered and doused and hidden, but she has not been snuffed out. No, she continues to blaze. As Francis Scott Key looked through the gloom of dawn and exclaimed, “O say does that start-spangled banner yet wave,” so can we look through the darkest of night and still see a torch on the horizon, a light shining brightly, a beacon showing us the way.
And it is because America is a beacon, and because of so many other points I’ve just touched upon in these essays—our freedoms, our accomplishments, our people, our land and its resources, our indomitable spirit—that she is indeed the land that I love.
1. De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America, Volume I. London: Saunders and Oltey, 1835-1840.