What Makes America Great?
It's Three Intangibles and One Tangible Factor
What is it about America? Why do we love it so? Why are patriots willing to die for it? Why have people for hundreds of years walked, crawled, swam, sailed and flown to get here, in search of a better life? Why does hardly anyone ever leave? Why do immigrants cry with joy when they receive their American citizenship? Why do most of us thrill to the sight of our flag, and to the sound of our National Anthem, or a song like “God Bless Americas,” or “America the Beautiful,” or Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA?” So, what is it? What makes America so special? What makes it so great?
It’s not great because of American presidents, American politicians, American pastors or American educators. As proud as I am to be called an American, the American people do not, inherently, make America great. Don’t get me wrong, I love my fellow Americans, but I’ve traveled the world, and people are pretty much people everywhere. American people are not inherently that much greater than Irish, Indians, or Indonesians. American people are not innately smarter, kinder, big hearted, more loving or more generous than Africans, Algerians or Afghans. I suspect you’ve seen that even accounting for cultural and political differences, folks are pretty much folks wherever you go.
America is not great because of our wealth or our natural resources. It’s not great because of our schools, It’s not great because of our military might. It’s not great because of our technological advancements.
What makes America great are three intangibles: Hierarchy, Ideals and Aspirations. Plus, one tangible: Action.
To understand what makes America great, we have to start at the beginning. We have to start with God. About now, some people will bail out because they say they don’t believe in God, or they don’t want to hear a bunch of God-talk. Here’s the thing, for some reason, God set the up the deal so you and I have the option to choose to believe in Him or not. You have permission to disbelieve, but you might want to consider that carefully. What if you’re wrong? It could be an eternally costly mistake. See, the Bible says that even the demons believe, they just rebel and choose not to follow God.
If you refuse to believe or even consider believing in God, then the rest of this article will seem foolish. But even that the Bible predicts: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’" 1 Corinthians 1: 18 – 19.
In the beginning there was God. God created everything. Thus, as creator, God is superior to everything in the universe. God created the earth and everything in it. God created men and women, making us in God’s own image. He did not make us God, just in His image. Thus, as creator, God is superior to the earth and everything in it, including people. “Opposition to truth cannot be excused on the basis of ignorance, because from the creation of the world, the invisible qualities of God’s nature have been made visible, such as his eternal power and transcendence. He has made his wonderful attributes easily perceived, for seeing the visible makes us understand the invisible. So then, this leaves everyone without excuse.” Romans 1:20 TPT
God is in charge and throughout the ages when people followed Him, things usually went pretty well. When they did not, things, as is said for a reason, “went to hell.” The Bible tells the story of God’s people and how they would follow and then fall away, time and time again. It is also the story of God’s faithfulness.
We are not in charge. We are not God. We can’t even make our own heart beat. We’re a couple of pulses and a couple puffs of air away from death at all times. We can’t create a tree, fabricate a rabbit or cause a tomato plant to grow. We are not in charge. We exist through God’s grace. When we try to take control of things, we inevitably mess it up and chaos ensues. Our nice little controlled world begins to unravel and fall apart.
God’s universe, on the other hand is not in chaos, it’s a universe in order. Everything hangs together according to a unique design. Honest scientists agree. As Max Planck, the Nobel Prize winning physicist who made the crucial scientific contribution of founding quantum physics wrote: “Both religion and science require a belief in God. For believers, God is in the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations… To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view. There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other. Every serious and reflective person realizes, I think, that the religious element in his nature must be recognized and cultivated if all the powers of the human soul are to act together in perfect balance and harmony. And indeed, it was not by accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were deeply religious souls.”
God’s universe is a universe of order, and He establishes an order, a hierarchy through people on earth. Americans, with our independent spirits, don’t necessarily like conceding God is in charge, or that there is a hierarchy between people on earth. The petulant childhood phrase, “You’re not the boss of me!” resounds all too often in the attitudes of supposedly “grown up” Americans. But the Bible teaches differently.
“Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So, live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear. Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live. That’s also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders.” Romans 13: 1-7 MSG
One caveat to this, of course, is that the leaders are to keep everything in right order, honoring God and governing according to His will and His ways. Otherwise, chaos and evil are the result.
That said, one of the things that makes America great, and one of the reasons so many people want to live here, is the way we establish our hierarchy, through our form of government - a constitutional republic. We elect our leaders and our constitution guides and constrains them. More on that in a minute. America is not the land of dictators or royalty. In America, we don’t work for our leaders, they work for us. They are “hired” though our votes to fulfill our desires. Do they always do so? Sadly, no. Do they always put God first and govern according to His will and His ways? Sadly, no. However, we have a system and a hierarchy and an order to our government that is unique in all the world, and the envy of people around the globe.
Therefore, part of what makes America great is our Hierarchy. But it’s more than that. There’s also our Ideals.
America was founded as a Christian nation. Therefore, we must go back to the beginning. We must go back to the source document for the American ideals, which is the Bible. Early in the Old Testament, God gave His people the Ten Commandments in order to guide them into right behavior:
“Don’t put other gods before the one and only creator God. Don’t create idols to worship. Don’t take the name of God in vain. Remember and keep the Sabbath. Honor your father and mother. Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t covet.”
Even though people broke the Ten Commandments consistently, they became the basis for Judeo-Christian law. Thousands of years passed. God was still in charge. Men floundered on. The Ten Commandments persisted, however, as foundational to the morals, laws and expected behavior for human society. They still stand today.
Then God’s Son came to earth and added His perspectives and His commands: “Follow me. Love God and love people.” “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I grew up in a native American culture and I love the indigenous people of America. However, America was colonized and settled primarily by Europeans, most of whom were Christians, or at least most early immigrants came out of a nominally Christian culture. About 2.6 million of them flooded to America from the 1400’s – 1800’s, in the greatest period of migration up to that time. They came for four reasons:
Although only a few hundred years ago, the world was much different then. It was a world of tyranny, royalty, government and religious oppression and slavery. On that note, we need to remember that during that same time period, about 8.8 million enslaved Africans were forcibly moved to America and treated brutally. Even many of our founding fathers were slave holders. Often, women and children were considered possessions. It was, sadly, the situation back then. In many ways, it was an ugly time.
But the ideals that arose out of that ugly time are immensely relevant to what makes America great. Our country rose out of oppression, as men and women sought economic, religious and political freedom with a passion born out of the pain of tyranny.
Thus, on July 4, 1776, the Congress of the thirteen American states unanimously declared independence from Great Britain:
“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's Godentitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience has shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States.”
“We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare:”
“That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
So that’s how America began. It began on an ideal, the likes of which the world had never seen. Were the men making the declaration perfect? Of course not. While declaring “all men are created equal,” women and people of color were conspicuously absent. Were the founders perfect in their faith? Of course not. However, the ideal was divinely inspired. And it continued to be through the writing of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Although the US Constitution was heavily influenced by concepts expressed by “common law,” extending back to 1066 and the Magna Carta in the 1500s, no Constitution and no Bill of Rights like that of the United States has ever been constructed and sustained in all human history. It is, indeed, a great experiment, based on great ideals.
The US Constitution opens with these ideals:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Remember, the founders of our country came out of a history of tyranny, oppression and unjust treatment by government, so the Constitution they wrote established an innovative division of powers and checks and balances on elected and appointed officials. Then they added special protections to the Constitution. It was augmented and amended by the Bill of Rights:
“The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added:
First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Second Amendment: A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Third Amendment: No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner; nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Fourth Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Fifth Amendment: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.
Sixth Amendment: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed; which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
Seventh Amendment: In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of common law.
Eighth Amendment: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Ninth Amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Tenth Amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Later in our history, the additional Amendments 11-27 were added for the further protection of American citizens, including:
“Thirteenth Amendment: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Fourteenth Amendment: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Fifteenth, Nineteenth and Twenty Sixth Amendments: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”
The ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as Amended, are what make America great. The Federal Constitution and Bill of Rights are included in the State Constitutions. Federal and State elected officials swear to protect and defend the Constitution. So do soldiers.
The ideals that make America great exist in a hierarchy: God, US Constitution, US Laws, State Constitution, State Laws, and local ordinances. In that order. The lesser ideals are not to usurp or diminish the higher. When we breach the hierarchy, the world begins to unravel.
For hundreds of years, the bright light of the American Ideal, the divinely inspired grand American experiment has drawn freedom seekers from around the globe. It’s why all of our ancestors and some of us came here. It’s a major part of what makes America great.
However, there’s another intangible thing that makes America great, and that’s our Aspirations.
Ideals would be of little value if we did not aspire to achieve them.
In regard to Biblical Ideals, Christians are far from perfect. However, as Christians we aspire to be more godly, to be more like Jesus and to become more and more holy. It’s like the Apostle Paul declared, “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” Philippians 3:12-14 MSG
The opening to the Declaration of Independence does not say, “Hello world, we know exactly how to govern a nation and are here to tell you all about it.”
No, it reads: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
The founders of our country were not perfect men. Far from it. However, they aspired to grand ideals. The first words of the Constitution are not, “Hey everybody, we have this all figured out – stand back and watch.”
Rather, the first words of the Constitution are: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…”
As Americans, we aspire to the grand and noble ideals that established us. In other words, it’s a process. And it continues today.
The Constitution, with Amendments, is an aspirational document. The ideals were established. We are unlikely to ever completely achieve any of them, but the pursuit of them is the noble duty of American citizens. It’s one of the key things that make America great.
Provided, of course, we actually pursue our Ideals and Aspirations. Which brings us to my concluding point. If America is to truly be great, we must act tangibly to make it so.
Great ideals and Aspirations are essential. However, to truly make America great requires us, as citizens, to act.
We must learn. Therefore, we must read, study and reflect on the Bible.
We must pray. We must gather together. We must worship.
We must obey the commands of Jesus to love the Lord with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. To love each other as Christ loved us, so that all will know we are Christ followers. To go into all the world and spread the good news.
We must study our Constitution and laws. We must be educated voters.
We must think.
We must behave and in a manner consistent with our highest Ideals and Aspirations.
We must maintain order and the God ordained and natural hierarchy of society.
We must protect and defend our faith, our Constitution and our form of government.
We must protect and defend our capitalist economy. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best economic system mankind has ever invented. Socialism and Communism don’t even come close. We must actively resist these forms of government and economic approaches.
We must engage in the political arena as citizens. America is a Constitutional Republic. Our elected officials are supposed to do what we say. But if we don’t say anything, those supposedly elected to represent us will simply do whatever they individually want. Often, they’ll just respond to the loudest voices – those passionate, “squeaky wheels” and give in to a minority opinion,…which nearly always seeks to break down the hierarchy, and twist the foundational ideals of our country for their special interest purposes. They will get their way if we don’t stand up for what we claim to believe.
We must vote and encourage others to vote in accordance with the proper hierarchy and order of things, and in keeping with our fundamental American Ideals and Aspirations.
If we are to make and keep America great, it takes all the above, and it takes deliberate engagement. It takes action.
As Edmund Burke wrote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
That’s the short version. A longer version reads: “Whilst men are linked together, they easily and speedily communicate the alarm of any evil design. They are enabled to fathom it with common counsel, and to oppose it with united strength. Whereas, when they lie dispersed, without concert, order, or discipline, communication is uncertain, counsel difficult, and resistance impracticable. Where men are not acquainted with each other’s principles, nor experienced in each other’s talents, nor at all practiced in their mutual habitudes and dispositions by joint efforts in business; no personal confidence, no friendship, no common interest, subsisting among them; it is evidently impossible that they can act a public part with uniformity, perseverance, or efficacy. In a connection, the most inconsiderable man, by adding to the weight of the whole, has his value, and his use; out of it, the greatest talents are wholly unserviceable to the public. No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavors, are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” - Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents 82-83 (1770) in: Select Works of Edmund Burke, vol. 1, p. 146 (Liberty Fund ed. 1999)
In other words, to combat evil, good people must rally and come together. We must speak up and we must act to defend our fundamental American Ideals and Aspirations, otherwise, “they will fall, one by one,” an invisible abdication and “unpitied sacrifice.”
In conclusion, it’s not presidents, politicians, pastors or educators that make America great. It’s Americans like you and me, deliberately acting to preserve the proper hierarchy of social order, protecting the ideals and aspirations of our nation and actively pursuing them.
Let’s do that together.
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