We Are Americans

 Photo by Michael Fuller.

Photo by Michael Fuller.

In the eyes of many, America as a nation and a culture is on the decline. Taking this view, there are some who wish to dissociate themselves entirely from its “cultural baggage,” wiping their hands of its perceived bigotry, narrow-minded Western ideals, and pride. However, in addition to misrepresenting America, this attempt to erase the label of “American” from ourselves is both futile and destructive, owing to one truth: we are undeniably Americans.

We are Americans first in that, literally, we are recognized as legal citizens of the United States of America. The government recognizes us as members of “We the People,” verified by a bevy of IRS paperwork. And we usually don’t deny it; though we may not particularly like some aspects, we choose to fully reap the benefits of being considered legal Americans, namely the protection of the legal system, the freedom of speech and religion, and the opportunity for affluence in a capitalist economy. Further, regardless of how we see ourselves, the world recognizes us as American. No sooner are we outside our borders than we promptly receive the stamp “FROM AMERICA”—because honestly, it’s pretty obvious to everyone else.

We are Americans second in that our perspectives have been strongly influenced by our exposure to American culture. Our every perception is unconsciously filtered through a system of distinctly American cultural constructs instilled since birth, meaning we are prone to place certain emphases and prefer certain paths unique from members of other world cultures. Wealth seen through American economic principles encourages either wise or greedy capitalism, but seldom communism. Race seen through American social distinctions appears a more urgent matter based on our unfortunate history with African and Native American peoples. Happiness understood through American cultural constructs leads one to seek self-fulfillment more than subservience to a group. These three tendencies are joined by thousands more examples, evidence that American culture is somehow deeply hardwired into the way we think. To remove from oneself all semblance of America’s cultural influence would require an objective view, something we just don’t have. Frankly, it’s impossible for us to erase the effects of something that has influenced us for our entire lives, and certainly not by simply removing the title.

Lastly, we are Americans (perhaps most radically) in that God has purposefully made us as members of this culture. God, as we have learned, is the Ultimate Sovereign, and all things work as part of His perfect plan. Therefore, that we have been born in so great a nation as this, that we have been allowed to live here for our entire lives, and that both it and we are still here—all these things together indicate that in some manner God intended for us to be members of this nation and culture. Further, God does not make mistakes, and is able to use anything as a tool to shape us as individuals. It is not inconceivable, then, to think that God has placed us here for the purpose of shaping us according to this culture—that we may be Americans.

I here make two qualifying statements. The first: by saying that God made us to be Americans I do not mean that His will is for us to find our identity principally in American culture. (Far be it from me to speak for His will.) We are Christians first. Our identity ought to be found in Christ; and in doing as He did, we follow only the will of the One we call Father and King. However, it is notable that God did not choose for His Son to be culture-less, despite the fallen nature of every human culture. Rather, God allowed his Son to be born into a distinctly Jewish culture, and raised as a Jewish man. Furthermore, rather than preach salvation to every nation at once or even to deny that culture, Jesus followed His Father’s will by operating within that culture. In the same manner, we cannot deny the context into which God has placed us; and in some way, we may reasonably expect that God’s purposes for us are to be realized in this American context.

A second qualifying statement: I do not mean that we ought to embrace every aspect of American culture. Again, we are Christians first—our citizenry in the Kingdom of Heaven overrules any allegiances on Earth, and anything that goes against the given instruction of God should be discarded as a vain and dangerous pursuit. However, to discard all aspects of American cultural influence on us is to say that we have in some way been wrongly constructed, whereupon we will inevitably begin to dictate our “proper” selves, to destructive and deceptive ends.

In summary, we are undeniably and unalterably Americans. Despite the apprehensions of some against a sorely misrepresented America (a point which may be explored elsewhere) it is evident that regardless of America’s identity, we are profoundly and inescapably linked to its culture. Our position here, as shaped members of American culture, indicates, by nature of God’s sovereignty, His purposes at work in at least some part of it, and therefore through us as Americans. In short, we are Christians made also as Americans, and this imparts a responsibility not unlike Christ to the Jews. We must follow our Father’s will here, embracing all aspects—even the American—of the creations He has made of us, and we must have faith that we have been made thus for a higher purpose than our own reckoning.