It's been a bad couple of years for many people around the world. For those of us in the US, we've been through our own special pain. As we look forward to a most promising new year and the chance to start afresh--which in so many ways we certainly need to do--here are some things I'm keeping in mind.
Why it's been a bad couple of years for the US:
- Economic recession
- Loss of faith in business and indeed in the capitalist system
- Seemingly intractable political discord
- Persistent cynicism among the "elites" about religion, particularly Christianity
- Loss of American prestige around the world.
- Continuing difficulties in the war in Afghanistan.
At times like these, a great nation turns to its heritage. As we look forward to 2011, forget the cynics and sour puss sophisticates--America's heritage is superb. Many of our problems are the result of forgetting it:
- America was founded by people seeking religious freedom and a way of life that sought to combine wealth creation with the highest ideals. The early Americans wanted to build what the great minister and community leader John Wiinthrop called "a city on a hill" that would provide a beacon of hope to the world. Four centuries later, with tens of millions of immigrants coming here to seek better lives, and two world wars in which the US was critical to the defense of freedom, Winthrop's prophecy turned out pretty well. No wonder Ronald Reagan turned to that inspiring phrase when he sought to rebuild America's confidence and spirit.
- That early heritage led to a responsible, public spirited form of capitalism in the US that created both great wealth as well as vibrant communities with prosperous, well educated citizens. Not everyone practiced that form of capitalism of course, but many did. The great French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville, who visited here in the 1830's was astonished by how powerful a transformative force for the good this was. The remarkable economic dynamism he found in New Enlgand was the result of business people pursuing both "material wealth and moral satisfaction," as he put it. "These two tendencies, apparently so discrepant, are far from conflicting: they advance together and support each other." A profound insight that Wall Street and business executives engaged in short term thinking forget. And we see the results all around us.
- Christianity, for all its issues and shortcomings, gave the world concepts such as the dignity and worth of all people, not just the high born; morality and virtue in our relationships with others, as opposed to cynicism; and our responsibility to take care of the poor and needy. Setting aside the silly political debate over whether the US is a "Christian nation," there is no doubt that Christianity and its principles played a critical role in our formation and development.
We thrive when we remember and reconnect with this rich heritage.