America and the Shining City on a Hill

America has often been described as “a shining city on a hill.” This is language borrowed from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

Clearly, the context of the Sermon of the Mount has nothing to do with America. The “Ye” that are the “shining city on a hill” are the people who reflect the Beatitudes, which is, uh, not America.

But hey, it makes a good story. The first time America was promoted to Beatific standing was in 1630 when John Winthrop said:

“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses.”

Although many have waxed prophetic on this quote (most notably Ronald Reagan), I find the quote to be somewhat arrogant and presumptuous. Jesus is not talking about America, to say that He is assumes and destroys a lot.

America is no Christian utopia. Never has been; never will be. If you think it was, I suggest you read some more history.

The Bible begins with a perfect place on earth (The Garden of Eden) and ends with a picture of perfect life in the New Jerusalem. Paradise was lost. To regain it a lot of things have to happen, none of which occurred when or since America was founded.

The idea that we can create a Christian heaven on earth is just terrible Bible interpretation. Only Christ, the King of Kings, has the power and authority to pull such a thing off.

When certain early Americans claimed to be able to create utopia, they merely placed themselves in the position of Jesus Christ. They were their own Messiahs. This is a bad idea. Pride goeth before the fall.

However, the idea of American Utopia still gets air time. Here’s a quote from Thomas Cahill about the word “utopia,” creating a definition that America might be able to meet:

[Thomas] More was the inventor of the word “utopia,” which he made up combining a Greek noun, topos, meaning district, and eu-, a Greek prefix meaning good–though if one pronounces the first syllable as ou-, one is using a Greek prefix that negates the noun that follows it. So “utopia” has the double meaning of good place and no place. It is, therefore, an ideal society that does not exist.

In that case, sure, America is a utopia–a fine place that only exists in the imagination of nostalgic, sentimental patriots.

Sure, it is (might have to soon go past tense here) better than any other country, and I enjoy living in it. But it’s just a large land mass inhabited by sinful people, just like all other places on the globe.

Thinking that America is, or could be, heaven on earth is merely wishful thinking. America is indeed a good place that does not exist.

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