Tearing Down the American Civil Religion

By: Julian Adorney & Mark Johnson

This is the second blog post in our series on First World Problems: how the systematic tearing down of American institutions has created a generation of Americans who feel lonely, adrift, and without purpose.

In our last blog we looked at the overall phenomenon of First World Problems and the scope of the issue. Today we’re delving into the first institution that’s being defaced: the American Civil Religion.

The Importance of the American Civil Religion

60 years ago, we all had a strong sense in the United States that we were Americans first.

This didn’t mean that we didn’t criticize our government, or foreign or domestic policy; Americans have a rich history of both. We’ve always been a country that strived to do better and be better.

But that criticism didn’t mar our unity. We were united in a sense of patriotism and belonging. We all saluted the same flag and sang the same National Anthem. Republicans felt a sense of patriotism when they heard from or spoke to Democratic lawmakers, and vice versa.

That unity feels like a distant dream now. How did we come so far?

The trappings of the American Civil Religion were deeply valuable in holding our large and otherwise disparate country together. Like the trappings of organized religion–the cross and the sacrament of Christianity, for example–they united us together and gave us a shared connection to something deeper than ourselves. These trappings included things like the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, a feeling of patriotism, respect for the Founding Fathers, and a shared love for the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

They facilitated us tapping into the second half of what renowned sociologist Jonathan Haidt calls our Homo Duplex nature: not just our individualism, but an almost beehive-like sense of community and connection to a country full of people we had never met but still regarded as our brothers and sisters.

Those trappings are being torn down.

In some cases, this is literal. In cities across the US, people are tearing down statues of founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. The idea is that these men were white, wealthy, slave-owners; and their sins make them unworthy of respect. Instead of admiring the Founding Fathers who brought forth “a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” Americans are pillorying them.

When Washington’s statue was toppled in Portland, Oregon, activists graffitied phrases like, “White fragility” and “Big floyd” on the statue. The picture is heartbreaking.

Source: George Washington statue toppled in Portland | kgw.com

It’s not just the Founding Fathers. The Constitution is in for ridicule as well. Author Lyz Lenz Tweeted, “has anyone considered that maybe the constitution is bad” (sic). The tweet has over 246,000 Likes.

When Justice Alito’s draft opinion overturning Roe v Wade was leaked earlier this year, students at Yale Law School threw what can best be described as a temper tantrum.

“Neither the constitution nor the courts—nor the fucking illusion of ‘democracy’—are going to save us,” according to an Instagram post by first-year student Melisa Olgun. “How can we possibly expect a document, drafted by wealthy, white, landowning men, to protect those who face marginalization that is the direct result of the very actions of the founders?”

Another student posted that, “democratic institutions won’t save us.”

This is concerning because Yale Law School is one of the most influential incubators of future policymakers in the country. Since the nation’s founding, over 4 percent of all federal judges have come from Yale Law School. In the last decade, 17 percent of new law professors were Yale Law School graduates. Our nation’s most influential future legal minds are being told in school that the Constitution is a white supremacist document and that democratic institutions–the bedrock of the American Civil Religion–aren’t worthy of respect.

This same trend can be seen in the massively influential 1619 Project, which attempts to rewrite American history and frame the US as a fundamentally racist country. According to the Project, the American Revolution has its roots in white supremacy. The “real” origin of the US was not 1776 or 1789, but 1619–when the first slave ship came to the United States. Rather than a sin that the United States grappled with and eventually wiped away, the 1619 Project posits that slavery is fundamental to our American identity.

American holidays like Memorial Day are ignored or bastardized as just the “start of summer”, while the Fourth of July is under attack.

Patriotism itself is now commonly derided as, “White Supremacy”. A Washington Post headline reads, “To many Americans, being patriotic means being white“. A headline at WNYC Studios puts it more bluntly: “For Some, Patriotism Is Just a Symptom of White Privilege“. 

Why Is This Happening?

Why is a fringe of American culture so determined to tear these institutions down? There are three keys to answering this question.

1: It’s Not About Redemption

Activists pretend that they are simply trying to redeem America; lifting us out of the shadow of our slave-holding ancestors so that we can be a better nation in 2022.

This is nonsense.

First, the Founding Fathers were not the demons that the 1619 Project and other activists pretend. Most of them hated slavery. Many of the Constitution’s drafters and signers hoped that Article 1 Section 9 Clause 1 (“The Slave Trade Clause”) would put an end to slavery forever. The clause allowed the international slave trade for 20 years, as a compromise with southern states who otherwise never would have signed the document. The hope was that after 20 years, Congress would outlaw the international slave trade; and the domestic institution of slavery would dry up and rot away owing to a lack of fresh supply.

Thomas Jefferson was adamantly in favor of this. The Slave Trade Cause allowed Congress to ban the international slave trade on January 1, 1807. In December of 1806, President Jefferson exhorted them to do just that:

“I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe.”

Second, if the point is to make the United States better, why go after the men and women who did the most to end the institution of slavery? Portland protestors tore down a statue of Abraham Lincoln. Cornell University removed a bust of Lincoln, as well as a copy of the Gettysburg Address, from the library following a complaint.

Lincoln was a complicated man, but few humans of any time period have done more to end the institution of slavery than our 16th president. If this whole movement is about signaling that we as a nation are opposed to racism, what’s the logic of going after such a man?

Free Black Thought, a compendium twitter account run by five prominent African-American intellectuals, puts it this way:

“Cornell removes Gettysburg Address, bust of Lincoln, after “a complaint.” How can a nation that has come to hate even the redemptive episodes in its history then expect to stir itself to redemptive action? What moral vision of our future does this serve?”

2: Look For Historical Clues

If you want to know why a movement is doing X now, take a look at movements that have done X in the past. The goals, and the impact, of historical movements can provide a roadmap to understand similar modern-day movements.

In 1966, Chairman Mao launched the Cultural Revolution in China. He exhorted students and far-left revolutionaries to violence and purges, creating chaos on a scale that’s hard to imagine.

One of Mao’s explicit targets was known as the “four olds”: “old ideas, culture, customs and habits.” Whipped into a frenzy by Mao, the young Red Guards looted, vandalized, and destroyed every example of these “olds” they could think of. In Mao’s Last Revolution, renowned historian Roderick MacFarquhar notes that students vandalized public spaces, condemned Confucius, and destroyed “6,618 registered cultural artifacts, including 929 paintings, more than 2,700 books, 1,000 stone steles, and 2,000 graves.”

The primary goal was nihilism. Mao wanted to destroy China’s existing cultural values so that he could usher in something new (and much worse). He told his wife that he wanted to create “great disorder under heaven”; only then could he create “great order under heaven.”

An editorial in Liberation Army Daily put it more bluntly: “a socialist cultural revolution demands that there be destruction as well as creativity. Without thorough destruction, there can be no real construction.”

A nation that is unmoored from its past and from its historic values is a nation that is ripe for nihilism. When you have nothing else to cling to, you’re much more open to the profoundly destructive message that life is meaningless and nothing matters.

3: International Psyops

This systematic destruction of the civil religion in America is not a homegrown affair. Yuri Bezmenov, a KGB defector in the 1980s, warned Americans that the then-USSR was engaging in a systematic campaign of “demoralization” of Americans. Bezmenov warned that this “ideological subversion” involved training a generation of Americans to see their country as fundamentally broken and wrong.

Here’s the plan the USSR had been carrying out for decades by the time Bezmenov described it in the 1980s:

“Educate 1 generation of students…exposed to the ideology of the enemy; in other words, Marxism-Leninism ideology is being punted into the soft heads of at least 3 generations of American students without being challenged or contrabalanced by the basic values of Americanism.”

This derision of symbols that have historically bound Americans together has real consequences. 

Societal Consequences: Political Divisiveness

Political analyst Bill Schneider,  professor of policy, government and international affairs at George Mason University puts it bluntly: “I’d say this is the most divided we’ve been since the Civil War.” “We are broken,” he says.

Pundits on all sides are openly discussing secession. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) asked on Twitter, “Should America have a national divorce?” Within a few days, more than 21,000 respondents weighed in, with 50.9 percent backing the idea. Across the aisle, leftist Jeff Taylor says, “I’ve wondered whether we’d all be better off in the long run it the United States were geographically divided in some reasonably equitable way that would allow the reality-based and social justice minded among us to be free of the extremist right wingers.”

According to a 2021 survey by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, “roughly 4 in 10 (41%) of Biden and half (52%) of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that it’s time to split the country, favoring blue/red states seceding from the union.” American society, and American politics, is breaking in half.

The far-left hates the center and the right, and the far-right hates the center and the left. Supreme Court justices are being doxxed and are the victims of assassination attempts. What was once one America is now deeply fragmented.

Individual Consequences: Loneliness & Unhappiness

This fragmentation is dangerous on a national level, and disastrous on an individual level.

As humans, we all need a connection to something bigger than ourselves. As Haidt notes, there are two parts of our brain; we are 90 percent individualistic chimp, and 10 percent hive-mind bee. To thrive on a personal level, we need to access both parts of our brain. Societies that jettison individualism to focus on the collective create misery and deprivation, which is why communism rarely works outside of small religious communes. Societies that jettison the hive-mind and pretend that the individual is all that matter are equally doomed to fail.

A poll from Gallup shows that Republicans consistently describe better mental health than Democrats. The differences aren’t small. 58 percent of Republicans rate their mental health as “excellent” compared to only 38 percent of Democrats.

A big reason for this discrepancy is that Republicans as a group are more in touch with their hive nature. They are more connected to supra-individual concepts like God and country, and often experience levels of patriotism that verge on religious devotion. By contrast, many on the left are pursuing a “tribe of one” mentality. This mentality says that everyone is special, unique, and absolutely different from everyone else. There is nothing higher than the individual, and no need to try to connect to something bigger than us. This way of being is psychologically unhelpful in the extreme.

What Can You Do?

As a strong and integrous man, what can you do to limit the impact of this destructive trend on your life?

First, develop a sense of patriotism. This doesn’t mean embracing any one political ideology. Libertarians, conservatives, progressives, and moderates can all experience patriotism. We can all look with awe at our great if imperfect nation, and feel a deep sense that we are a part of something greater than ourselves.

Read the writings of the Founding Fathers–especially their frequent condemnations of slavery. Read their histories and biographies. Visit the mass graves of the Civil War and the American Revolution and World Wars I and II. Cultivate a sense of the blood and sweat and tears that millions of men and women spilled to make this great nation possible, of the impossible risks that the Founding Fathers took in order to found, “a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Develop gratitude for the people who came before you and poured their life into this country so that you could enjoy the privileges you enjoy today.

Second, don’t let yourself become a “tribe of one.” Find a tribe of like-minded men. Find a tribe of men who share your values, who quest for (and find) meaning in their lives, who embody healthy masculine energy and treat their partners (and themselves) with respect and love. Find a tribe of men you’d trust to have your back in a firefight, and who will love you and expect you to have theirs in turn.

TEM offers such a tribe. We offer one-on-one men’s coaching as well as men’s groups. If you would like to build a life of purpose and meaning, cultivate real and raw relationships in your life with authentic men, and develop your healthy grounded masculine energy, reach out today.

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