The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Europeans and Americans

Recently I've been thinking a lot about Europe, and have concluded that it's really a very strange place. Now don't get me wrong. I have visited Europe, especially Italy, fairly often lately and try to immerse myself, as well as any foreigner can, into the dally life of the people. Of course I do a lot of the usual tourist stuff. I admire the remnants of ancient empires. I stand in awe before the art of the masters. And I visit and pray in all the great churches that make our contemporary "worship spaces" look like cardboard cutouts. But as I roam the streets with Diane at my side, I also strike up conversations with anyone who will humor me and respond to my questions. I find most Europeans, like most Americans, to be helpful, pleasant and actually interested in providing honest answers to those questions. And it's these answers that often perplex me, and highlight the significant differences between Europeans and Americans.

Despite our nation's European cultural origins, we Americans have blazed our own cultural trail since our colonial days. It's a trail that has led us to a very different place than that occupied by today's Europeans, the descendants of our distant cultural ancestors. I also believe we're in a better place, a place where human freedom is still cherished, a place with unsurpassed kindness and generosity, a place where most people still believe in a God who loves and cares for His people. And although I am as patriotic as any American, I am not a believer in "America First." Yes, the United States is a great nation, probably the greatest that the world has ever seen, but I don't believe our Constitution was divinely inspired or that we are destined to lead the world to some Utopian future. Like every other nation, the United States was founded and is populated, not by angels, but by fallible men and women. We were, however, fortunate that our founding fathers recognized this fact and tried heroically to devise a system of self-governance that would protect our God-given rights from the tyranny of both oppressive rulers and ourselves. The founders feared democracy just as much as they feared authoritarian rule; hence their labors resulted in a constitutional republic far removed from
traditional European monarchy and Athenian democracy. But it is still a system of government devised by men, and will therefore eventually succumb to the fruits of man's sinfulness.
As much as I admire the late President Ronald Reagan, I do not believe this American "shining city upon a hill" is "the last best hope of man on earth." (Read a 1974 version of Reagan's famous "City upon a Hill" speech.) It is the Kingdom of God, not the city of man, that is our only hope. We are in danger of forgetting this. The Europeans already have, just as they have forgotten that Europe's cultural roots, and all the good that sprang from them, were planted in the soil of Christianity. This mass amnesia has brought about a moral and spiritual decline that will likely lead to the final disintegration of European culture within the lifetime of my grandchildren. Sadly, there are signs that we Americans, too, are falling prey to this same cultural malaise.

More on this tomorrow...have to run.

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