I like to say that ‘we live in our mythologies.’ It’s a concept that could be of use when examining our lives and just how things are going.
The Christian Nation myth is part mythology and partly a description of U.S. culture. (I use “U.S.” as opposed to “America” because we obviously are not the entire of America – we are only a part of the Americas.) The original colonists were primarily Christians. One myth is that they came here to escape religious persecution. But some of them came here to escape the tolerance of Holland after living there because they left England to escape persecution. And why were they persecuted?
They wanted to be able to live their religious lives in a particular way, without any watering-down by other groups. This is an impossible goal, of course, since splintering is a particular facet of dogmatic religion. They came to the colonies because they wanted to be able to practice their religions without fear that their children would be led away by the siren song of competing myths or cultures. Odd, isn’t it, that we barely know where the Puritans went? They have essentially ceased to exist, absorbed into the New World. They met exactly the fate they feared because they were mistaken about the nature of pure belief.
Plymouth Rock is a great symbol of the hardship of the new colonies. Yet, it’s a faux symbol because, so far as we know, no one ever actually landed at Plymouth Rock, but Provincetown. Jamestown was the first permanent settlement (1607). The Plymouth Rock was a proposed tourist attraction that broke when they tried to move it inland in the late 18th century, and the two halves disappeared for a time, eventually to be discovered and enshrined in 1880.
In “Hitch,” Christopher Hitchens’ autobiography, Mr. Hitchens says that he had to relearn U.S. history just a bit because the questions on the test were different from what he had learned. For example, he thought that the U.S. had fought the revolution of 1776 with “The usurping Hanoverian monarchy.” And the expected answer to the question of what the Emancipation Proclamation did may be ‘freed the slaves,’ but Mr. Hitchens says that didn’t actually happen until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which was not ratified by the state of Mississippi until 1995!
It might appear that the myths apparent in U.S. culture are rife, and it’s very difficult to even know what they might be. We take things for granted in our own culture, not seeing the forest for the trees.
The myth that the U.S. is a force for good in the world is quite pervasive, particularly among those who give a part of their lives in service. Yet, the high school history book that my daughter left behind states that the United States is an imperialistic nation, and goes on to prove it with descriptions of the monetary basis for wars. Not much has changed since the early days of annexation save for the newspeak/doublespeak that lulls us into jingoistic fervor.
Today, politicians are standing up to protest our current economy-smashing wars, even those who were thought to be supporters of the conflict. One hopes that enough of the veil of myth will be shorn away and we’ll end the wars. Last night, Rachel Maddow commented on the ten billion dollars spent on the Afghan military in a country with a seven million dollar GDP. She also commented on the desire of Republicans to increase the national debt by an incredible factor, with such things as the tax cuts for the wealthy becoming permanent and the unemployment extensions being denied. It’s an odd thing – for every dollar in tax savings to the rich, only three cents winds up in economic growth, while for every dollar given in unemployment benefits, a dollar and sixty cents ensues. The rich don’t spend the money they save, they save it.
Somebody is falling for a myth.