Happy Birthday, America! And Many More?
Independence Day marks the anniversary of the beginning of the United States of America. But in the midst of troubling trends, what will its future be?
Happy birthday, America! Now 236 years have passed since a unique group of men representing English colonies in North America signed a July 4th document declaring independence from the mother country.
No one who signed the document could have predicted how the world would change between then and now and how predominant on the world stage the new nation would become.
In the period since 1776, the United States of America has passed many amazing milestones through industry, sacrifice, tenacity, courage and—for most of her history—a faith in divine favor and a divine destiny. Many recognized and were thankful for great blessings from God.
As with all nations, the United States has grappled with conundrums of governmental structure, social issues—including the dreadful, inherited institution of slavery—and military threats, both internally and from abroad.
These accomplishments and struggles have excited admiration and approval, as well as hatred and contempt.
The view from abroad
I perhaps have a rather unusual perspective on some of these issues due to the privilege I have had to travel widely and to be able to note how America is viewed from around the world.
I have lived and worked in Thailand and France, and I spend months each year on working trips to Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, and sometimes the Middle East, Asia, Oceania and South America. I write this post from the Anatolian region of Turkey, on a trip mixing work and pleasure.
Allow me to share a few observations about how America is viewed from abroad:
Our ship of state, our military endeavors, our scientific advances, our business and commercial doings, our fashions, our entertainment and entertainers—all are followed around the world, often with admiration; sometimes with jealousy, disgust or outrage; and quite often with a measure of incomprehension.
Virtually every newspaper in the world has an article on the cover or page 2 that covers some story linked to America. Often even those who rejoice in our calamities dress as we do and follow our culture.
I remember the televised scenes of Palestinians dancing for joy in the streets when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks occurred. Many of the dancers were wearing blue jeans and baseball caps.
Here in Turkey, I have often been mistaken for a Turk. Hawkers, waiters and people in the streets often speak to me first in Turkish and expect me to understand because we are dressed and look very much alike.
People around the world have high expectations of America; even America’s enemies grudgingly do. When some new advance is made by U.S. scientists or when some other accomplishment comes from America, it’s often treated with the attitude of “What’s the big deal? Of course it came from America.”
If a great accomplishment comes from another nation, the press often compares it to the U.S. with a jubilant approach of “David beat Goliath.” Most nations of the world, even those who won’t admit it, expect the U.S. to be fair, enlightened, altruistic and generous. The history of the U.S. has often, though not always, set this kind of example, which I believe should cause us to be thankful for our forefathers.
Increasingly, with disappointment and disgust
Observers with perspective in the United States (those with some years under their belts) know that the country is changing in what should be alarming ways. Our moral compass is being corrupted. Selfish, petulant, immoral behavior that would have caused our founding fathers and mothers, and even most of our grandparents, to gasp in shame and disbelief, are now not only becoming commonplace, but are touted as good and positive by de facto cultural leaders.
This has not escaped the attention of the rest of the world. More and more, our political leaders are seen as corrupt and self-serving. Sometimes, we reelect them even after they’ve been convicted of felonies. People around the world follow those stories.
More conservative nations in the world hate the way American popular culture is corrupting their children morally (and it is).
When traveling, I cringe when I hear yet another news story about our ignorant, immature pop culture stars. I’m ashamed when I see young men and women in Africa spend money they can ill afford to try to dress like “gangsta rappers” and disreputable women and assume the arrogant, disrespectful, in-your-face attitude on which some young Americans waste millions or perhaps billions of dollars each year.
A city on a hill
I’ve written before about how our founding fathers, as far back as the 1630s, saw America as a “city on a hill.” This is a reference to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:14, where He told His followers, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
That city was understood to be a Christian one, based on the teaching of the Holy Bible, and faithful to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Jesus also said that to build on His words was to build one’s house on the rock and to be able to resist all storms (Matthew 7:24-25). To build on any other foundation is building on quicksand.
Sadly, that solid foundation is being consciously vilified and wrecked, and America’s city on the hill is looking increasingly shallow and shabby to those who have eyes to see it.
In the spotlight
In point of fact, less and less can actually be hidden in the age of Internet. This is especially true of America, which is so often in the spotlight of world attention for good and ill. If the nation sets a moral example (as many people in the world hope), if truth and justice are truly the American way, then the nation will be admired and followed. If we take our liberty for license to live selfishly and immorally, as is increasingly the case, then we will be increasingly hated and perhaps rightfully so.
The example of America is inescapable in the world today. The United States is an example to the world, a city on a hill. The only question is, what kind of example will it be?
I wish you many more happy birthdays, America! But I believe there won’t be as many to come as there could be if we don’t let the right kind of light shine from this hill.
For more about the future of the United States, see our section on “America in Prophecy.”