While America fights two wars this Memorial Day, comforts grieving families whose sons and daughters made the ultimate sacrifice, battles economic problems at home, and grows increasingly concerned about Korean peninsula tensions, I am reminded again of Russell Kirk's slim volume The American Cause. Reading Kirk, I am convinced that Christians bear the greatest responsibility for defending American civilization from the threat of radical ideologues at home and abroad.
Concerned about evidence that Korean War (1950-53) POWs were "easy targets of Communist indoctrination," Kirk wrote his little classic in 1957 to teach American servicemen the basic principles of American civilization. He believed all Americans need to understand the principles that make our country exceptional in order to defend her vigorously abroad and at home. Publishers reprinted The American Cause in 1966 during the Vietnam War and again in 2002 following the 9/11 attacks. In this age of the modern Tea Party, Intercollegiate Studies Institute research suggests we may be even more susceptible to indoctrination by foreign and domestic radical ideologues.
Kirk wrote, "Civilization grows out of religion: the morals, the politics, the economics, the literature and the arts of any people have a religious origin. . . . And in America, it is the Christian religion." Moreover, Kirk defines the American cause as the "defense of principles of a true civilization." If Kirk is right that America's greatness flows from the Christian religion---and I believe he is---it is evident that Christians must bear the weight of perpetuating and defending America. And we must begin at the beginning by understanding how Christian teaching connects to the founding principles of our country. This will take some work, some study, some homework, and we can begin by reading The American Cause. It's an easy and short read.
Kirk cautions that we not make an idol of the USA, and become jingoistic and the self-appointed "keepers of the world's conscience." But it's clear he thought we should work to preserve, protect, and promote the Christian ideals that make American society thrive, such as belief in an unchanging God who made people in His image and entitled to life, liberty, and the protection of their property; punishing actions that violate these inalienable rights; an understanding that mankind and societies are not perfectible through government tinkering and revolution; recognizing that leaders who think otherwise are dangerous ideologues; tolerating other religious faiths and valuing liberty of conscience; and cultivating free and orderly markets to improve the human condition.
Defending America begins with understanding her Christian foundation and that America, its faults notwithstanding, is the greatest society the world has known for upholding human dignity. As America battles foreign enemies and domestic ideologues this Memorial Day, understand, Christian, that you and I bear a great responsibility for defending this nation and we owe a great debt of gratitude to those whose graves are decorated today.