The American Faith

During his immigration speech last week, President Obama said: “Being an American is not a matter of blood or birth.  It’s a matter of faith.”

He’s obviously correct in observing the American character is not inherited through genetics.  There is no “American race.”  It’s also not determined by the location of our birth.  Many who were born in other countries become Americans of outstanding patriotism.  It’s an honor to recite the Pledge of Allegiance alongside someone who crossed long miles, and perhaps endured great hardship, to join us beneath the red, white, and blue.  They mean every word of that pledge.

Some families have worked, studied, and waited patiently to obtain their citizenship… only to have their sons and daughters die on foreign soil in our service.  We welcome their bodies back to their adopted home, comforted by the knowledge their souls never left.  Those who recite the Pledge of Allegiance dwell in America forever, no matter the provenance of the ground upon which they take their final rest.

Is the American identity a matter of faith?  If so, faith in what?

The President obviously doesn’t see it as faith in our laws, since he was speaking on behalf of people who broke them to enter the United States.  “It’s a matter of fidelity to the shared values that we all hold so dear,” the President clarified.  Does that include the shared value of disregarding the laws of other nations when they inconvenience us?  If he was referring to the value of political freedom, did he mean to imply that illegal aliens are fleeing from tyrannical dictatorships?  Is that an accurate description of Mexico – a country whose leader received a thunderous standing ovation from the Democrat Party for denouncing an American state?

Of course, the kind of value the President had in mind was the desire for a better life, and the pursuit of opportunity.  These are not questions of faith,however.  To use a term the President loves, they are matters of hope. They are not distinctly American values, for they are shared almost universally, in all but the darkest corners of the Earth.  There are places where parents sell their children into slavery, or cover them with explosives and use them as murder weapons.  Everywhere else, people yearn to do better for themselves, and pray for their children to surpass them.

Is America defined by faith in her government?  That would seem contrary to the spirit of our Revolution, and the wisdom of our first magnificent President.  George Washington preferred the company of fellow citizens at a round table over a throng of supplicants kneeling before a throne.  No temporal authority has the right to demand the unquestioning belief of our Republic.  Faith between free men must flow both ways to be valid.

Understand this, and the nature of the American faith is revealed.

You can search for its fiery glimmer between generations seated at picnic tables on this Fourth of July weekend.  Its tracks are pressed into airport carpet by every soldier boarding an outbound plane to foreign shores.  It echoes through the words of every man and woman with the courage to denounce evil, both within and beyond our borders.  It is a symphony pouring through our national anthem.  It is a cascade of bells dancing through every act of charity we show our neighbors.  When we join together in battle against murderous enemies or callous Nature, it is the roar of a lion.  When we take risks in support of bold innovation, it is the cry of an eagle, looking far ahead through a crisp morning sky.  It swims happily through the air in every shop, gallery, and office.

On some rare days, it reveals itself with terrible beauty and glory, as in the sight of firemen raising the American flag over the ashes of fallen towers and the innocent dead.

It is a faith incomprehensible to tyrants, invisible to racists, intolerable to criminals.  It dissolves in the quicksand of dependency, but flourishes among the windswept grain of liberty.  It charges every word of the Constitution with lightning, and its afterglow pulses warmly through the Bill of Rights.  It is a faith which suffers constant transgressions, for we are still struggling to understand it.  It will survive every blasphemy, as it endured the agony of our Civil War, for its eternal truth is not tarnished by our incomprehension.  When we do accept this faith at last, it will ease much of the torment we inflict upon ourselves.  Its reflection is captured in coins, ballots, websites, and firearms.

Reflect upon these clues, and you can guess its name.

The American faith is our faith in each other. Nowhere else in the world is such a noble belief written so clearly, or shared with such pride and joy.  We express that faith through respect for each others’ rights, choosing liberty above even the most benevolent domination.  We honor it by respecting our laws, including the just laws governing our generous policy of immigration.  Its grace is denied to those who lack such respect… from thieves to lawless bureaucrats, corporate criminals to greedy politicians.

This Sunday, I will happily toast every American, from coast to coast and around the world.  I will never stop believing in all of you.

Happy Independence Day!

Cross-posted at

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