Here are two excerpts from an important interview by National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez with David Gelernter, a Yale professor of computer science who has “an alarming yet cautiously exuberant book out, America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats)“:
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why is that “post-religion” bit so important?
GELERNTER: Post-religious thinkers don’t even live on the same spiritual planet as Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish Americans. Old-time atheists struggled with biblical religion and rejected it; modern post-religious thinkers struggled with nothing. Since the Bible and biblical religion underlie the invention of America, it’s hard (unsurprisingly) for post-religious people to understand America sympathetically. Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, the most sacred of American texts, is (precisely) a sermon describing North and South as equally guilty in God’s eyes for the sin of slavery and, ultimately, for the war itself:
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
The quote is from Psalms 19; Reagan’s famous “shining city on a hill” paraphrases the gospels. Expecting post-religious, Bible-ignorant thinkers to grasp America is like expecting a gerbil to sing Pagliacci. The gerbil might be brilliant in his way, but he’ll never make it in opera. (If this be species-ism, make the most of it!) How can my post-religious colleagues and countrymen, many of whom have never even opened a Bible, understand Lincoln or America or Americans?
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LOPEZ: You write that “our nation’s most serious problems are not economic or political. They are social, cultural, educational and (above all) spiritual. Conservative thinkers and leaders tend to ignore such problems. But our cultural oxygen is being displaced by a steady seep of poison. We had better act soon; in fact, now.” You then say with some confidence that “we will.” What gives you that confidence? Is it anything you are seeing before your eyes?
GELERNTER: Americans have come through tougher crises. Until the middle of 1942 we got beaten and fell back again and again before the Japanese Empire. The Cold War was half a century of jangling tension. Americans rise to the occasion. That’s our style.