American unity and exceptionalism does come from a general belief in God
By Bill Connor
On September 11, 2021, Joe Biden addressed the nation in remembrance of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In doing so, Biden attempted to explain what he believed unified America and made her unique. In multiple Sept. 11, 2020, addresses, we capture a window into Biden’s understanding of why America is, as he puts it, “unique.” Notably, Biden did not use the term “exceptional,” voiced by so many other presidents in describing America. Of greater significance, Biden affirmatively repudiated the critical importance of America’s religious character and the effects it has had on unity and exceptionalism. Biden’s misunderstandings will not bring back the unity we experienced after the 9/11 attacks, but recognition of God’s importance will. Let me explain.
First, Biden’s words about the subject are telling. In an address at Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, 2021, Biden claimed America was “the most unique country in the whole damn world.” He elaborated: “We’re an idea. It’s an idea … It’s not based on religion. It’s not based — it’s an idea. It really is. ‘We hold these truths …’ I mean, we never lived up to it, but we’ve never walked away from it, except the last — previous four years.” Joe Biden’s confusing reference to “We hold these truths” did not mean the full preamble to the Declaration of Independence, which includes a reference to God, as his Sept. 11 taped national address makes clear: “We are the only nation based on an idea, an idea that everyone is created equally and should be treated equally throughout their lives.”
From these and other such words about American unity and uniqueness, Joe Biden’s misunderstandings manifest themselves. First, America is not just “unique,” or different, as Joe Biden puts it, but exceptional among nations in many objective categories. Famed British Historian Paul Johnson holds America to be “exceptional” because “America is a God-fearing country, with all that implies.” Biden is wrong to marginalize the importance of religion to American unity and exceptionalism. When the founding Americans justified breaking apart from the British Empire, they began with America’s common belief in God: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (emphasis added). In America, God comes first and He is the source of our rights. Government is a creation of the consent of the governed for protection of those God-given rights.
Religion in America was deemed critical for American government to work. John Adams claimed: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the governance of any other.” Other founders said the same. Religion justified public education in America (Northwest Ordinance, 1787): “Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” Alexis de Tocqueville said of America in the 1830s: “There is no country on Earth in which the Christian religion holds greater sway over men than in America.”
Joe Biden’s understanding of equality was not that voiced by the founders. The founders and other early Americans were heavily influenced by British political philosopher John Locke. Locke asserted individual humans were born with equality of nature and worth among the species. Neither Locke nor early Americans believed the term “created equal” meant that individuals deserved to be “treated equally” throughout life. That regardless of decisions in life, or level of work, all are to receive equal benefits/property. That’s essentially communism. The right to pursue happiness means the right to work harder than others to earn more property or other benefits. As life moves forward, Americans deserve to be treated justly but respected in liberty and property. To do otherwise and force equality of outcome is to destroy the right to liberty and pursuit of happiness.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, America turned “back” to God in a way I hadn’t seen in my 53 years. Congress stood together holding hands while singing “God Bless America.” Prayers and acknowledgment of God were ubiquitous in America in the weeks after 9/11. As one pastor put it, “You couldn’t find the ACLU with a search warrant (attempting to stop all the open and public displays of religion).” The National Prayer Service in the National Cathedral unified America like most have never seen. We were probably as unified as those who fought the Revolution and wrote the Declaration of Independence. Americans will not be unified by talk of being solely a “unique,” but not exceptional, “idea” of forced lifetime equality. Americans desperately need leadership to voice what has truly made us exceptional: Believe in God and respect for the rights God gives us and government protects.
Bill Connor is a 1990 Citadel graduate, 30-year Army infantry colonel (ret.) and combat veteran. He is a writer and attorney and lives in the Charleston area.