According to John Adams, America, from its very beginning as an independent nation, showed little appreciation of virtue. He believed his fellow Americans had “never merited the Character of very exalted Virtue.” He hoped that education would serve to mold Americans’ character and inspire their virtues and abilities. Gordon S. Wood, author of Friends Divided, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, recalls that Adams believed that America was “becoming a society consumed by luxury and vice and fundamentally riven by a struggle between rich and poor, gentlemen and commoners.” He maligned that “Americans were driven by the passions for wealth and superiority as any people in history.” He concluded that “something else (besides education) would be required to save Americans from eventual tyranny and destruction, from the fate of Europe, indeed, from the fate of every people in history.” Adams apparently didn’t know what would be required to get us on the right track, but he did express that ascribing to the beliefs of a Thomas Paine or following any of the French philosophies wouldn’t accomplish the objective.
While John Adams painted as dark a picture of the American people as anyone in history at that time, based on statistics that show a growing wealth gap and the fact that the working middle class has been treading water in their attempt to attain financial security over the past several decades as living expenses continue to rise, his pessimistic opinion of America holds true for us today. As he observed, “ambition and avarice, not virtue and benevolence, has indeed become, and continues to remain, the image of America.”
So then, assuming most Americans don’t like the way things are today, we need to know what can be done to reverse this destructive trend. Adams didn’t have the answer, but in order to stop a structure from collapsing, we should first look at the condition of its foundation; we must therefore look to what we believe America should stand for to try and find a solution to the obvious dilemma we find ourselves in.
Our foundation as individuals and as a community of individuals (a nation), is our belief system. Our beliefs determine our world view, the way we look at everything, including politics and economics. Biblical Christianity focuses on virtue and benevolence, and Christians who believe what the Bible tells us should understand that the love of money is the root of all evil. Greed is not good, it is a sin.
Government policy should not support and encourage greed in our society. There are those who focus on doing all they can to confiscate the wealth produced by our working class, and based on statistics, the wealth gap between them and the working class is increasing; the trend which Adams said has been with us from the beginning of our nation has become worse just in the last twenty years. If allowed to continue, this trend could destroy our working middle class, and we will become Mexico. Worst of all, it will destroy the founding fathers’ hope that we could be a land of opportunity for all who want to improve their lives and work together to truly make America great.
The Bible also tells us that pride is also a sin, and we are to be humble and reject any feelings of superiority over any other human being. No educational process or occupation should be elevated in prestige over any other. No economic class should be favored over another. We are to practice charity for all and help those who cannot help themselves and insure that no person takes advantage of another and that everyone gets a slice of the pie. This is why Christians such as theologian and author G.K. Chesterton were in favor of an economic system called “distributism,” which enabled every employee to have an ownership interest in what his labor produced.
From my description of what is expected of Bible-believing Christians, it should be obvious that even unbelievers should recognize that, if the Christian moral code was followed and Christian behavior was practiced by all of us to the best of our ability, America would not be in the dilemma we are in today. If those who make our laws and those who lead us would be influenced by biblical virtues and guidance, every American, rich or poor, would have an opportunity to achieve financial security. We would see the narrowing of that wealth gap, and there would not be the divisiveness between the economic classes as there is today. Am I being overly optimistic? I don’t know; but I do know this: We sadly seem to be backing away from the belief system that can most effectively influence us all to behave better.
As most people in our country surmise, Christianity is under attack in America these days. We’re in fact now living in post-Christianity America where the majority of people check the box “other” when asked in surveys what their religion was. Europe has already acquiesced to this phenomenon, and another of Adam’s predictions is turning out be true. We’re following Europe’s bad example in gradually pulling away from the only belief system whose principles can serve to guide us in avoiding the fate Adams described: “Tyranny and destruction.”
At this point, I can’t say what needs to be done legislatively to try and reverse this destructive trend; but I do know that a continuation of government support for the wealthy which is coupled with a support of antagonism towards Christianity is counter-productive.