Author: Nathaniel Slattery
Posted: Month of the Immaculate Conception, 9th Day, Year of Our Lord 2022
This is the introduction to a scholarly work on American History from a Catholic perspective, by a local lecturer at Appalachian State University, who I have the honor of assisting to write it:
This little book began first as a lecture delivered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on November 14th, 2015. Joshua Paxson put together a forum with the topic of Christ’s significance in American culture. It is a pressing topic, given that American culture hardly cares about Christ as far as pursuing His truths, and the real danger that she may find, like many others resurrected at the Last Judgment, that while she professed to know Christ, Christ may say He never knew her.
We understand this is a bold statement for many Americans to hear. Certainly, Jeremiah would have deserved to die in a pit if he had not been right about his nation. We are not Communists, and we vote Conservative, like most Christians, heretics or Catholics. So it seems, as far as the dichotomy goes, that we ought to be saying that America is the shining city on the hill, blessed by God, as all good Republicans since Ronald Reagan have said. But it’s not. Its light is only the beguiling darkness of what might be the most anti-Christian nation to have ever existed. (cf. Matt. 6.23)
In American culture, individual autonomy reigns as the dominant power of the air. One might call it American individualism, American exceptionalism, American singularism, or American heterodoxy. It is what makes America and Americans special, especially to themselves. It is the idea that, rather than the state, the society, the polity, the city, the town, the village, the king, the aristocracy, the rich, the poor, the Church, the religion, or the family, instead of all these, the individual is the basis, the beginning, the end, the focus, the primary stakeholder, the primary powerholder, the alpha, and the omega of all human organizations, especially political ones. It is this idea as an idea, and held in a pragmatist and utilitarian (that is American) paradigm, which acts it out to its logical ends in every circumstance encounterable. It is everything centered upon Man, who has tasted the fruit of the tree of good and evil, has tasted the knowledge of freedom, and now believes himself like unto God. And American culture is the worship due him by him.
This book is not about convincing you of all that. It would be shorter if it was. Rather, it is about the roots and genealogy of American culture and its primary tenet and Single Commandment, “Do as thou wilt”. It is looking over the water to that first rotten transplant root, England, and the English heresy, and seeing on this side of the ocean the plant which in horror cut itself off from that heresy to plant itself in fertile shores without England or its mother, the Church, which it spurned. We shall see how this seed fell from a rotten branch which it hated, and took root in a new land, and then grew like a weed. We shall trace it from its root to its stem, to its trunk, to its branch, and then finally see the fruits which it has produced over five hundred years. Some are immense (Henry VIII and Thomas Hobbes), some are amenable to the eyes (Locke and Smith), some are alien (Benjamin Constant and Anton Szandor LaVey), some are shriveled under the shadow of others (David Brat), but all are rotten.
“Don’t tread on me,” says the snake, that ancient serpent in the garden, to the Heel of Our Lady. America sees this and, conceived in iniquity (cf. Ps. 51:7), stiff-necked (cf. Deut. 9:6), and rebellious in their hearts (cf. Deut. 9:7), have always thought it a threat instead of a desperate plea from a dirty creature on its belly, which consumes its own and others’ children. What a clever liar the snake is. We wonder, in that ancient serpent’s mind, does it plan on having America at the top of the hierarchy in hell? Or does this country with its many sons and daughters filling up the census underneath the Earth, which rejects all hierarchy, instead have its destiny under the heel of the one under the Heel?