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The Coming RevolutionSigns from America's Past That Signal Our Nation's Future
By Richard G. Lee
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Richard G. Lee
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePortrait of a Nation
What is the source of America's greatness? By any standard this country has a remarkable story to tell, with its dramatic history and an enviable record of achievements in almost any area you can think of. America is the world's longest surviving democratic republic, operating under the same Constitution and laws for the past 236 years. The nation enjoys the greatest level of personal liberty, the highest standard of living, the largest economy, the most dynamic commercial and industrial sectors, and the most consequential foreign policy of any nation—all of it defended by the best-trained and most technologically sophisticated military in human history.
But America is not merely the world's richest and most powerful nation. It is also the most benevolent, rushing to the four corners of the earth to bring relief to nations stricken by wars, famines, and disasters of every kind. Public and private charities, relief organizations, and international aid societies are constantly on the move, reaching out to "the least of these" wherever there is pain and suffering. They do it without pay and often without credit of any kind because they understand that the blessings of prosperity have made this nation a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.
On average, the American people give more than $300 billion each year to charitable causes. According to the most recent report from Giving USA, Americans donated more than $303 billion in 2009, $315 billion in 2008, and $295 billion in 2007. These donations are distributed among approximately 1.2 million IRS-registered charities and 350,000 religious congregations. This is in addition to the $25 billion the U.S. government spends each year in foreign aid to countries around the globe. Germany's foreign aid, by comparison, ranks second with contributions of about $13 billion.
Americans give the largest percentage of their charitable donations to religious organizations, at approximately $101 billion, followed by educational organizations at $40 billion, charitable foundations at $31 billion, human services organizations at $27 billion, and health organizations at $22.5 billion. Especially interesting is the fact that 65 percent of U.S. households with annual incomes less than $100,000 donate to charity. Wealthy Americans may give more, but middleclass Americans give a larger percentage of their income. In addition to the financial gifts, America also leads the world in volunteerism, donating time and service to charitable and faith-based organizations. And that's a custom as old as the nation itself.
In the 1830s, the French statesman Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and was impressed by many things, but the one thing that really surprised him was the great number of "voluntary associations" in this country. In his classic work, Democracy in America, he writes:
Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations. There are not only commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but others of a thousand different types—religious, moral, serious, futile, very general and very limited, immensely large and very minute. Americans combine to give fêtes, found seminaries, build churches, distribute books, and send missionaries to the antipodes. Hospitals, prisons, and schools take shape in that way. Finally, if they want to proclaim a truth or propagate some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form an association.
This spirit of generosity and commitment to worthy causes was unique in that day, he felt, and was matched only by the industry and imagination of the American businessman. When he looked at all the incredible achievements this country had racked up in less than a century, he marveled at the wealth of the American Spirit:
The Americans arrived but yesterday in the land where they live, and they have already turned the whole order of nature upside down to their profit. They have joined the Hudson to the Mississippi and linked the Atlantic with the Gulf of Mexico across a continent of more than 500 leagues separating the two seas. The longest railways yet constructed are in the United States.
Entrepreneurship and vision were the hallmarks of American business then just as they are today, but what Tocqueville found most compelling was the fact that everywhere he looked the citizens were working together, building things, giving freely of their time and labor. "I am even more struck," he writes, "by the innumerable multitude of little undertakings than by the extraordinary size of some of their industrial enterprises."
Most of what this nation has achieved over the past three centuries is due, I believe, to the faith and character of the American people. These qualities are under great stress today, that's true, but where would the world be if it weren't for the resolute faith and indomitable spirit of America's pioneers? If you ask the average person to name our greatest achievements, many would no doubt point to education. As early as the mid-1600s, public education was already widespread in New England. Thomas Jefferson was among the first to formulate plans for universal public education, and by the end of the nineteenth century that goal had been accomplished.
America is also home to some of the world's leading universities—the whole world sends its sons and daughters to this country for the advanced studies that will allow them to succeed in what ever professions they may choose. The context and character of secondary and higher education have changed dramatically over the past half century—not for the better, unfortunately—but it's true nevertheless that the emphasis on education is among our most noteworthy achievements.
Visitors like Tocqueville, as mentioned above, have been impressed by such things as the vast network of railroads spanning the continent, but from the earliest days of the republic, we have profited from the contributions of individual inventors and innovators, such as Benjamin Franklin, who gave us the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, bifocal reading glasses, improved printing presses, and countless other inventions. The Wright brothers were among the first to discover the basic principles of lift and thrust in fixed-wing aircraft, which opened the door to modern aviation. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, which transformed the processing of cotton fiber and revolutionized the textile industry.
Thomas Edison, "the genius of Menlo Park," was granted more than one thousand patents during his life for his inventions with electricity, including the incandescent lightbulb, the telephone, the telegraph, and the motion picture camera. And there was Henry Ford, whose goal was not simply to build a better car, but to build an automobile that every family could afford. He built the first Model-T Ford in 1908—the Tin Lizzie—and shortly thereafter developed the concept of the assembly line, which revolutionized manufacturing the world over. George Eastman, who invented and popularized the Kodak camera, gave us the first portable and affordable cameras that anyone could operate. Such inventions have literally changed the world.
At the same time, American scientists and engineers have pioneered some of the most formidable advances in civil engineering, such as the construction of the Hoover Dam during the midst of the Great Depression. It was a monumental undertaking, and it continues to provide electricity and water today for more than eight million people in the states of California, Nevada, and Arizona. Any list of American achievements in science would have to include the great strides this country has made in medicine and medical technology, improving the lives of billions around the world.
Advances in medical practice and emergency treatment save lives every day through fast-response trauma teams and state-of-the-art surgical procedures. Modern medicines have extended life-expectancy by decades while advances in audiology, dentistry, and optometry have improved the quality of life for millions more. America is still the only country to put a man on the moon or to send an unmanned rover vehicle to the planet Mars, some forty million miles from Earth. And I should also mention the successes of Hollywood, the cinema, documentary filmmakers, radio, television, and the broadcast media in all their various forms. No other medium has done more to inform, educate, and entertain us than the arts of broadcast and film.
Along with all of this, the telephone may be the real success story of our time. Telephone technology has come a long way since the days of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, giving us the Internet, high-speed local- and wide-area networks, cellular telephones, the iPhone and iPad, and countless other modern inventions. America leads the world in the development, distribution, and commercial success of all these modern marvels, and has unleashed a new era of mass communications.
No one disputes the importance of these things, but few realize that none of them would have happened if it weren't for the even greater achievements in political discourse: specifically, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, including the Bill of Rights. These two documents, which for the first time in history laid out the principles of limited government and natural rights in a precise, ordered, and prescriptive manner, are America's gift to the world. The War of Independence that led to the establishment of this new nation was not simply a blow for personal freedom; it was above all a statement of the value the American people place on liberty and freedom of conscience for all people. And it was a statement of our willingness to defend those liberties at home and abroad.
AMERICA'S GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT
As we consider these various achievements, it's important to recognize that the true source of America's greatness is not merely the inventions and creature comforts we've accumulated over the years but the wisdom and vision that made them possible. That legacy comes to us from men such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, through the values and beliefs they enshrined in our founding documents. Among the greatest gifts one generation could ever give to another are freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, and the right to a fair and just hearing. These were all gifts from the Founders.
It is important to understand, furthermore, that these liberties are the outward expressions of our Judeo-Christian heritage. When the Pilgrims left the safety and comfort of their homes in Europe to cross an angry sea and plant the first colonies in the New World, they were guided by their strong Christian faith. The principles they lived by have been the cornerstone of America's success for the past 250 years and are still the moral compass we follow today. Despite the claims so often repeated these days that the Founders were simply Deists who believed in a watchmaker God who left the creation to fend for itself, we now know that fifty-two of fifty-six Founding Fathers were devout believers in Jesus Christ.
I have written about this in previous works and won't recite all the evidence here, but even the man whom most people agree was the least religious of the Founders, Benjamin Franklin, knew that no great nation would ever rise upon these shores without the aid and intervention of a great and wise God. In one of the most surprising speeches of the revolutionary era, the sage of Philadelphia reminded his colleagues in the Continental Congress that, "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it" (Psalm 127:1). He then petitioned that body, which had been hopelessly mired in debate, to begin each day's deliberations with prayer. The delegates were humbled by his words because they knew he was right. They paused then for a time of prayer, and they vowed to pray every day in the same manner until they had resolved their differences. The document they produced has guided this nation ever since, and it was even hailed by an English prime minister, William Gladstone, who said, "The American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man."
The story of America's greatness is not only about glory and triumph. Some of the nation's greatest achievements were only made possible by the adversity our ancestors endured. Between 20,000 and 25,000 Americans lost their lives in the American Revolution, and nearly the same number were seriously wounded. Despite the risks, they were willing to sacrifice their lives for the great prize of independence and individual liberty. More than 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War, but that struggle preserved the nation and transformed our understanding of human and civil rights. Add to that the more than 115,000 Americans who died in the First World War and the 292,000 in the Second, and you have a glimpse of the enormous price our predecessors paid to keep this country free.
More than any other nation, including all the great empires of the past, America has spread the dream of liberty around the world and helped to bring a higher standard of living to untold millions. And like those ancient empires, which were the standard-bearers of culture and learning for a time, today America has been entrusted with transmitting the blessings of freedom. More than mere business connections or scientific expertise, what America has to share with other nations is our appreciation of the values of integrity, self-discipline, and self-determination passed down to us by the Founders. Whether it's in regard to politics or economics or industry or any of the modern disciplines, we will find that in every area America's greatness is founded upon the moral and religious values of those pioneers.
As the scholar and historian Russell Kirk has written, "Every people, no matter how savage or how civilized, have some form of religion: that is, some form of belief in a great supernatural power that influences human destiny." Culture, Kirk said famously, comes from the cult. That is, the distinctive qualities and customs of every culture arise from the religious beliefs of its people. The Communists attempted to deny the existence of God and made atheism the only acceptable form of belief. But as the Soviet Union's collapse in 1989–1990 made clear, the empire had failed to stamp out religious faith completely, and today Christianity is thriving once again in the former Soviet bloc. The Communists discovered that no nation can survive for long without a foundation of sound moral principles.
Concern for the well-being of others is one of the key traits of good character. Unfortunately, we see less and less of that these days. And when we see rising crime rates, evidence of corruption in business and government, the breakdown of the family, the increase in out-of-wedlock childbirths, the ongoing tragedy of abortion, and a rising climate of immorality and vulgarity in the popular culture, we have to wonder if our great moral heritage can survive. Author and attorney Charles Colson has written that, "A nation or a culture cannot endure for long unless it is undergirded by common values such as valor, public-spiritedness, respect for others and for the law; it cannot stand unless it is populated by people who will act on motives superior to their own immediate interest."
The American ideals of freedom and individual rights, charity, duty, honesty, and love for others are, above all, religious beliefs. Even though America is less visibly a religious nation today than it was a century ago, it is the depth and strength of the foundations laid down by our Christian forebears that have allowed us to thrive in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. And, even with all our struggles and doubts, we are still living on the dividends of that investment.
Excerpted from The Coming Revolution by Richard G. Lee Copyright © 2012 by Richard G. Lee. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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