Like our family, a large percentage of you may fall into the “born and raised here” slice of the American pie. Although we may have been offered glimpses into other world cultures through social-studies classes, TV shows, the evening news, the World Wide Web, periodicals, and international travel, most of us in that slice really, truly only know this nation’s one way of life. For those of you who do not fall into that figurative segment and live elsewhere in the world, the opposite may be true.
Surely, the United States of America is large and varied, offering geographic and cultural differences within its expansive boundaries. Additionally, many others from foreign lands have ventured to our nation and have gone through the process to become naturalized citizens, which creates further diversity and broadens our collective culture. Yet these two phenomena notwithstanding, there is an overarching, pervasive way of life that is uniquely American.
Perhaps most fundamental to defining this broad framework is the notion that we are “the land of the free.” We are a country founded on liberties and certain inalienable rights, including the pursuit of happiness. These foundational principles derive from God Himself and His perfect word—the Holy Bible. Our founding fathers were very intentional in creating this blueprint built on bedrock and Christian values, articulated in the Declaration of Independence’s most famous phrase:
“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.”
Seven years later, The Paris Peace Treaty of 1783, which formally ended the Revolutionary War and granted independence to the United States, began with the phrase, “In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity.” This clear Christian reference was further reinforced just before the turn of the nineteenth century when the US Supreme Court officially held the nation to be Christian. Decades later, Congress passed a joint resolution adopting “In God We Trust” as the United States’ official motto.
Some might see the notion of America being a Christian nation as a paradox, considering that the First Amendment to our Constitution establishes freedom of religion and speech. Although that core document is silent on God and Christianity, it also fails to mention separation of church and state. Historians indicate that the intent was to clearly allow for the freedom to pursue any religious belief but retain God as the foundation of the nation. In other words, the founders knew that God’s ways—His values and truths—were the perfect principles on which to build a prosperous and just nation.
The foundational principles include the premise that government should be limited, and that it should be of the people and for the people, based on truth and laws. A natural extension of this philosophy is capitalism based on a free-market system. And first and foremost, as previously highlighted, individuals are created equal and have the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
These concepts of individual empowerment and limited government gave birth to the American Dream. Broadly, this term has come to signify that individual success, prosperity, and happiness are theoretically attainable by all through individual initiative, hard work, and ambition. Hope prevails.
Many ardently believe that our nation has, in fact, been blessed and has prospered due to these Christian roots as well as our obedience to God’s call to be a friend to Israel. Psalm 128:1–2 (ESV) says, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.” Additionally, Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) reads, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
In reality, a great many Americans have realized the American Dream to varying degrees. Some have literally gone from rags to riches. Entrepreneurs have flourished through ingenuity and inspiration. Others have climbed ladders of success or realized career achievements through sheer determination and hard work. Yet others have simply experienced happiness and joy through the freedom to pursue their passions and attain personal goals and objectives. Exceptionalism continues to be a hallmark of this nation.
Freedom itself is a tremendous blessing that can easily be taken for granted. It is the norm when you do not know any other way. Having the ability to speak your beliefs without fear or censure, pursue your interests personally and professionally, and choose your friends—and spouse for that matter—all contribute profoundly to happiness.
In America, opportunities and choices abound. Amenities and services are abundant. Although it is right to acknowledge that levels of access and enablers may vary, and like anything involving human beings, faults and flaws exist, our country compares extremely favorably on a global scale. Generosity and human kindness are integral to American society, as is an ongoing aspiration to make our way of life better for all.
Living in this nation, particularly without the contrast of living in another country and culture, can almost make us blind or numb to the awesome privilege it is to be an American. We can easily lose sight of, or perhaps never even set our sights on, how blessed we are to live in this country. In truth, it is a tremendous blessing in and of itself that serves to enable many other blessings.
And these blessings surely help us to realize happiness and joy. It is like the gift that keeps on giving.
Our Nation—The Gift That Keeps on Giving is an excerpt from Joy All Around Us.