I am increasingly uncomfortable whenever I hear a United States politician utter the words, "God Bless these United States of America" as the closing line in a public address.
In years past, as a Canadian whose home town depended on the American tourist dollars for its retail survival, when "tourist" included both travellers by boat and auto as well as owners of many of the summer resort properties on Georgian Bay we commonly call cottages, although some would have been better dubbed 'estates', we welcomed both the friendly people and their abundant and flowing dollars.
They came, with their multicolored state license plates ("tags" to them) and their Buicks and their Cadillacs and their Chrysler Imerpials and they quite literally infused the local economy with their cash injection, probably in the millions of dollars each year.
As a child I remember, with some distaste that has developed over the decades, penny scrambles on the local town dock when the "cruise ships" originated from Duluth Minnesota would bring their passengers to our town on Thursday afternoons, as part of their Great Lakes Cruises, and the tourists would throw loose change onto the dock as the local kids scrambled to grab whatever we could, in the mode of something formerly known as a "peanut scramble" only this was real money and it was American money to boot. And this, after those some tourists has walked the few hundred yards uptown to throw even larger amounts of cash into stores selling Hudson's Bay Import Coats, blankets, and English bone china, all as treasures of the American visits to our little town, before returning to their ship for their overnight stay before departing for the next Great Lake town or city.
It was all very "quaint" and, for the business operators, highly lucrative.
Spreading money, as a model of American affluence and sometimes generosity, is a signature piece for the American culture and history, given the large quantities that their ingenuity and their drive for profits and earnings have generated. The Marshall Plan, for example, poured billions into the recovery of Europe following the Second World War. Similarly, in Viet Nam, American dollars have helped to build a thriving national economy, among equally or perhaps even more industrious people. Rebuilding Japan, also following the Second World War is a significant accomplishment, with the American signature all over it, in cash.
However, a strange thing has happened on the way to the twenty-first century: American largesse and generosity has become American purchasing power over the hearts and minds of people who came to resent their being patronized.
Paralleling the American doling out cash to hardpressed regions and even preceding it, religious zealots worked to "convert" innocent peoples to the Christian gospel, as an integral component of the American capitalistic enterprise. Linked to code words like "freedom" and "democracy" and "individual rights" and love of country (code for America) this prosletyzing by Christians has somehow fused into a religious zeal that incapsulates both capitalism and some forms of adherence to the New Testament, that in the United States itself, appears as a morphing hybrid known as the "prosperity gospel" which holds that God wants everyone to be rich, and churches that espouse such a view are filled with literally thousands every Sunday.
However, marching to that drum, toward family prosperity and business prosperity, as a Christian value system, linked so intimately as to be literally enmeshed with it, is a Pentagon comprising the largest, most advanced and fastest growing "killing machine" the world has ever known. Undergirding that killing machine, is the largest weapons manufacturing and distributing industry on the planet, dedicated to the spread of smaller "killing machines" in so many various forms and sizes that there are some 200,000,000 of them in homes, offices and factories owned by individuals across the United States, not to mention the millions of killing machines with American insignia on them in the hands of killers around the world.
The United States has also sold extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction to various buyers, including the hated and now deceased Saddam Hussein of Iraq (when Iraq was an ally to America in another conflict with Iran), and so their capacity to "capitalize" on their business acumen, linked to their obsession with both weapons and profits, has quite literally armed the world's most dangerous individuals and groups not only with the material to conduct violence but also the mindset that is needed to carry out such acts of violence.
It is not a stretch to say, with over 80 people killed every day by gun violence within the United States, spiking periodically into mass killings far too frequently in schools, theatres, and on street corners, and with drug gangs peddling their poison in every city and town across the continent, feeding an addiction whose dimensions can only be termed "texan" in their scope, and their entertainment industry that has been known as the propagator of the most exciting and dramatic and courageous and visionary the world has ever known, is birthing a full menu of violent games, movies, television shows and generations of young people who know that violence, along with sex, sells whatever it is the American enterprise wishes to profit from.
And so, with the largest economy, the largest army, navy and air force, and now the largest supply of secret weapons and the capacity to deliver them anywhere on the planet, without lifting a hand at the scene of the violence, the nation is embroiled in activities that can only be described as violent self-sabotage.
Long past has the tipping point been reached, whereby the American culture could pull back from this obsession with both violence and the pursuit of money, profit, in all of its various forms...(McMansions, and BMW's and yachts, and country estates and the purchase of acolytes whose life depends on their obeisance to the money they take home to feed their children in meagre wages while waiting on the new generation of the rich and famous.
We have, indeed, entered a new guilded age, with all of the predictable Gatsby's attempting to recover a long-lost past, with money of course, because Americans know only Buying their way into the affections of "others" as their political creed, supported by their prosletyzing religion and their corporate profit-seeking mode, similar to their vaunted "heat-seeking missiles" in the military trade.
There is no president, and no Congress capable of managing the monster the U.S. has created; there is no town or city that can handle the complexity of profit-seeking measures enmeshed with underhanded means, and the new "national security" aparatus that has been generated out of fear following 9/11, and the monster that once threw pennies on a dock in Georgian Bay has become both the feeding animal that is so all-consuming that it is eating its own within, and attempting to protect that addiction from being attacked from without.
The American culture is in danger of falling into a pit of greed, wealth so thinly distributed that millions will not survive, and a form of religion that anyone from the Gospel times who might revisit would be hard pressed to recognize a single act of "Christian forgiveness and charity" especially for the "least of those among you"....as to be chagrined and disenheartened with the turn of mind and heart that is quickly hardening into a mere shadow of its former glory.
And only a return to the small, the local and the aacountable...in all aspects of the American culture will provide a new and badly needed critical examination of how the whole thing went awry.
And it has certainly gone awry!
And, it may have to explode, like a multiple-metastasizing tumour, before the toxicity can be excised from the patient's body politic.
And in the meantime, it would do Americans well to cease their incessant and ritualistic chant, "God Bless America" and listen to some of the exhortations of the Sermon on the Mount, instead of shouting their perverted "Christianity" as their insurance policy against their own insidious intentions to power and dominance, through whatever means are available, and also through their seduction of whatever poverty of mind, body and spirit might lie in innocence waiting for American rescue.
The American hero is dead, and needs rescuing from all of his addictions to power, money and medications.
However, as a Christian clergy colleague once commented when confronting the charge that too many hypocrits were sitting in the pews, "What better place could they be in than in the church pew still seeking God's guidance and wisdom, love and forgiveness, while they struggle with their own hypocrisy? For after all, God loves hypocrits too, otherwise none of us would have any hope of reconciliation!"