Sunday, May 29, 2016

Is the United States "a hellhole"?

"A hellhole" is how Donald Trump describes the United States.

I have lots of criticisms of my country, but according to Trump, the country is sliding into Third World status and is militarily and economically impotent.

Is that true? No, says Washington Post columnist and CNN host Fareed Zakaria. Even though we live in a more complicated world and the United States will have to continue to work with international partners, the country is still the world's preeminent military, economic, and innovation power. A sampling:
In fact, it is increasingly clear that the United States has in recent years reinforced its position as the world’s leading economic, technological, military and political power. The country dominates virtually all leading industries — from social networks to mobile telephony to nano- and biotechnology — like never before. It has transformed itself into an energy superpower — the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas — while also moving to the cutting edge of the green-technology revolution. And it is demographically vibrant, while all its major economic peers (Japan, Europe and even China) face certain demographic decline... 
...there are nine global tech platforms (Google Chrome, Microsoft Office, Facebook, etc.) that are used by more than 1 billion people. All dominate their respective markets — and all are American. The dollar is more widely used for international financial transactions today than it was 20 years ago... 
...China is the closest the United States has to a rising rival but only on one measure, gross domestic product... 
...The United States’ inclusive wealth totaled almost $144 trillion in 2010 — 4½ times China’s $32 trillion. China is far behind the United States in its ability to add value to goods and create new products... 
In 2013, China took in less than $1 billion, while the United States received $128 billion. In 2012, America registered seven times as many “triadic” patents — those granted in the United States, Europe and Japan. 
In the military and political realm, the dominance is even more lopsided. There are many ways to measure this, but take just one: the most potent form of force projection, aircraft carriers. The United States operates 10. China has one, a secondhand Ukrainian ship that it had to retrofit. In the realm of high-tech warfare — drones, stealth — Washington’s lead is even greater. And perhaps most important, the United States has a web of allies around the world and is actually developing new important ones, such as India and Vietnam. Meanwhile, China has one military ally, North Korea.
Military and economic power aren't end games for the human race, of course. You can, as Jesus tells us, gain the world and lose your soul.

And we do have major problems in this country that need to be resolved. Our Information Age economy and agricultural and industrial infrastructures need to create more opportunities for more people. We have income disparities that threaten the social fabric of the country. Racism continues to be a blight on our national life. Our food supply appears to be threatened by our incessant pursuit of greater yields. A lack of opportunities for women equal to their male counterparts is an ongoing scandal of American life. So too is our contempt for the lives of the young and unemployed and of babies in the womb.

There is also a general pessimism and cynicism that afflicts America that I find troubling.

On a flight from Chicago to Denver this past week, our flight attendant, a sassy person with lots of funny patter, talked about what we were to do should we need to make a water landing. (Presumably in Lake Michigan.)

A thirty-something passenger said, "If we land in the water, none of us is going to survive anyway." The steward replied with good humor, "Haven't you ever heard about what happened on the Hudson?"

She was referring, of course, to US Airways Flight #1549, which, in 2009, made an emergency landing in the Hudson River. All 155 passengers and crew were saved.

But the passenger was unconvinced. "Yeah, but when was that, twenty years ago?"

Set aside his poor sense of history for a moment and just consider the implications of his remark. "That happened in the good old days, when Americans were competent and technology could be relied upon," he was saying.

I wanted to tell that young man, some rows ahead of me, "We aren't living in the Dark Ages, no matter how crappy movies or reality TV shows may have convinced you that we are!"

I'm more concerned about America's spiritual health, the refusal of many to believe in much beyond themselves, than I am about its economic or military standing, of course. I believe that we desperately need a spiritual renewal in which people take up the new life that comes from Jesus Christ.

Historically, waves of deepened or new faith in Christ have brought innovation to the world in medicine, in law, in economics. (Check out The Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark to see what I mean.)

The reason for this is fairly simple. When you believe, as Christianity teaches, that God cares so passionately about every human individual that He took on human flesh, died for us, rose for us, and gives forgiveness and new life to all who trust in Christ, it imbues every believer with a sense of possibility, of belief that we are not bound to live by the same constraints of previous generations, and that we can be creative and innovative.

No other faith has unleashed the individual to achieve the way Christianity has, particularly after the Reformation reclaimed the Biblical concept of "the priesthood of all believers."

Besides, when you know that you have life beyond death, it makes you bolder about making this a better world, giving the life to Marx's notion that religion--by which he meant Christianity--is an enervating opiate. In fact, it's an energizing motive force!

Christianity can save us from the resigned cynicism that young man on the plane expressed and from notions, however well intended, that America is altogether "a hellhole." It is some measure of where we are spiritually, that we even listen to such ill-informed critiques, whether from Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or a passenger on a flight from Chicago to Denver.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

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