Alexis de Tocqueville, (July 29, 1805-April 16, 1859) wrote, "I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world of commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." (Karon, Jan, Patches of Godlight, Penguin Books, New York, NY 2001).
Alexis de Tocqueville was from the upper stratum of the French aristocracy. He was sent to the United States by his family to avoid the turmoil resulting from the Revolution of 1830, with his friend Gustave de Beaumont. While the stated purpose of his visit was to study the American penal system, Tocqueville did much more during his nine-month journey (May 11,1831? February 20, 1832) that took him from Boston in the east to Green Bay in the west, Sault Ste. Marie in the north and New Orleans in the south. His account of this visit has become a classic work of social commentary and political philosophy. In critiquing 19th century America, Tocqueville points out her weaknesses as well as strengths. Democracy requires a moral base, he argues: "When the religion of a people is destroyed, doubt gets hold of the higher powers of the intellect and half paralyzes all the others. Such a condition cannot but enervate the soul, relax the springs of the will, and prepare a people for servitude. When there is no longer any principle of authority in religion any more than in politics, men are speedily frightened at the aspect of this unbounded independence. Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. Religion is much more necessary in democratic republics than in any others. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed?"
There can be no question that we in America today are a country in crisis. America which was once known as the great melting pot of the world, today is moving toward a widening divide between cultures and races. Instead of assimilating into "one nation under God" we are separating into various camps. Talk to various people and it is no longer "I’m an American" but rather "I am a (fill in the blank) hyphen American." What seems like an innocent statement is in fact a symptom of a growing isolation from one another. The motto "E plurabus unum" (out of the many one) no longer holds true, rather out of the one nation a divisive spirit seems to be emerging.
We could discuss the socio-political reasons for this growing trend. We could look at the psychological factors leading to these factions, but when all is said and done, the issue is neither social, political, psychological or cultural — it is an issue of the heart. Since the Tower of Babel (see Genesis 11), the family of man has been at odds with one another. The Bible puts the problem succinctly: "What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure" (James 4:1-3, NLT).
The problem is a heart problem. The answer is a heart transplant. We need new hearts. We need a heart that is transformed by God. As a Christian, and a believer in the literal creation account recorded in Genesis 1-3, so ultimately I believe that we are, in fact, one big family. We may have different colored skin, different facial features and different backgrounds, but when all is said and done, we are all related to Adam through Noah. We are one family; one race — the human race. Only as Christ changes our hearts can we recognize the value of others and only as we submit to the principles of Christianity can we learn to live with diversity in harmony. E plurabus unum is impossible apart from the redeeming work of Christ in our hearts.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. He can be heard Thursdays on the radio on WMVV 90.7 (FM) at 8:30 p.m.