Immigration and the 'Whatever' State
"To what does one assimilate in modern America?"
That question was posed by Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan in their 1963 book, Beyond the Melting Pot. It still is the most important but most neglected issue in the immigration policy debate.
"In 1900 the answer was clear: assimilation meant Americanization," wrote Harvard's Samuel P. Huntington in 2004 in his book, Who Are We? "In 2000 the answers were complicated, contradictory, and ambiguous," he said. "Many elite Americans were no longer confident of the virtue of their mainstream culture and instead preached a doctrine of diversity and the equal validity of all cultures in America," Huntington wrote.
What did "Americanization" mean in 1900?
Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who wrote Democracy in America, described the United States in the early 19th century as a nation more "under the influence of Christianity... than in any part of western Continental Europe, and I think greater than in England." More than a century later, English historian Paul Johnson saw America as "a God-fearing country."
The "mainstream culture" was as variegated as committed Christians John Adams and Benjamin Rush on the one hand, and Deists like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine on the other. They were all in consensus that God exists, He is transcendent, and all are accountable to Him.
In short, they were "God-fearing" to one degree or another, even Paine and Jefferson, especially in their later years.
Immigrations into the America of the old consensus brought a mingling of cultures that flavored the expression of the essential Judeo-Christian belief system, but did not seek to alter the basic recipe.
The Houston church where I serve now is some 20 percent Latino, 11 or 12 percent African-American, five to seven percent Asian, and the rest Caucasian varieties like me. The fellowship is rich, and the worship many-faceted. When all those enriching elements come together one thinks it's a tasty morsel of what Heaven must be like.
However, the melting pot of the nation itself is no longer producing a savory stew of many ingredients, but has become a cauldron in which America is being rendered into the "whatever state."
"To what does one assimilate in modern America?"
"Whatever," reply the contemporary consensus-setting elites (the establishments of entertainment, information, academia, and politics). There is one usual exclusion – the Judeo-Christian worldview and its values.
To paraphrase Jesus in Mark 4:30, "to what shall we liken" the "whatever state"?
Perhaps a Halloween pumpkin. Contemporary establishment elites have hollowed out the nation's core until America seems increasingly a lot of pulpy external mass, but an increasingly vacant interior.
Or, perhaps America is becoming a tabula rasa, an empty slate, whose core values have been erased. Whoever and whatever enters may write a new belief system on the blank heart of the nation – "whatever". This is what politically correct multiculturalism and equivalency are all about.
We may also compare the current worldview crisis to the primeval "void" conjured by Stephen Hawking and other non-deists to try to explain creation without God. The deep dark crucible awaits the "fluctuation" that will give it form and energy.
Put "something" into "nothing," and the "nothing" is no longer a "nothing," but assumes the "form" of the new "something." That's the story of evolving Europe, where a spiritual void of nihilism is feeling the effects of the powerful "fluctuation" of Muslim immigration.
Much is lost in America and other western nations with the passing of the old consensus, and among the first to be impacted are immigrants themselves. Under the Judeo-Christian worldview, if God didn't force Himself on people, neither should government compel people into a state-sanctioned religion. Under the old consensus all were to be equal in opportunity to build and gather in their respective houses of worship, but that did not mean all belief systems were equivalent in validity and value.
Therefore, the core consensus around the transcendence of God is what made it possible for immigrants to build their own churches, mosques, temples, and other religious institutions. "The United States is by far the most religious and Christian country in the world, and that, just because religion is there most free" said a Jewish observer of early America quoted by historian Philip Schaff.
Is there hope for America's survival as a free and prosperous nation with arms open to immigrants as well as its native-born children? Here's what must be done:
• Churches must hold fast to the Bible's authority, and commit to living as a prophetic remnant within the nation that conserves the Judeo-Christian worldview and its values, rather than running after the "truth"-du jour
• School systems must stop hiding a major portion of American history from students, as though the nation's story was secular only.
• Citizenship education must tell the whole story to immigrants.
• Families must recover the vision of Psalm 78, in which parents teach the original worldview to their children and model lifestyles guided by its values so that "the generation to come might know…"
Otherwise, the American future may zip into one of two possible trajectories. One is a rigid order enforced by stern political correctness as defined by the establishment elites of either extreme right or left, depending on the shifting ideological "fluctuations".
The other potential future for an America without the "fear of God" (or any nation) is the wild and destructive chaos of an asteroid belt. Immigration is about much more than numbers and quotas. It's about the solar core that makes a system of diverse objects a unified whole supporting one another rather than a random assortment of colliding rocks.
Any immigration policy that does not understand and address the urgency of assimilation into the worldview that created the freedoms and opportunities that have drawn immigrants across the centuries – including my own ancestors – may win congressional approval and the President's signature.
But it will fail the nation.