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17 January 2008

“A City on a Hill”

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:14-16

We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when he shall make us a praise and glory that me shall say of succeeding plantations, “the Lord make it like that of New England.” For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.
John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity” 1630

Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place, America, that shone as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before.
Barack Obama, “The Audacity of Hope,” Democratic National Convention 2004

The lives of hundreds of thousands of America's sons and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve freedom, for us and for freedom loving people throughout the world.
Mitt Romney, “Faith in America,” George Bush Presidential Library 2007


The notion that the United States has been blessed for an exceptional purpose as a redeemer nation (see Ernest Lee Tuveson’s book) runs deep. Presidents, Presidential Candidates, and many politicians routinely end speeches, “may God richly bless the United States of America,” or similar sentences. It should not be considered insignificant, therefore, that three conservative histories of the United States deploy language from Matthew 5:14 in chapter titles. The first chapter of A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen is titled “The City on the Hill, 1492-1707.” William J. Bennett gives the title “A City Upon a Hill (1607-1765)” to the second chapter in America: The Last Best Hope. Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People begins with “‘A City on a Hill’ Colonial America, 1580-1750.”

In contrast to these conservative histories, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States narrates the colonial era in chapters titled “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress,” “Drawing the Color Line,” and “persons of Mean and Vile Condition.” Likewise, Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen offers no biblical phrases in the early chapter titles, rather “Handicapped by History: The Process of Hero-Making,” “1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus,” “The Truth about the First Thanksgiving,” and “Red Eyes.”


1 comment:

Ann said...

In the quotations at the top of the post, you left out Ronald Reagan's "shining city on a hill" speech.

The right-wing histories you cite are attached to the biblical language and laws of the puritans because they can't find them in the founding documents of the United States, ca. 1776-1789. All puritan founders-worship rests on a highly selective read of early New England history. How many Americans would really want to live in John Winthrop's Boston? (Lots of English protestants at the time fled Boston as soon as they could, and founded Connecticut and New Hampshire so that they could escape Winthrop!) All of those right-wing Southern Baptists might be surprised to learn that they would have been the first to be exiled because of their "unorthodox" beliefs.

Anyway, congratulations on the blog, and good luck with your close readings of both Schweikart and Allen, and Zinn.

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