Culture and Tradition: Government

Forms of government are formal ways of establishing values and behavior.  Around government, there has been in my life time almost constant conversation about “culture wars.”  Are Americans in a 300+ year long experimentation in creating a new culture?  Do the routine expressions of American pride in our form of government and our laws really express a new thing in the world, or do they express a way of life that is not accessible by those in the wrong caste in this land?

I would not expect you to be keeping up with the controversies this past year over the Advanced Placement US History course, but perhaps you have heard about it. Over a year ago, the AP Board changed the US history course from what had been a fairly traditional course on names, dates and places of US history, laws, acts, treaties–with the overriding expression of American Exceptionalism.  The new course that went into effect this past year was a documentary course in US history.  The focus was on teaching students to read the primary documents of US history and to think and write critically about what they found there.  The backlash was heard all across the country with accusations of revisionism and attempts to undermine American patriotism.  A group of historians wrote a letter criticizing the course saying:

“This interpretation downplays American citizenship and American world leadership in favor of a more global and transnational perspective. … Gone is the idea that history should provide a fund of compelling stories about exemplary people and events. No longer will students hear about America as a dynamic and exemplary nation, flawed in many respects but whose citizens have striven through the years toward the more perfect realization of its professed ideals.”

We have in this skirmish over curriculum a cultural fight over not just what our government looks like, but how we shall describe it (language), which stories we shall tell and how (the arts), what values we have and how we enact them, and whether the American thing will be seen as the work of the Divine in the world (religion).  Ta-Nahesi Coates informs me with a different story about what it means to have a black body that is broken at every turn living in this country.

One of the candidates running for President in 2016 has made the statement that the motto “In God we Trust” indicates the most important American virtue.  Clearly, that is a personal belief for the candidate, but it fails to understand how religions inform and shape communities in the culture and sub-culture groups.

For Unitarian-Universalists, what might the important virtues and practices be which are informed by our religion?

Bob Patrick

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