I saw Norman Mailer on Book TV Saturday evening. He is now 83 years old and kept complaining that he could not hear the questions being put to him. But he had a theory about why America was behaving the way it was that I had not heard before and seems to explain more than the theories I had been entertaining.
Most Americans consider themselves to be Christian and a lot of what is happening in America is motivated by fear. Mailer’s theory is that the fear stems from the Christian belief in divine judgment. As everyone knows, when God judges a Christian he does not judge them by worldly standards. Unlike our fellow man, God is not be impressed by our beautiful house, car and clothes. Nor is he impressed by our career accomplishments or anything else that our society admires. God asks if we clothed the naked, tended the sick or gave money to the poor. And these things must have been done not in a way designed to gain our fellow man’s admiration and respect, but humbly and modestly.
But not many Americans today are seeking after humbleness or purposely avoiding the limelight. Instead they are ruthlessly trying to gain as much material advantage for themselves as possible. Being greedy and looking out for number one have become behaviors that are not only accepted as normal and natural but have been lauded as the essence of what makes America the greatest nation in the world.
I had pondered the curiosity of Americans considering themselves Christian while living lives that do not reflect Christian values but I had not connected it to the pervasive fear that underlies so much of what America is doing. There is a fear of terrorism that is totally out of proportion to the actual threat. This fear makes Americans willing to go to war, destroy the international reputation American had earned, create a debt that our children and grandchildren will struggle to repay, and surrender our freedoms to not have our phone calls listened to and our mail read by our own government.
Norman Mailer believes that the real cause of that fear is the Christian belief that we are subject to divine judgment. Although today’s American Christians have been persuaded to lead lives of selfish materialism they have not been convinced that the rules by which they will ultimately be judged have changed. The result is a sense of impending doom that leaves American Christians feeling insecure and threatened.
I don’t know if this theory is correct or not. If it is God’s judgment that we really fear of what use is our military, NSA or Department of Homeland Security? What do you think?