As The Atlantic celebrates its 150th anniversary, scholars, novelists, politicians, artists, and others look ahead to the future of the American idea
America is now a nation of 300 million souls, wielding more influence than any people in human history—and yet 240 million of these souls apparently believe that Jesus will return someday and orchestrate the end of the world with his magic powers. This hankering for a denominational, spiritual oblivion is not a good bet, much less a useful idea.
And yet, abject superstition of this kind engorges our nation from sea to shining sea. Consequently, the rest of the developed world has learned to view America like a rich, southern auntie: She may be bumptious, bloviating, smarmy, and God-drunk, but she’s got all the money; everyone is in her debt, and everyone is hoping that she’ll just shut up and go to sleep.
It need not be so. As Islamic medievalism threatens civil society in a hundred countries, America could easily unite her erstwhile allies in defense of reason. We could also lead the world in wise environmental policies, scientific education, medical research, aid to developing countries, and every other project relevant to the durable welfare of humanity.
Instead, we devote our national conversation to pious phantasmagoria like intelligent design, school prayer, and the problem of gay marriage. We elect presidents and legislators who speak with terrifying certainty about an imaginary God, and with disgraceful ignorance about established science.
This must change. America is now the world’s lone superpower. If the idea of “America” is to mean anything at all, Americans have a moral responsibility to become citizens of the 21st century.