Alexis de Tocqueville has oft been quoted--though perhaps apocryphally--as having said:
"I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."
I was reminded of this astute perspective as I read Rodney Stark's fascinating article, "A Civil Religion," in the May 2006 issue of The American Enterprise. In it, Stark recounts observations about America's "genius" by one of Communist China's leading economic, social, and political analysts . His statement has a hauntingly distinctive "de Tocquevillian" ring:
"One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact the pre-eminence, of the West.... We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics."
He concluded by asserting, "We don't have any doubt about this."
Interesting that the Communist Chinese don't have any doubt about this, but we most assuredly do.