Homeland Mythology

Homeland Mythology: Biblical Narratives in American Culture

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Homeland Mythology
    Book Description:

    Since 9/11, America has presented itself to the world as a Christianist culture, no less antimodern and nostalgic for an idealized past than its Islamist foes. The master-narrative both sides share might sound like this: Once upon a time, the values of the righteous community coincided with those of the state. Home and land were harmoniously united under God. But through intellectual pride (read: science) and disobedience (read: human rights), this God-blessed homeland was lost and is now worth every drop of blood it takes, ours and others’, to recover.For Americans, the prime source for this once-and-future-kingdom myth is the Bible, with its many narratives of blessings gained, lost, and regained: the garden of Eden, the covenant with Abraham, the bondage in Egypt, the exodus under Moses, the glory of David and Solomon’s realm, the coming of the promised Messiah, his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, his apocalyptic return at the end of history, and his establishment of the earthly kingdom of God. As Homeland Mythology shows, these biblical narratives have, over time, inspired a multitude of nationalist narratives, myths ingeniously spun out to justify a number of decidedly unchristian policies and institutions—from Indian genocide, the slave trade, and the exploitation of immigrant workers to Manifest Destiny, imperial expansionism, and, most recently, preemptive war.On March 25, 2001, George W. Bush shared a bit of political wisdom: “You can fool some of the people all of the time—and those are the ones you have to concentrate on.” The cynical use of religion to cloak criminal behavior is always worth exposing, but why our leaders lie to us is no longer a mystery. What does remain mysterious is why so many of us are disposed to believe their lies. The unexamined issue that this book addresses is, therefore, not the mendacity of the few, but the credulity of the many.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05471-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE: Tracking Down an Old Story
    (pp. ix-xxiv)
    (pp. 1-22)

    In the autumn of 2001, Americans began to hear their country referred to as the “homeland,” a compound noun linked to other nouns such as “security” and “defense.” “Homeland” was not a new word, of course, but after the devastating attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., it seemed to connote meanings new to most of us—vulnerability, fear of strangers, retrenchment, territorial fortification. At the same time, the phrase “God bless America,” which orators had long used as a mere perfunctory coda, took on a broad range of overtones, from defiance and reassurance to anxiety and supplication. As...

    (pp. 23-58)

    “Home” and “land” are concepts that we visualize in three-dimensional space. But before we can continue to explore the American homeland, we need to consider its fourth dimension: time. As St. Augustine remarked, “Time? If no one asks me, I know it, but once I have to explain it, I don’t know it.”¹ Every culture’s members “know” what time is, but when asked to explain it, they are left with little more than analogies of movement.

    In one of these analogies, the observer is in motion: he walks out of the past into the future, and as he does so,...

    (pp. 59-90)

    America was settled and its republic founded by Europeans steeped in a biblical theory of history, a belief that the final age was dawning and that the kingdom of heaven would soon appear on earth. If we may judge by their rhetoric, the leaders of this enterprise assumed that their work had been inscribed in God’s providential book of time and had not only temporal consequences but eternal ones as well. Patriotic clergy preached that if Americans weretrulyChristian, Christ would manifest himself in their lives in a manner so palpable that the entire world would follow their example....

    (pp. 91-120)

    Night, that time not merely of peace and renewal but also of dreams and danger, provides a powerful setting for a number of traditional narratives. This darkness between two days is a liminal time that can serve to represent any transition between two states of being or activity. If we apply Tzvetan Todorov’s narrative cycle to this day-night-day pattern, the upper phases of equilibrium (1 and 5) each correspond to days, phase 3 to the night, and phases 2 and 4 to sunset and dawn, respectively.

    In terms of end-time scenarios, the postmillennialist believes that the night having passed and...

    (pp. 121-152)

    The biblical time line, superimposed on Tzvetan Todorov’s narrative model, characterizes phase 3 not only as a long night but also as a period of bondage. The Hebrew Bible (or, as Christians call it, the Old Testament) records two such periods. One began with the voluntary migration of the Children of Israel to Egypt and the eventual enslavement of their descendants under a repressive regime. In this account, beginning in Genesis and continuing through the next four books, the Israelites under Moses escape bondage and make their way to the border of the land their god has promised them.


    (pp. 153-188)

    Any nation’s homeland mythology will include, among its cultural narratives, certain accounts of its founding that do not simply magnify its achievements but also reduce its cognitive dissonance. Its founding myths and epics will attempt to take historical events, which usually involve an aggressive seizure of land and the scattering, enslavement, and/or genocide of its former inhabitants, and bring them into at least partial conformity with communal ethics.

    American homeland mythology, as I have been examining it, emerged out of the unique circumstances of a large-scale transatlantic invasion that drew upon the Bible for its legitimacy. This was the source...

    (pp. 189-224)

    As I noted in my preface, the concept of master narrative was introduced by Jean-François Lyotard in 1979 withThe Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. His two modernist master narratives, or “metanarratives,” were scientific objectivity (the “speculative narrative”) and social progress (the “emancipative narrative”). These were the founding principles, he said, of a cultural consensus that began to take shape in the seventeenth century and defined itself fully in the Enlightenment of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

    “Modernist master narrative” is a paradoxical phrase, because modernism was ideologically opposed to narrative explanations of either human or nonhuman...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 225-248)
    (pp. 249-256)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 257-263)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 264-264)