“This is the only country in the world,” said Wednesday, into the stillness, “that worries about what it is.”
“The rest of them know what they are. No one ever needs to go searching for the heart of Norway. Or looks for the soul of Mozambique. They know what they are.” ― Neil Gaiman, American Gods
Our American Gods are Strength, Power and Pride. Strength is better than weakness, power than meekness, pride than humility. Strength gets you stuff, power keeps that stuff, pride loves the way stuff feels in your hands, or dangling from your wrist.
From our earliest days, people came to here to get what they could not get in their homeland. We don’t know what drove the first settlers here, or exactly why they came, but the evidence indicates that they likely came from across the Pacific, not across the Bering Strait, like we learned in Middle School. But the European immigration that began after Columbus “discovered” North America, was definitely an immigration driven by a desire for stuff.
For instance, the pilgrims said all they wanted was religious freedom, but they had that when they got to Leiden, Holland, and judging from contemporaneous accounts it was economic freedom that caused them to leave Holland and set sail for Plymouth. They wanted more stuff than they could have in either England or Holland.
Successive waves of immigration were driven by economic covetousness: people saw the Americas as place where you could make money, sometimes a lot of it, and they came, in droves. They may have been tired and poor, but their huddled masses soon spread out, grabbed as much land as they could from the people who already lived there, and proceeded to make as much money as they could. There developed an American Civil Religion that dressed in the vestments of European Christianity, but it had little to do with the itinerant preacher from Nazareth beyond appropriating his name. This new religion was rooted in the Calvinism of Northern Europe which equated material success with divine blessings.
Immigration to the U.S. remains primarily economically driven: the desire for better jobs, and the stuff you can buy with your better paycheck. And nobody wants to lose that once they come here, hence the need to rely on the American Gods: you got your stuff, you want to keep your stuff, you want to strut your stuff. That’s how you know your Gods love you.
Strength, power, pride. The images that the American Gods project the opposite of what the prophets (Jesus included) urged: doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly. But they are our Gods, and we will go down to the dust singing their praise.