“Make America Safe Again,” said the signs and speakers on the first night of the Republican National Convention. The desire to feel and be safe crosses political boundaries; it informs a litany of human actions. Yet the very concept seems unexamined. What makes for safety? Is it the same as feeling safe? Is it the same as comfort?
American Christianity has faced theological-political crises before. Repeatedly, visions of what is possible for the nation have fallen short of reality. In the past, periods of change pushed faithful people to reconsider what they believed, not only about the nation but also about the meaning of God’s call to justice. In each critical moment, for good or ill, Americans altered their religious views, and the horizon of what was possible expanded or contracted.
In revolutionary America, disunity resulted from debates over whether faith required obedience to the king or a revolt.
The national parks are rightly considered some of America’s great treasures, but their history is not as serene as their landscapes. A year after the Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln deeded Yosemite Valley to the state of California, to be maintained for public use for all time. Lincoln hoped these “magnificent lands . . . might offer a unifying peace for a divided nation.” But before Yosemite could be turned into a park for public use, the Ahwahneechee, its native inhabitants, had to be driven out. Similar wars of removal were conducted at the end of the 19th century at the sites of Glacier and Yellowstone parks (Times Literary Supplement, September 2).