Samuel Goldman

America’s Cycles of Guilt & Repentance

on June 3, 2020

Here’s my interview with political scientist Samuel Goldman of George Washington University, who heads the Loeb Institute on Religious Freedom, about disharmony in American politics, especially amid protests and riots.

(In 2018 IRD cohosted with the Loeb Institute a conference on Martin Luther King’s political theology, whose videos are here.)

Goldman, who authored God’s Country: Christian Zionism in America, self-identifies as non-religious but is extremely insightful about American religion and public life. Here he discusses the current upheaval as a struggle between competing claims of America’s founding creed, specifically between just equality and ordered liberty.

Across its history America, due to its Puritan and revivalistic past, has repeatedly cycled through times of national guilt, repentance and searches for national atonement. The response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis is the latest example.

But Goldman wonders, unlike in the era of Martin Luther King and Civil Rights, if post Protestant America still has the spiritual and cultural tools to move from guilt and repentance towards atonement. The collapse of Mainline Protestantism, which mediated the rituals of civil religion, has left a national void that Evangelicals and Catholics have not filled. Goldman sees a religious revival as possible but is uncertain of its composition.

You’ll enjoy this conversation.

  1. Comment by Dr. Lee Cary on June 3, 2020 at 10:15 pm

    Samuel Goldman’s working hypothesis of America’s current trauma is based on Huntington’s “promise of disharmony” driven by “different aspects of the American creed,” when “those loose set of principles, values and institutions that characterize the American political tradition are pitted against each other”.

    But suppose that’s not the case here and now. Suppose there’s a wider explanation found in Pascal Bruckner’s “The Tyranny of Guilt, An Essay on Western Masochism”? In that case, the seated crowd of young white college-age plus protesters seeking forgiveness and acceptance – as a religious-like gesture – is about expunging the guilt they’ve been persuaded to feel.

    If so, we’re not witnessing a conflict within our “loose set of principles, values and institutions,” but one with an outside political philosophy engaged in a hostile takeover, one that represents the absence of any cohesive principles, values and institutions. One motivated by the desire to eradicate the America creed and substitute it with one of their own making. It’s called Anarchy.

    Historically, it eventually morphs, when it succeeds in destroying a culture, into a new -ism. For example, the effort at grow Capitalism in the German Weimar Republic eventually yielded to Fascism. Russia murdered the last Tzar and ushered in what it called Communism – though it really wasn’t.

    The original Antifa was the Communist street resistance to Fascism in early 1930’s Germany. The flag of the current Antifa movement in America is similar enough to the earlier German version of the Antifaschistische Aktion banner so as to be an obvious derivative.

    So, if our current national crisis is not a recurring, internal conflict within the American creed, as Goldman suggests, but rather a conflict between the American creed and another from outside, then current events need to be viewed in a wider, and more dangerous, context.

  2. Comment by Ted C Gorman on June 5, 2020 at 2:34 am

    The Antifa trickery could be traced back to bored, spoiled intellectual elites in the late 1800’s, later known as ‘Fabians.’

  3. Comment by Theodore on June 6, 2020 at 11:42 am

    “But Goldman wonders … if post Protestant America still has the spiritual and cultural tools to move from guilt and repentance towards atonement. ”

    There is a harmful message that pervades the church as well as society at large. That message is that white people of European descent share collective guilt for recent incidents but also for the erroneous notion that black people experience pervasive and systematic racism. This if false. This harmful message to white people places a burden of sin on them which is not theirs. If religious leaders are to retain any credibility then this must stop.

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