Why we cannot return to our Western heritage
Occasionally, I will hear or read a call for the US to return to the Western values upon which it was founded, values that generally include democratic governance, human dignity, civil rights, etc.
While I affirm many Western values rooted in Judaism, Christianity, Greece, and Rome, I find the calls to return to those values biased, narrow minded, and historically inaccurate. I live in Hawaii, a state comprised of an Asian majority that exceeds 77%. These patriotic Americans cannot return to Western values that were never part of their heritage.
Similarly, in US communities in which a majority of the citizens share an African heritage, those people cannot return to Western values that were never part of their heritage. Indeed, the vast majority of the first ancestors of today’s African Americans to live in North America arrived involuntarily as slaves.
Genuine inclusivity calls for the US to incorporate the best of its global heritage, including the values of Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and European Americans. Most fundamentally, all of these traditions affirm the dignity and worth of all humans. More broadly, all of their major religious traditions point towards establishing communities that protect the well-being of all, care for creation, and aim to help their practitioner live meaningful lives.
Furthermore, calls for a return to Western values are often code language for insisting upon establishing Christianity as the one true religion. Such calls explicitly devalue other religions and are historically inaccurate. Late eighteenth-century commentators on the founding of the United States often worried that its lack of an established religion would doom the democratic experiment to failure. Many of the persons prominent in founding the US were theists, not Christians. The US at that time was home not only to a wide assortment of Christian groups, many of whom denied that all other alleged Christians were not true Christians, but also to Jews, Muslims, adherents of Native American religions, adherents of African religions, and a few atheists. Declaring that the US was founded upon Christian principles and beliefs is “false news.”
Genuine multiculturalism enriches rather than impoverishes our ideas, our communities, our governance, and our prospects for justice, peace, and living abundantly. Conversely, the US cannot return to its exclusively Western heritage because that never existed.