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What Shining Hill Is That Republican City Built On?

This week, when Ted Cruz announced his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, he promised to “fight to preserve America as a Shining City on a Hill”. The fact that the Ted Cruz for President campaign is capitalizing “shining city on a hill” is meant to indicate that Cruz understands the whole shiny hilly city thing to be more than just a description of strange geography, but an important cultural phrase that refers to something else. Many Americans might wonder what he was talking about, but the audience of right wing Christian fundamentalists that Cruz was talking to at Liberty University knew exactly what he was saying.

The statement that the United States is a “shining city on a hill” has become political shorthand for the assertion that the United States of America, despite its secular Constitution, is actually a nation of Christians, by Christians, and for Christians. The meme has passed through several twists and turns, but ultimately goes back all the way to the year 1630, to a sermon delivered by John Winthrop on a boat filled with Puritans headed off to join the colony in Massachusetts.

The way that Republicans like Ted Cruz tell the story of America as a shining city on a hill is that the United States was intended to be a Christian nation from the beginning. They read Winthrop’s speech as it leads up to the phrase, “shining city on a hill”. Winthrop wrote, “The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as his oune people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our wayes. Soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome, power, goodness and truthe, than formerly wee haue been acquainted with. Wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when hee shall make us a prayse and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, “the Lord make it likely that of New England.” For wee must consider that wee shall be as a citty upon a hill.”

When this part of Winthrop’s sermon is read, it sounds like a prophecy of the greatness of the American nation as a Christian theocracy. Winthrop is read as foreseeing that the Massachusetts Colony would grow into unrivaled greatness because of its affiliation with the divine power of the Christian God. This interpretation of John Winthrop’s sermon has been made into the foundation of the ideology of American Exceptionalism, which asserts that the United States is a Christian nation, and has been chosen by the supernatural creator of the entire universe to become the most powerful nation on Earth.

If this shining city prophecy was true in a literal sense, then the divine influence of the Christian God over American politics ought to be made manifest through the consistent political victory of those political leaders who most loudly retell the prophecy. In our time, the Republicans proclaim the mantle of divinely authorized government, so they ought to have won the executive leadership over our country, if their god of American Exceptionalism is actually manipulating American politics from his heavenly abode.

That’s not the actual political history of the shining hill city of GOP, though. The most recent Republican presidential nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, both pledged their campaigns to the mission of making the United States a “shining city on a hill”. Both lost by large margins.

Why has this happened? Well, in addition to being devotees of the Cult of American Exceptionalism, John McCain and Mitt Romney are also arrogant plutocrats. As such, they have ignored the second part of John Winthrop’s metaphor of the emerging American nation as a shining city on a hill. Winthrop’s shining city was a much a warning as it was a prideful prophecy of greatness.

Winthrop said, “Wee must consider that wee shall be as a citty upon a hill. The eies of all people are uppon us. Soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our God in this worke wee haue undertaken, and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. Wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of God, and all professors for God’s sake. Wee shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into curses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whither wee are a goeing.” If the Christian colonists of America deal falsely, Winthrop warned, then they will give people reason to speak evil of the ways of Christianity.

puritan shining city on a hill

Dealing falsely is just what the Puritan colonists of Massachusetts became infamous for. The Salem Witch Trials became well known as one theocratic atrocity among many. The shining city on a hill was built as an instrument of torture and death upon the chest of Giles Corey, an elderly farmer who was sentenced to be executed when he dared to speak out against the witch hunt, and refused to make himself subject to the religious court. Corey was ordered to be stripped naked and covered with a board, upon which would be piled large rocks, to crush Corey slowly to death. The weight of the stones was so tremendous that it caused Corey’s tongue to pop involuntarily out of his mouth, until a law enforcement officer came along and shoved it back in with the end of his cane.

The shining city on a hill of theocracy in colonial America was a glaring embarrassment, and led the founders of the United States of America to construct a Constitution that kept religion out of government. Still, Republicans keep trying to shove religion back into American government, to try to build their shining city ever higher. Most recently, Mike Pence, Republican Governor of Indiana, approved legislation that allows businesses to legally discriminate against people, using their Christianity as an excuse to do so.

Even after generations of failed, ugly attempts to establish theocracy in the USA, Republicans have yet to heed the warning of John Winthrop’s shining city on the hill: The world is watching what Christians try to do when they seize the power of government, and judging them negatively for it.

8 thoughts on “What Shining Hill Is That Republican City Built On?”

  1. Tom says:

    Isn’t that something? The pseudo-religious use their ignorance of the teachings (to love) to continue their worldview of acquiring, discriminating, neglecting, and plundering! Then they wonder why we’re in such dire straits. Good one J Clifford. The shining city on the hill is cheap reflective paint applied to crumbling, shabby structures built on a landfill exuding the stench of modernity.

  2. ella says:

    Since 1966, when prayer was officially taken out of the classrooms, there has been a concentrated effort to negate Christian practices in this country. Certainly, it has succeeded in intimidating children, making them feel as fools if they ‘believe that myth’ abut a ‘dead carpenter’. It may have been 1965 when the law was passed, but they waited until 1966 to enforce it as too many students were kicked out for rebelling. Since then teachings it seems, have become severely muddled on the whole. It seems coming to America caused a problem in practice, too much freedom perhaps? And indeed the whole world does mock Christianity in the USA today. Well, those others have actually known the following for thousands of years, whereas in the USA it didn’t last 200 years. And the founders of the Constitution were not all followers, so the document tried to cover everyone. Today atheists may well be trying to teach the same social principles, just from their own perspective. So the minority rules in the USA. Isn’t that the opposite of a Democracy? Oh, yes, it is a Republican Democracy. How is that working out? :! Minorities rule.

    1. Jim Cook says:

      Children are absolutely free to pray in public schools in the United States, Ella. So are teachers and principals. Prayer happens in school all the time, especially before tests. Students and teachers and principals just aren’t allowed to hijack the school to shove their personal religion down everybody else’s throats. Educational authorities paid by governments just can’t hijack the speaker system for Jesus or require that everybody bow their heads for your personal idea of God anymore. Every single person is absolutely free to pray as they see fit. See the difference?

      The false equation of government-mandated Christian school prayer (pre-1966) with religious freedom, and the equation of the end of such mandates with the end of religious freedom, kind of makes J. Clifford’s point all over again.

  3. Tom says:

    [this is a bit off-topic for this post, and fyi]

    Court Accepts DOJ’s ‘State Secrets’ Claim to Protect Shadowy Neocons: a New Low

    A truly stunning debasement of the U.S. justice system just occurred through the joint efforts of the Obama Justice Department and a meek and frightened Obama-appointed federal judge, Edgardo Ramos, all in order to protect an extremist neocon front group from scrutiny and accountability. The details are crucial for understanding the magnitude of the abuse here.

  4. ella says:

    “Children are absolutely free to pray in public schools in the United States, Ella. So are teachers and principals. Prayer happens in school all the time, especially before tests.” Thank you Jim Cook, I needed something to do today. These are way after 1996 (the law was actually passed in 1992)

    “Nov 11, 2014 – A dispute over what constitutes “free time” at Pine Creek High School and whether students can pray during that time has led to a federal civil …”

    “Dec 11, 2014 – A lawsuit filed against a Midlands school district regarding prayer at school board meetings has been dismissed.” (intimidation?)

    “Jan 28, 2014 – A Buddhist family has filed a lawsuit against Louisiana’s Sabine Parish School Board for violating the First Amendment.”

    Go to the following link to sign up in support of Religious freedom in America.


    1. J Clifford says:

      Ella, these are lawsuits, not laws.

  5. ella says:

    J Clifford, Granted these are lawsuits, but why are they necessary? Because today, as has been the case since Maggie succeeded in getting the ball rolling, a persistent, public push is being made to intimidate, to mock, to use any excuse that can be derived from the Book, to establish law, customs, even moral changes against a single religion. That was the dominate religion at the founding of this nation and remains so. What was needed was simply social acceptance of the fact that there are different people with differences. Those are social issues. Many of these have been addressed in law without disturbing the right of freedom of religious practice. Some churches have even altered their practices to accommodate and embrace some social differences. I stick to my statement that children are absolutely NOT free to pray in public schools when they wish. Not if there are unfriendly people who are aware of it. Children as well as adults intimidate students who wish to pray. No law required for that. Just the teaching that it is not true. Go talk to children and see what they say about “God” today. Some are raised still to ignore such taunting. Some are raised to do what is told and keep their faith to themselves. (A wise thing in my opinion.) TO say they have the ‘right’ or ‘freedom’ is far from saying that they may do so with intimidation. Who needs a law?

  6. Zubair says:

    Well it doesnt matter where that is built.. That is built is all it concerns LOL . I wish i can also live in a place like that on top of the hills.

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