The American Nightmare?

This week I have begun reading through the first volume of Right Now Counts Forever, the four-volume collection of R. C. Sproul’s monthly columns on current events from the Tabletalk Magazine. The first article is from May 1977, and I have found those early ones quite fascinating. I’ve heard some make comparisons of the U.S.’s present condition to the seventies, especially when it comes to inflation, crime-rates, and the like. Being born in the nineties, I am certainly not able to personally compare the two time periods. Reading Sproul’s thoughts, however, leads me to believe that it is a fair assessment.

His article from August 1977, titled “The American Dream,” is particularly interesting. In the article, Sproul uses July 4th and the previous year’s bicentennial celebration to consider the present condition of the American Dream, namely, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, inalienable rights endowed by God.”[1] He briefly examines the “the time of cynicism” toward these ideals, before which that the generation of the seventies “didn’t quite know whether to salute or sleep in.”

Briskly considering each of the three, Sproul laments that life is “indeed an inalienable right—But not to unborn infants… If life is isolated from sanctity the dream becomes a nightmare and the value of human life is cheapened.” His discussion of liberty centers around the confusion between liberty and autonomy. “What happens when the liberated person demands the “right” to do whatever he pleases with no moral restraint? The individual who lives without restraint becomes himself, one who tyrannizes those around him.” Finally, he remarks that “if anything will destroy the American dream it will be the confusion of happiness with pleasure… Our lust for pleasure enslaves us and again turns the dream into a nightmare. The lust of pleasure is not our inalienable right.” He concludes the article simply enough: “Life…Sanctity. Liberty…Law. Happiness…Obedience. Divorce them now and it destroys forever.”

To have been written forty-four years ago, Sproul’s musings are no less topical today. In fact, they are perhaps even more blatantly so. Of course, things have changed. Again, history does not repeat, but it does rhyme. Today’s choice is not “to salute or sleep in;” it is to salute or to disavow entirely. Yet the three-pronged address of life, liberty, and the pursuit is largely similar to today. The recent abortion law of Texas has brought abortion screaming into the spotlight, offering a pro-life victory while also further exposing the pro-abortion faction as they form partnerships with satanic temples. Covid lockdowns, mask mandates, and vaccine passports have people arguing the proper relationship between liberty, law, and autonomy with fervent passion. Of course, in our increasingly secular society, the lust for pleasure is now often the primary grounding of morality.

I am no prophet to be able to predict the future success or defeat of the American Dream. I do know, however, that “what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). We should not be surprised, therefore, to find our society repeating itself.

I also know that we are called not to trust in chariots or horses but “in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7). Nations, you see, will all inevitably “collapse and fall” but God’s people “rise and stand upright” (Psalm 20:8). Our God is still in the business of giving “to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2), even if the American Dream does indeed become a nightmare.


[1] The whole article is found on pages 7-8, so, with that being said, I will, from here on, refrain from making a citation on each quotation made from the article.

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