Believe in the ‘American Miracle’

Talk radio host Michael Medved has penned an edifying book, about the strange coincidences and unusually timed events that have contributed to the against-all-odds rise of America as we know her today, titled The American Miracle.

Here are just some of the startling coincidences and events that he lays out in his book:

  • When the pilgrims landed in (now) Massachusetts, why were there settlements that seemed to be vacated – ghost settlements, so to speak?
  • Who was Native Squanto, and why did he speak English so well years before the pilgrims arrived, and how was his help so necessary to them?
  • How did unusual and unexpected weather favor the Americans who were about to be surrounded on Brooklyn Heights during the War of Independence?
  • How did Washington survive so many bullets whizzing past him throughout his military life without a scratch, though his clothes had bullet holes in them?
  • How did one little known man oddly named Daniel St. Thomas Jenifer and his stroll through Philadelphia save the Constitutional Convention, on the verge of dissolution?
  • What prompted Napoleon, after his attending Mass, to cede a vast territory to America’s fledgling government in a sale known as the Louisiana Purchase for a shockingly low price?
  • Did the prayers and statue of the Ursuline nuns help the Americans in the Battle of New Orleans against the British?
  • How did Sam Houston’s being unlucky in love and surviving bullets and misfires at close range aid in Texas’s independence from Mexico?
  • What happened to Andrew Jackson after he too survived misfires from a pistol at close range?
  • How close was the U.S. government to losing California right after gold was discovered, were it not for a little-known but well-placed bureaucrat and presidential assistant named Nicholas Trist, who defied a president?
  • How did Lincoln, after asking for a sign from heaven, get one – a three-stogie battle plan – to nudge him forward to writing the Emancipation Proclamation and linking the Civil War with the moral mission of liberating the slaves?
  • Lincoln?  Wow!  He was blessed to have survived all sorts of kidnapping attempts and assassination plots – until the very end.
  • Did Lincoln ever prophesy events accurately for a brief moment?  Did he ever feel God’s presence and assurance right before a battle?

All these questions and events answer one question: why was America such a favored land?

Skeptics and sympathetic well-wishers are bound to ask these questions (as I would have done in my grad school days):

  • Can’t a lot of nations claim strange coincidences throughout the centuries?
  • Didn’t Alexander the Great defeat massive armies all the way to India and claim that divine Providence helped him?
  • Didn’t the Roman Empire impose the Pax Romana on a discordant world?
  • Didn’t Islamic armies storm out of the Arab Peninsula and overwhelm all resistance by the will of Allah for at least four hundred years after the Islamic prophet died?
  • One chapter of Medved’s book is called American Agincourt (referring to the Battle of New Orleans).  Didn’t Henry V claim divine Providence at the original Battle of Agincourt?
  • Didn’t the British Empire under Victoria spread Protestant Christianity as it colonized lucrative places around the globe with divine Providence?
  • Washington was bulletproof, so why wasn’t Lincoln at Ford Theater?
  • Didn’t Hitler claim that divine Providence protected him from bomb blasts?

How does one sort out all these swirling truth claims?  Maybe America is not so unique and favored after all.

In bonus sections throughout the whole book, especially Chapter 13, Mr. Medved answers these objections, if not specifically, then in overarching themes.  The big answer is found in the subtitle: Divine Providence in the Rise of the Republic.

Speaking bluntly (and accurately), Medved says these nations came to nothing, especially after various revolutions, such as the ones in South America.  The French Revolution led to the rise of a dictator: Napoleon.  Stalin and Chairman Mao were butchers of humans.  And we don’t even need to talk about the diabolical Third Reich.

Though Medved doesn’t cover Islam, presumably he would say Islamic nations are now backwards and dysfunctional and oppressive.

In short, the American coincidences put this honorable country on a trajectory that has placed her as the only world superpower.  And now what?  Medved points out that our wars have not resulted in the domination of weaker nations; as Colin Powell once said (paraphrased), “all we look for is a place to bury our war dead in foreign soil.”

Though America is not perfect, she is good.  And that’s what distinguishes her from other rising and falling nations.

One possible exception is the British Empire.  Perhaps the answer here is that our missionary effort today spreads not Americanism, but the gospel.  (Many believers say that America has been raised up to further the gospel, and the day she abandons this goal is the day she will decline.) Further, Medved doesn’t like the idea of monarchy.  Hence the partial reason for the word “Republic” in the subtitle.

As for why Washington was spared bullets but not Lincoln his deadly one, this is answered in Chapter 12.  The reader will have to find out after buying the book.

One major omission: Medved dismisses the Virginia settlements and Pocahontas, but it is also providential that little known devout preacher Alexander Whitaker felt the call of God to go to Virginia and help his fellow English citizens.  He trained the native woman in the Christian faith and taught her English, so she could serve as a mediator between the natives and the English settlers.  Peace ensued for years.

A minor omission: C.S. Lewis came up with an ingenuous example of how exceedingly rare events can happen in our everyday lives – specifically, our existence.  If anyone ten or dozens of generations back were not to get married, we would not exist.  Yet they did, and here we are!  How do we measure human free will?  Medved discusses how improbable it was that he and his wife met, and now he has raised three children to adulthood.  Divine Providence again. More importantly, can’t America’s birth be seen as a confluence of miracles in everyday life, all adding up to her founding and growth?

In any case, Medved’s work is edifying and satisfying.  It is not ponderous and boring, as so many history book are, written by academics. Highly recommended.  As he would say, “Four stars!”

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