book review, memory, myth, Richard Hughes

On Hughes and American Myths

In Review, Myths America Lives By

Myths America Lives By is written very carefully and very lucidly. In fact, the writing was so simple that it almost felt like cheating to read this book for graduate level credit. Nevertheless, the book will prove incredibly helpful as a list and when it provides background information.

In fact, the book can be rather careful when it speaks of history; I only encounter the important distinction between Constantine (legalized Christianity) and Theodosius (made Christian the Empire’s religion) in careful historical scholarship. However, other aspects of history related by Hughes are less than helpful and generally revolves around what seems to be an acceptance of historical assumptions by Enlightenment figures.

Certainly Hughes can expertly slip into the voice he is speaking for, but at times his language indicates that he has not always critically reviewed certain views of history, or at least does not make these assumptions visible to the reader. The most blaring problem is his lack questioning the Enlightenment’s revisionist history which was used as a justification for an Enlightenment “intervention” in world events and subsequently the assumption about religious wars during the European’s early modern period, which is the same historical reading as Hughes.1

However, all is not lost. I was entirely unaware of Tyndale’s influence on the myth of a chosen nation and I am sure the new information will prove useful.2 Still, the carefulness to include Tyndale as source perplexes me all the more – Hughes was careful in quite a few areas, but did not interrogate Edward Lord Herbert’s historical assumptions/justifications.

While there are some historical inconsistencies, the book does an excellent job describing the myths. But better than that, the collection of myths are all in one book and so the focus of the book is in the most helpful place, an exclusive focus on the myths and how the myths interact. Still, the greatest strength of the book is the inclusion of the African American voice that puts the white dream into stark relief with reality.

I do have one last objection, I disagree with Hughes on the level at which some of the myths can be accepted. Perhaps I am coming from a different vantage point, with explicit Christian categories and a hermeneutic of suspicion when reading the stories that nation-states tell. I simply reject the myths of a Chosen Nation and Christian Nation (which in my mind become virtually one). The myths of Nature’s Nation and the Millennial Nation seem to replace the Christian idea of eschatology and hope. American Capitalism as myth just feeds greed, which Hughes seems to also convey. And lastly, I do agree with Hughes that the myth of Innocent Nation is just delusional.

For My Research, Myths America Lives By

Remembering rightly, once it breaks past the 9/11 barrier, ought to extend to critically looking our other myths that function as the bedrock for the 9/11 story. This is where Myths America Lives By plays its part. Once our fake innocence is stripped away and the delusion gone, the more foundational myths are accessible for critique and deconstruction. More importantly, the wide-ranging affects to our psyche that the fundamental myths have created can be examined as well; the subtle and seemingly unnoticeable changes to theology by the nation-state’s myths can finally be made visible.

Right remembering is honest memory, or at least as honest as one can be (which includes accepting and integrating the memories and voices of others). Thus, the inclusion of the African American voice in this book is invaluable. The myths go pop in the face of reality and on that basis this book achieves a terrific goal – the death of innocence.

1. Hughes, 47, 48, 52. For a critical analysis of the Enlightenment’s historical justifications, see William Cavanaugh’s work Theopolitical Imagination.

2. Hughes, 21.


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