A few weeks ago, I wrote on Substack about these concepts of “private character” and “public character.” You can read that here, and I’ve pulled a few paragraphs from that essay and pasted them below the video. But here’s video of my appearance on CNN last night, where I referenced these ideas. I couldn’t get it to upload directly to this site so I’ve pasted a link to the book’s Instagram page, where you can watch the whole clip (it’s 3 and a half minutes long). Again, for more detail on what I mean by these terms, you can read below and then click on the link to Substack to go deeper.
Hannah Arendt argued that “the principal goal of the American founders was neither individual liberty nor property rights … but public freedom,” writes Philip Gorski in his book American Covenant.
Arendt focused on “positive liberty” or “public happiness.”
“By ‘the pursuit of happiness,’ in other words, the American founders had meant something public and collective, rather than something private and individual,” Gorski writes.
The American conservative evangelical church, in contrast to the African-American church, has failed to impart this understanding of public character to its millions of attendees and members. I see little meaningful Christian formation toward these virtues in evangelical culture.
This deficit has allowed parts of evangelicalism to drift toward a quasi-ethnic tribal identity useful for seizing political power and cultural privilege, rather than a set of religious beliefs and moral commitments.
The failure to inculcate public character has at least two root causes: an overly private faith and an apocalyptic mind