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The Myth of Americanism - Essay Example

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The Myth of Americanism

American values are a direct product of its body of creation stories encompassed by the culture. Americans believe in individuality, self-sufficiency (the idea of "rags to riches" or being a "self-made man") and the inherently optimistic (and perhaps unrealistic) "American Dream". Americans believe that anything is possible. Children grow up being told that they can have or achieve anything if they work hard enough. They are told that anyone can grow up to be president, and that that is part of what makes America great. This is perhaps the biggest mythological trope in American society-that in the "land of opportunity" anyone can get ahead if they are willing to work for it, and that all members of society begin on an even playing field. These three ideas, individuality, self-sufficiency, and the "American dream" or "Land of Opportunity" where anything is possible are closely linked, and stem from beliefs about the creation of America itself that directly mirror other creation stories from around the world. Furthermore, these deeply held beliefs permeate the American psyche, coloring our perceptions of success and failure.
The theme of individuality is especially present in the Gospel of John. This myth is very pertinent to modern American society as it is a version of creation with which most citizens will be familiar; many Americans actively believe in this creation myth, and thus it shapes American society closely. The Fourth Gospel of John is seen in Christian mythology to enhance the creation story of Genesis, inserting an explanation for the presence of Jesus Christ. The Creator has gone from a relatively impersonal, genderless, plural God (elohim is the Hebrew plural for "God") to a personified Jesus Christ. Jesus is a God, but he is also a man. This version of creation places him present at the very moment the world was made: "3. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men." (qtd in Leeming 35) Furthermore, the gospel states "6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe." (qtd in Leeming 35) The inclusion of a mortal, John, in this revised version of creation further humanizes the myth. The impact this has had on modern Americans is most clear among Christians, for obvious reasons: the popular phrase "Jesus is my personal savior" emphasizes this individual, personal connection to divinity which is a hallmark not just of American Christians, but of the American tendency to personalize religion which is seen among everyone from modern Pagans who choose which deities to worship, to acculturated members of other faiths such as Judaism or Hinduism who participate in religious practice on a selective basis. Religion, like the rest of American life, is seen as a matter of individualized, personal choice.
Self-sufficiency is central in the Hopi myth of the Sun and the Spider Woman. In this myth, the two collaborate to create the world, dividing themselves into various aspects of the divine to perform specific tasks. Upon creating people, Spider Woman says:
"The woman of the clan shall build the house, and the family name shall descend through her. She shall be house builder and homemaker. She shall mold ...Show more

Summary

Myths, especially creation myths, illustrate the values of a society and give one a sense of its self-perception. A people's creation myth tells insiders and outsiders who a people are and where they came from; in many cultures, daily life is tied up in the reenactment of its creation stories through the use of ritual and symbol…
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The Myth of Americanism essay example
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