This statement, "E Pluribus Unum," as incorporated into the Great Seal of the United States, refers to the creation of a national government out of its constituent political parts: "Out of Many, One." In a more fundamental sense, however, it is well to think of this statement as a basic piece of intelligence about government and society in general. "We" are one: we are not just a collection of individuals, but a larger whole.
My pitch, yesterday, was that our politics must not seek to smooth over or dismiss genuine differences or divisions within the body politic, but that politics is precisely the technique we use to resolve and decide contested questions. It is politics, in fact, that allows us to achieve the political goal we express in the slogan, "E pluribus unum." We become "one nation...indivisible" because we don't try to suppress our political conflicts and controversies, but seek, instead, to resolve them through political action.
The profound equality of every individual was an idea that flowed directly from the Hebrew Bible. The story Americans told about themselves was a biblical story — an exodus story of various diverse peoples leaving oppression, crossing a wilderness and joining together to help create a promised land.
The American social structure ... was based on biblical categories. There was a political realm, but the heart of society was in the covenantal realm: “marriages, families, congregations, communities, charities and voluntary associations.”
America’s Judeo-Christian ethic celebrated neighborliness over pagan combativeness; humility as the basis of good character, not narcissism. It believed in taking in the stranger because we were all strangers once. It dreamed of universal democracy as the global fulfillment of the providential plan.
That biblical ethic, embraced by atheists as much as the faithful, is not in great shape these days. ... “Today, one half of America is losing all those covenantal institutions. It’s losing strong marriages and families and communities. It is losing a strong sense of the American narrative. It’s even losing e pluribus unum because today everyone prefers pluribus to unum.…”