Saturday, October 28, 2006

A God-Sanctioned Nation

Recently, I've spent a great deal of time reflecting on the manner in which we in this country (and I would assume in other countries as well, to some extent, base their actions on the assertion that it was in some way ordained or sanctioned by God. Two comments which I recently read and heard prompted this line of thought.

First, in the preface to his book, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, William Stringfellow wrote: "The task is to treat the nation within the tradition of biblical politics -- to understand America biblically -- not the other way around, not (to put it in an appropriately awkward way) to construe the Bible Americanly. There has been too much of the latter in this country's public life and religious ethos. There still is. I expect such indulgences to multiply, to reach larger absurdities, to become more scandalous, to increase blasphemously as America's crisis as a nation distends. To interpret the Bible for the convenience of America, as apropos as that may seem to be to any Americans, represents a radical violence to both the character and content of the Biblical message. It fosters a fatal vanity that America is a divinely favored nation and makes of it the credo of a civic religion which is directly threatened by, and, hence, which is anxious and hostile to the biblical Word."

The second came from a lecture presented by Madeleine Albright at Virginia Theological Seminary (which I touched on in an earlier post), where she said, "Ever since 9/11, President Bush has said -- to his credit -- that we are at war with terrorism and not with Islam. But he has also said that our nation has a responsibility to history to 'rid the world of evil' -- a tough job for mortals to do. He has echoed the words of Jesus in saying to other countries, 'You are either with us or against us.' When Saddam Hussein was captured, he said that America was delivering God's gift of freedom to the Iraqi people. Even before his election, he told friends that, 'I believe God wants me to be president.' And in his second inaugural address, he said that America has a calling from beyond the stars 'to proclaim liberty throughout the world and to all the inhabitants thereof.' In the Bible, God gave the same job, in the same words, to Moses. The problem with this approach is not that it expresses leadership in moral terms, because that is often essential. The problem is that it comes close to equating the policies of the United States with the will of God."

So, after reading these two passages, beginning with Stringfellow, it becomes apparent that the growing attitude of a nation whose actions are sanctioned byGod was recognized at least as far back as the 1970s. There are perhaps many examples even further back in history of this feeling which I haven't yet considered. The two questions which this prompted are: 1) to what extent do we (should we?) agree with Stringfellow and Albright, and 2) at what point in U.S. history do did this attitude begin? While I am a Republican (although not one who identifies himself as a member of the religious right), I'm finding that this is another example of the conflict I'm starting to feel within myself as I go through my discernment process -- my political side no longer agrees with my faith side. I have posed these questions on some other lists and have received some intriguing responses to consider. I have found their input very thought-provoking, and -- with their permission, but without revealing their authors, let me post some of their comments:

First: "I think that all that gives a pretty vivid picture of how mixed up and misguided the application of Christian religion to government policy has become in this country. And as much as I might (and do) fault leaders like Bush who I think ought to know better and are willfully using this approach to win support and create ideological cover for what often should be regarded as crimes on a massive scale, I have to acknowledge that the main reason he has the kind of power that he does is that our citizens have allowed it to happen. The conflation of Christianity and Americanism is a very popular view of the world, regardless of how much violence or exploitation is conducted under its aegis. I would not have a problem with the kind of rhetoric that Bush used about ridding the world of evil or proclaiming liberty if there was much evidence of sincerity or credibility behind the man's subsequent actions. Instead though, his administration has become about as supreme an embodiment of Orwellian double-speak as I can imagine, leaving me wondering honestly just what to make of the motives of people who put such innoccuous sounding labels on efforts that turn out to be so destructive. My answers to your two questions are that 1) I agree with the Stringfellow and Albright quotes and 2) I think this strain of thought, sanctifying aggressive policies, land grabs, conquest, etc. goes back to the earliest stages of American history. It's just become more audacious and potentially destructive as US power and influence have increased and those in charge have perfected their skill at 'manufacturing consent' and playing to the prejudices of their constituents in order to maintain their position of advantage."

Second: (The use of the ellipses here are from the original response and not my own.) "While I am not opposed to mixing religion and politics...or...using the Bible or Christian/history/tradition to 'help' inform or guide us politically I am not particularly confident these days 'how' one might 'understand America biblically' or avoid 'construing the Bible Americanly'....regarding the former....Over the years a significant number of Christians have repeatedly attempted to examine, critique, and offer a Christian alternative to the current secular political perspective but, imo, their alternatives, more often than not, sounds much the same as the political perspectives of either the left or the right...which...begs the question....why?...Shouldn't a Christian perspective be much different?...Regarding the latter...Not sure how much we or anyone can distance themselves from the culture they find themselves in...I raise this question because Christians, imo, have to a large degree integrated their religion to the surrounding culture, more than they would like to admit. Augustine/Plato...Aquinas/Aristotle....and....in modern times....Fundamentalism/Modernity....and....Emergent/Postmodernism....Not asserting that Christians have sold out or uncritically integrated their Christian Worldview...but...am suggesting it is a very difficult challenge....sorry if this sounds too pessimistic because I sense that you are personally grappling with some important questions and looking for some real answers to the current political mess our country appears to be going through at this time....bottom line....from my perspective...The Bible, Christian tradition, and current Christian thinkers who spend a great deal of time thinking about such matters can be helpful but I don't think we can 'systematically' arrive at some kind of Christian perspective that is not tainted by our culture or is 'Biblical based'....and....beware of those who 'assert' they have a biblically based political perspective or claim God is on their side..."

This is indeed something I'm grappling with, and I think that it is a very valuable discussion that should be held. I would most certainly appreciate the additional comments of any of you who may wish to do so.

1 comment:

seekinghim said...

Great questions, Matt! While I have traditionally voted Democrat more often than Republican, I too have struggled with discerning how my faith informs my political choices. I have felt a great deal of frustration at this administration's "holy war" talk...more than frustration, I have often been offended at their claim that God is somehow sanctioning this war.

While he may be a little too "liberal" (please excuse the labels!) for you, I have found Jim Wallis to be a thoughtful speaker and writer about these topics. I enjoyed his book "God's Politics" and went to a conference where he spoke last January. I find his humility and his focus on the words of Jesus to be quite compelling.

I'll be back to see what other comments you get on this post. Thanks!