Is America is Dead Yet?
Following the exodus of many Christian believers from the religious right “evangelical” church, I’ve heard a few leaders of the “deconstructionist movement” critique hyper patriotism and Christian nationalism as idolatry. I could’t agree more.
Jesus is Lord, not our country, not either party, not any candidate or President. Any time we begin to imagine that our politics and opinions are the only ones that can save us all- we’ve fallen on our knees before a false god.
But as a fan of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Abe Lincoln and American history in general, I want to point out that many if not most practicioners of this blasphemous “civil religion,” aren’t even practicing this false religion correctly. They violate it’s commandments (14th Amendment) and ignore it’s creeds (just as MLK accused us of in his ‘I have a dream’ speech.
The three core tennants/doctrines of our secular (civil) religion were origionally equality, human rights and the social contract theory. The sacred virtues were unity, justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare and the securing the benefits of freedom for an optimistic future. The holy sacraments were voting, speech, assembly, and ingenuity.
I know, I too have to tear down my own asherath poles of progressivism even as I demand that conservatives grind their baal alters into dust. Egalatarianism, fraternity and liberty aren’t going to get anyone into Heaven or more Christ-like than capitalism, guns or military superiority. But I just can’t help thinking that if you’re gonna depend on horses and chariots instead of God’s Spirit, you should at least depend on the correct horses.
It sees to me if you’re going to elevate America or it’s flag to an object of worship, at least do America the favor of honoring the republic for which it stands, one nation (UNDER) God, indivisible with liberty & justice for ALL- rather than just Republicans standing (never kneeling) for the flag, with God being an afluent, White, male, always supporting one political party over another, polarized with “opportunity” if you work hard enough, and retributive justice if you can afford it.
So, for my deconstrutionist brothers & sisters, as well as for my athiest and agnostic brothers and sisters, I present a thought experiment. Friedrich Nietzsche’s much reviled and misunderstood 1882 story, “Parable of the Madman”- replacing the word “God” with “America.” A decidedly Trump-Era fable.
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek America! I seek America!” — As many of those who did not believe in democracy were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has she got lost? asked one. Did she lose her way like a child? asked another. Or is she hiding? Is she afraid of us? Has she gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is America?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed her– you and I. All of us are her murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the land from sea to shining sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire frontier? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying America? Do we smell nothing as yet of the national decomposition? Nations, too, decompose. America is dead. America remains dead. And we have killed her.
“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”
here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars and broad stripes — and yet they have done it themselves.
It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several campaign rallies and there struck up his requiem aeternam demos. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these party debates, primaries and caucuses now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of America?”
This isn’t how things are supposed to be
Don’t miss the main point; Re-read the important stuff if you have to
I try to read through the Bible about once a year and it really all boils down to a few things. I’ve read the law and the prophets and the psalms and the proverbs in the old testament and I’ve read the gospels and the acts of the apostles and the epistles in the new testament and it all seems to come down to these:
Faith, Hope, and Love
Of course, the greatest of these is love. God is love, there is no fear in love. The whole of the law and the prophets is summed up in love the Lord your God with all your hear and all your soul and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The greatest commandment is to love one another.
But still, people who call themselves Christian demand, compete for and cheat to gain and maintain control (showing a lack of faith). They use fear as a tool to get leverage and to motivate, and they seem to be motivated by jealousy, defensiveness and anger- all showing their lack of hope. And they behave and talk as if they’re motivated by hate. Even if/when they claim not to be, their actions and words convince other people that they are.
Now I don’t read Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, and I realize that whether I like it or not, many people seem to interpret Scripture very differently than I do. I’m only human and I pray that if I’m way off base, God will correct my thinking, but I guess my suspicion is that most people who throw around the Bible to support their political, social or philosophical positions haven’t spent a lot of time reading it, let alone asking God’s Spirit to truly work on their hearts or change their character to be much like Jesus’.
You’re right- I’m not an ordained minister, I don’t have a ThD or a PhD or a DivD or RelD, or whatever expert degree in Biblical history, literature or doctrinal studies to make me the ultimate expert. I’m not God. I’m just another sinner like everybody else.
If you really want some credentials, I’ve taken undergraduate college-level religion and theology courses, been taught about at least basic level hermeneutics and exegesis and was given a diploma granting me permission to teach religion classes to 7-12th graders in Lutheran schools. I’ve taught adult (not very well) and youth (not very well attended) Bible studies and helped my wife teach junior high Sunday School classes. I’ve served as an elder at two congregations and on the church council at one.
None of that makes me any holier than the next schmoe or more better, smarter, or the definitive expert on God’s Word- but even a numb-skull jerk like me can tell you that if your religion tells you to hate people, hurt people or deny them the same legal/social/economic/political rights as you, then there’s something very wrong with your religion.
May I suggest that either you’re not listening, you’re not willing to surrender and let God be God (and give up being god yourself) or you’re not bothering to read God’s Word as often or as deeply as you say you do (or as you think you do).
Ask yourself something. If God gave YOU your rights, your property, your money, your lifestyle, your position in life- what makes you think He hasn’t given those same rights to other people? Or don’t you think of all other people as people?
Which brings me to my next line of thought.
I end up reading through a lot of other things pretty much every year because I teach Civics. The Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitutional Amendments, our state constitution (Iowa,) a number of laws, treaties, Presidential speeches (including the Gettysburg Address) and number of letters and speeches from other noted historical figures like Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
And guess what?
It really all boils down to a few things:
Liberty and Justice for ALL
Some read the Pledge of Allegiance and focus on the flag, the republic for which it stands or on God, but I stick on last three words because I’ve noticed a pattern where these three concepts (at least in synonym form) keep showing up in document after document.
The Mayflower Compact doesn’t address freedom (liberty) and it certainly didn’t offer rights or equality to women, natives or other non-whites, but it does say that the signers would offer all DUE obedience to any JUST laws meant for the GENERAL good of the colony. That certainly seems to cover justice and all.
I teach my Civics classes that at the core of the Declaration of Independence is that King George III and Parliament had broken the social contract (been unjust) to the colonists, therefore Congress believed that they were justified in separating from the mother country.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created EQUAL and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable RIGHTS… to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, whenever any government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it…”
The three principles there are equality, rights, and justice (social-contract), or if you reverse the order; liberty (rights and freedoms), and justice for all (equality).
The Preamble to the Constitution implies and assumes equality when it begins “We the people.” The “blessings of liberty” means the right to partake in participatory, representative-democracy. Establishing justice is the first goal meant to help us form our more perfect unity.
The First Amendment describes our most fundamental rights (including religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Other amendments cover many other rights and liberties and the Fourteenth Amendment in particular emphasizes the equal nature that justice is supposed to take.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address reminds us that America is supposed to be “dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are created equal” (as the Declaration says). Yet most people seem to miss that that proposition is the “great task remaining before us” to which Lincoln urges us to find increased devotion toward.
I contend, in fact, that his closing about “government of the people, by the people and for the people” embodies these same three concepts. It is OF the people because ALL people are created equal- there isn’t supposed to be a ruling class like in an aristocracy, oligarchy or plutocracy. It is BY the people because we all have a RIGHT (the LIBERTY) to participate- if not to run, then to vote, to speak up and speak out, to assemble and petition.
And this is the “creed” in his “I have a dream” speech that MLK imagines the United States rising up and finally living out. Keeping the contract that promised equal rights, because we’re ALL created equal and endowed by God with the same rights.
Liberty and justice for ALL.
I don’t see these three the least bit incompatible with faith, hope, and especially love. Bottom line; If you don’t believe ALL human beings are equal and therefore entitled to justice, equal rights, equal opportunities, equal dignity, equal respect and fair treatment- well, you’re not doing “America” right.
I recommend reading some of the documents that formed this great experiment in participatory government. You don’t have to be a History Major or take a graduate course in political science. The Declaration, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address are all a Google-search away, for free. There are free versions available on many app for your phone. Look for whenever you see those three concepts of equality, rights and social-contract, AKA liberty, and justice for ALL.
If you STILL can’t see what I see, if you STILL don’t find that governments exist to protect rights and we have rights because we’re all created equal- if you still aren’t humbled or inspired toward altruism, compassion and community- if you’re still convinced that America is for only a chosen, exceptional few and government’s only role is to protect the privileges and property of those few- well, then, may I recommend that you start reading the Bible and look for the core message THERE.
End of sermon (rant/plea/manifesto- whatever you want to call it.