WE NEED TO PROCLAIM
OUR TRUE CHARACTER
All the familiar clichés associated with the abortion issue are, more or less, based on that premise: the silly cry of “Keep your Bible off my ovaries!” … those stupid red robes and cone-shaped bonnets from “The Handmaid’s Tale” … and the rest.
You needn’t be particularly concerned with abortion, either. I encounter self-proclaimed atheists and agnostics who seem to live in terror of being rousted out of bed in the middle of the night by agents of a new Christian Inquisition. Maybe as kids they all had really scary Sunday schools teachers, but the mere existence of churches taps into some primal fear of compulsory devotion.
The religious specter getting attention these days goes by the name, “Christian Nationalism.”
In a recent posting on the lefty, faith-focused online journal, Religion Dispatches, constitutional attorney Andrew L. Seidel of Americans United for Separation of Church and State identified the Supreme Court as an active agent of the Christian Nationalism movement…
“Americans must stop thinking of the United States Supreme Court as a court of law,” Seidel wrote. “It’s a court bent on giving political whims the force of law and on converting America into a Christian nation.”
Seidel cited three recent decisions that “forced a narrow, conservative Christian religious belief onto the entire country.”
First, the Court “compelled taxpayers to fund ‘religious indoctrination’ at Christian schools. Then it “abolished the constitutional right to abortion.” Then it “effectively allowed public school teachers and staff to coerce your children into joining their Christian prayers.”
(In case you’re not familiar with those other two rulings, let me clarify. One said religious schools can’t be excluded from schools-of-choice funding programs, and the other said it was legal for a high school football coach to conduct voluntary, after-game group prayers.)
Naturally, Seidel saw these actions as revealing the foundational principles behind Christian Nationalism: racism and male domination.
“The three opinions venerate and glorify ‘history and tradition’ over established legal principle and fact because these justices want to drag us back to a time when conservative white Christian men ruled. When their rights were the only rights that mattered.”
Despite all the attention it’s currently receiving, I suspect that Christian Nationalism, as a movement, has the numbers and influence of the Alt-Right that so vexed our lefty media types a few years back — which is to say miniscule. In fact, I think it’s largely a media contrivance along the lines of white supremacy.
(But then, it does sell T-shirts, like those bearing the design at the top of this column).
Nevertheless, opposing Christian Nationalism is a thing just now. Much effort is being expended in building a case for the supposed secular character of our country, as expressed in this meme circulating on social media…
The problem is that the meme’s premise isn’t true. Movements aside, the United States is very much a Christian nation, in that it was built on Judeo-Christian moral traditions under the impetus of specifically Christian religious motives.
We may have no established Church — which at the time of the founding most of the American colonies did — but beneath a highly secularized veneer, Christian thinking, Christian perspective, Christian assumptions about things like freedom, justice, and the dignity of the human person are woven deeply throughout our entire cultural fabric.
You for civil rights? That’s a Christian idea.
Those who fret about Christian Nationalism will point to the influence of the Enlightenment, that great outburst of temporal philosophy and scholarship which so leavened the thinking of our nation’s Founders. They’ll insist that Enlightenment influence on people like Thomas Jefferson refutes the whole idea of America as a Christian nation.
But the Enlightenment itself was a product of an intellectual tradition that had been born and nurtured in the great Church-sponsored universities of Europe. The Enlightenment was intrinsically Christian, though surely it veered off in materialistic directions.
As it happens, I’m reading the Old Testament Prophets just now, and I see an interesting parallel.
The threat confronted by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and other prophetic voices of the time was the influence of foreign cults and alliances. Remnants of the original Canaanite peoples, plus population groups brought in by the Assyrians, all had their own gods, holy places, and sacrificial practices (some of which were quite shocking). Dealings with foreign kings further diluted national independence and identity.
The principal counsel of the Prophets was that these influences — which were strong and pervasive — could lead only to destruction, as indeed they eventually did. Isaiah and his colleagues called upon the nation to turn back to Yahweh, and to live in the way He prescribed.
Folks didn’t listen then, and unfortunately that’s very much our situation right now.
Quite the opposite of being too Christian, we’re not Christian enough. Our national character needs more of a faith focus, not less. And if that makes you uncomfortable, well…
Now, I understand that this nation embraces a multiplicity of faiths (Judaism, among others). From the beginning, our national challenge has been to accommodate that variety.
For the most part, we did that pretty well back in the days when Protestantism was dominant (that is, Andrew Seidel’s “conservative white Christian men”). And while the task has certainly gotten no easier over time, I think we’re up to making whatever adjustments are necessary now in a spiritual climate that’s undeniably much-changed.
We all have a stake in making it work. That includes my atheist and agnostic friends.
Whether or not you believe in God, my prophetic advice is to behave (and to speak) as though you do. Trust me, it’s in your best interest.
This country is based on the premise that our rights come not from law (that is to say not from man), but from God. Law is merely the concrete expression of those rights.
This is an eminently practical (and advantageous) assumption. Because if human thinking is the source of our rights, then rights have no justification other than the consensus of the moment. And opinion can change anytime.
If, on the other hand, our rights come from God, then we have a much broader and more stable field on which to defend them: 3,000-plus years of scripture-documented Judeo-Christian moral tradition and practice.
Today our rights are being assaulted by foreign influences, and eroded by malevolent forces from within. We need to be the Christian nation we are. Or we will be no nation at all.
May God bless us — and help us — on this Independence Day.
Having trod the agnostic path myself, I feel great empathy with those who wrestle seriously with the intellectual problems of faith. Not so the mere scoffers. What constantly strikes me about them is their intellectual pretentiousness — which especially shines through online graphics, such as this one…
… though sometimes cleverly, as in this cute takeoff of product ingredient labels…
Their underlying fear is usually evident, too…
It often comes out in very unsubtle ways, such as ascribing their own sins to Christians…
…or outright thumbing their noses in childish defiance…
Eventually they tend to get all tangled up in the complexity and illogic of their arguments…
But in the end, they always reveal man’s intrinsic need for God, sometimes coming poignantly close to an actual plea for faith…
Running on Religion Dispatches with Andrew L. Seidel’s critique of the Supreme Court is this anguished wail by a religious studies professor named Carmen Celestini. She sees the overturning of Roe v. Wade as the beginning of a sweeping rollback of rights, with everyone being forced into submitting to Christian doctrine…
“As many of us fought for rights, inclusivity, equality, and individuality, these individuals [conservatives] brought moral panics, conspiracy theories, and abject fear to the table to motivate their followers. To this way of thinking, behind every step forward, lay an evil cabal, a demon or minion of Satan, while they, as the soldiers on the side of the eternal, were commanded to battle in the streets and storm the voting booths.”