Fox & Friends was on this morning, which is less news and more of a circus. But a curious bit was they covered a photo of the sun-set. The cloud and light placement made it look like there was a big American flag in the sky. One commentator said something about that being a patriotic sky. This was followed immediately, by another, ‘that’s a patriotic god’. I was blown away that that slipped out so seamlessly. Of course, none of these anchors impress me as having any honest intellect, though they pretend to it as they discuss “the issues”. It’s all about point-scoring and partisan/factional thinking.
Anyway, that statement was unadulterated idolatry and utter blasphemy. I almost can’t believe that I heard that exact phrase come out of someone’s mouth. Maybe subtleties being removed, in this example at least, is God’s judgment. Many of America’s architects were inspired by Rome, and this most certainly included Rome’s religion.
Now Christianity was prized by not a few, but look at the context of their praise. Deistic reinterpretations of Christianity were popular in quite a few intellectual societies. Christianity was the most cultured and civilized religion, it was the closest to Nature. Weirdness of supernatural events may be discarded, or reinterpreted, in the quest for a pure religion. Christianity was disassembled and repackaged, by some more vigorously than others (I’m thinking Jefferson), so that it might fit in the New Age. Some, who were less politique, like Thomas Paine, were apt to see Christianity as worthy of the garbage heap. Enlightened peoples needed to move on.
Rome’s religious vision was compatible, though much less refined, with this Enlightenment quest. No, it was not about Nature or some abstract Rights of Man, but it had to do with the divinity of the Republic/Empire. The distinction we make between Republic and Empire is artificial, since the Senate viewed itself as being graced with imperium, a quest to rule the world. This was the gods’ city. Thus, Rome was rather accommodating to all cults and gods, as long as they respected Roma, the chief divinity. It’s the cult of the empty shrine. The gods, whether from Egypt, Greece, Syria, Carthage, or Gaul, were to move their temples and thrones within the halls of Republic.
The level-headed pragmatism of men like Madison was quickly abandoned for the fervor of Jefferson’s vision of an Empire of Liberty, for the flood of patriotic fervor that was infused into the American spirit. It is an encompassing spirit, amenable to dissidents and rewriting their history into the grand narrative. Mormons became less weird separatists, who clashed with the vision of the Union (as evinced in the response by the state governments of Illinois and Missouri). They are now an ‘American’ religion, and one of the fold for America’s hodge-podge “Evangelical” religious milieu.
I put quotes around ‘evangelical’ because it hardly has anything to do with the Christian connotations of the word, but in a way, these people really are evangelical. They proclaim a gospel of the Birth of a Nation. America is Israel, America is the god’s son. Whether it’s in the liberal vein of a Morgenthau or Fukuyama who talk of America’s divine purpose in democracy and capitalism; or it’s in the Christianized language of providence. They worship the same god in the same cult. America is god, he is the one who makes the skies the colors of Old Glory.
Respecting one’s government is good, and appreciating one’s history (culture, ethnicity etc.) is fine. I cheer for the US in the World Cup. But from On High, these things matter as much as favorite music or food. It’s apart of who we are, for better or worse, but it claims no loyalty. Nationalism is a religion from the pits of Hell, and it is in full force in the US. It’s the Babylonian spirit, one that drove everyone from the British to the Nazis.
But this Americana god is weak, ambivalent, and needy. That’s why I will hear a song like Five Fingered Death Punch’s ‘Wrong Side of Heaven’. In this song, god is this pleading and inflexible nancy, while the devil is a misunderstood and brooding figure. The singer identifies himself with the devil, and his faint moralizing conscience as god. The singer speaks for a whole generation of moody, confused, and angry young men who think they belong to purgatory, or as the song puts it “the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell”. This fits with the general self-identity of military men as straddling the wall, doing what needs to be done even if it doesn’t fit within the context of standard morality.
America needs her fighting men to feed her, to die for her, to promote her, to secure her interests, because she can’t do it herself. She eats up her dead, both the enemies of her ways and her faithful martyrs. No one wants to be the sacrifice, until it’s too late, their body is on the altar, and they’re consecrated unto the greater good. The god is weak.
I wonder if this is the same vibe that comes from a movie like “God’s Not Dead”. The movie neglects any argument for Christ and His Gospel. Instead, a general theism is proved, and an entire class is converted to “belief in God”, whatever that means (good review of the problem here). I won’t read alternative motives. But it’s in the vein that God needs defenders and advocates, instead of being the Defender and Advocate. Calvin considered all his polemics and apologetics as a dog who barks when his Master is threatened. Hardly a noble self-conception!
Yet, look at Psalm 2. The whole world has gathered against God’s Anointed, and He laughs. The world has brought together all its muscle and mind, and God ridicules them: “But I have set my Holy One on my Hill”. For all their plans, they’ve lost.
“God’s not Dead” might not be a set-piece with the general American Pagan pantheon, but it certainly appeals to their doctrine as much as any vague Christian notion. However, we can rejoice with Psalm 2. We may weep to see such willful disregard for the Truth and such shaming and scorning of the Son of Man. But Christ is seated on His Throne. God Reigns, even as the nations still run to their idols. The Lord will judge the living and the dead, and none will hide from the wrath of the Lamb. They will look onto the One who was crucified and risen with a weeping and a gnashing of teeth.
The Lord is not a patriot, and He will judge such stubble for what it is. The Christ is not mild; He is the Avenger of the downtrodden, the Liberator for the slaves, and the Savior of a misfit people.