Immoral Beginning?: America and Faith! : ThyBlackMan

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Immoral Beginning?: America and Faith!

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( Nation- A people who share the same lies about their past, hatred of their present neighbor, and illusions about the future.

Ernest Renan

This is one of the most cynical, yet truthful, definitions of the word nation I’ve ever read. Ernest Renan was a French philosopher and scholar who lived in the 19th century. He studied and wrote about language, religion, and nationalism. Reading Renan’s work on nationalism over and against W.E.B. Du Bois text The Souls of Black Folk opened my eyes to the fact that nationalism is more than belonging to a preferred race or class. Belief is a constitutive part of national identity.

Believing the socially accepted myth about a nation, despite the historical accounts of the past and the lived experiences of the present, is a form of religion for some people. The myth that America is a Christian nation is so embedded in the psyche of the average citizen that questioning the veracity of this claim is akin to blasphemy. This myth is insidious because it negates the violence America was built on. If Manifest Destiny was ordained by God, then we can accept the suffering of those crushed in its path. If America is a Christian nation, she’s already been forgiven for her transgressions.

When the story of America was passed down to previous generations it was given to them through favorable biographies, autobiographies, and American folklore. Most of the early histories about America were written from the vantage point of the politicians, entrepreneurs, and military leaders who shaped the country. History told from this perspective doesn’t reflect the average person’s lived experience. I’m not suggesting we dismiss those texts writ large, but we have to acknowledge the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans never experienced the utopian Christian centered existence this myth evokes. Books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Adventures of Huck Finn, and texts written by Du Bois, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright serve as checks and balances on the narrative that America turned her back on God.

There are Americans who will never be able to accept honest assessments about where our nation is today, or where we may be tomorrow, as long as they are emotionally invested in lies about the past. Every generation has justified their unjust behavior towards those the Bible commands them to love through a complex bait and switch in which the racial, ethnic, or religious “otherness” of their neighbor transforms them into beings unworthy and undeserving of love.

The book of Habakkuk is one of the least preached out of books in the Bible. Fire and brimstone pastors can find six degrees of separation (or less) between our times and a litany of Old Testament prophesies, but you aren’t likely to hear a sermon preached from Habakkuk 2:12–13 which reads as follows:

12 Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity! 13 Behold, is it not of the Lord of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity? (KJV)

Hermeneutical interpretations aside, scriptures that call into question the moral (or immoral) origins of our nation are, as a rule, ignored by those who support nationalism over kingdom building. The fact that so many churches openly supported a politician who advocated for a kind of nationalism synonymous with xenophobia is indicative of this. If my reading of the gospels is correct, no nation can call itself righteous if they don’t care for the people Jesus taught his followers to care for. The neighbor isn’t the sick, indigent, orphan, or widow. The neighbor Jesus taught about in the parable of the Good Samaritan is the person who is most unlike you.

In order to believe America was founded on Christian principles one has to negate the way the land was acquired, and ignore the way she treated her neighbors. Some of the most suffering in our country is being felt by those living in what has historically been described as God’s country. The Bible Belt is awash with unemployment and underemployment, Meth and Opioids, desperation and despair. The same Christians who willingly accept the premise that issues like abortion and gay marriage caused God to remove his protection from America reject the notion that some of our current social ills could be connected to the sins of stealing this land and slavery.

Either Renan was more right than wrong in his definition of a nation, or I’ve grown to cynical to be optimistic. When I turn on the television and see Evangelicals supporting the dismantling of the healthcare system, calling for walls to be built, or ignoring the suffering of their fellow man I know their words are grounded in nationalism and not love. The distance many young people (theologians and pastors included) place between themselves and the political class of Evangelicals is rooted in the exclusionary way Christianity continues to be practiced by those in power. Instead of creating the beloved community Dr. King preached about too many prominent evangelicals use the gospels to further segment society. This form of Christian malpractice is symptomatic of a nation that avoids honest discussions about the past, confuses critiques about the present with antipatriotic sentiments, and is in denial about the future.

Staff Writer; Danny Cardwell

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