Divine Right

A lot of you are not going to agree with this. I’m not asking you to. I just had to get some thoughts out. They’re about government, and Christianity, and the origins of my beloved nation.

Is the United States really all that special to God? More special than other nations?

I don’t see it.

It’s true that the founders of our nation were picking explicitly Christian principles when they put our government together. They based the “all men are created equal” creed on New Testament theology – which, I should point out, had its roots in Jewish law, where social status had no bearing on legal status. Likewise, the right to worship as we please harks back to Paul telling the early Christians to be sensitive to each others’ consciences, and the separation of Church and State has its (most enduring) foundation in the Anabaptist tradition. I know that many of the early groups to emigrate to America did so for religious reasons – mine sure did. And I agree that – thank God – basic Christian philosophy and the Constitution are in harmony.

But to say that the United States is special to him? That we are a Christian nation?

As I said, it’d be ignoring a great amount of history to say that the United States was not heavily influenced by Christian thought, that the founders didn’t think that there were things in the Bible that were seriously good foundations for government, and incorporated them accordingly. Every single one of them believed in some version of the Judeo-Christian God.

But, um, back then… what white European didn’t?

Not to mention that several of them – most notably Thomas Jefferson – were deists. They believed in God, all right. They thought it was blindingly obvious that someone with will and purpose designed the universe. They also believed that God had nothing to do with daily life, that since Creation, he’d been sitting back on his heavenly throne, watching things unfold. That he was a marvelously wonderful watchmaker who had since had nothing to do with the watch. The “Jefferson Bible” is a copy of the New Testament – or rather, a harmony of the Gospels – with all the miracles cut out. It ends with Jesus’ burial.

And, y’know, it makes sense. The Deists believe that God has no active hand in our lives, and thus we bear all responsibility to affect things ourselves. They saw a tyrant trying to tax them out the wazoo and abuse their freedom, and so resolved to set up a better government. I for one think they did a bang-up job. Our government has its flaws (why do we have an electoral college again?), and some of those amendments came tragically late, but considering how young our nation is, how powerful it is, how huge it is, and how quickly and drastically the world has changed since 1776, I gotta say, it’s held up well.

But there are many of my brothers and sisters in the faith who are pretty much convinced that the US of A is a particular favorite of God’s and is Christian to the core. I don’t think so.

I believe that God cares for nations. I believe that he holds their rulers responsible for the laws they impose, that folks like Kim Jong-Il and the like earn his disfavor for the atrocities they commit. I believe that we Christians are called to be good, productive citizens, upholding the law insofar as it does not clash with our conscience, and aiming to have good laws made and bad ones scrapped. I believe that Christians who do so bring honor to their home countries and will have a reward for it, if not in this life, then the next. I also believe that the retribution for national sins need not be “divine”: God will allow us to suffer the natural consequences of bad acts, including those on a national level. But I don’t think that the US, having been heavily Christian for so long, gets any special recognition.

It’s true that we’ve got to be the longest-running and most successful experiment with liberty. But does that make us more godly? I’d argue that the same liberty that has allowed us to be a great force for good has also allowed us to commit great evils. Slavery lasted longer here than many places less “civilized” – and it was one of the worst forms of slavery. We’ve stolen land from the natives and corralled them on tiny islands, for no discernibly good reason. In treading the line between autocracy and anarchy, we’ve made many mistakes and done many terrible things. Liberty may be worth the price, but it does us good to recall the price – and I don’t mean in dead soldiers. No nation has unstained hands, and to start comparing records is a folly and a complete waste of time.

And are we Christian? Define “Christian.” It’s not Christian in it’s people: many, many of its citizens are not, and they should not be forced to be. There is no official religion, Christian or otherwise. Our government is secular on purpose, and for the sake of everyone’s sanity, I think it should stay that way. Yet I do want the old Christian principles to stay right where they are, underpinning our government and our constitution, because I believe that they are solid and strong and good. I believe that their merits are not “merely” theological, they’re practical. If you believe that all truth is God’s truth, than it follows that philosophies based on that truth are gonna have demonstrably better results than philosophies contrary to that truth. And yes, I’m going to vote accordingly. But to say that the U.S. “is” Christian? It’s like saying a cake “is” flour: yes, there was flour involved, but the cake is another entity entirely. The U.S. is not a faith or a religion. It is a nation, and a very diverse one.

And I wonder if we’re not messing things up when we try to use our nation as a force for good in the world. Not that our nation has not been a force for good in the world: I think we can all name a few shining moments when it’s done wonderful things. But a nation – particularly a democratic nation – is made up of its people. If the United States is going to be a force for good in the world, it won’t be because we all lobbied Congress to pass a bill. It’ll be because we, on an individual level, valued good things. We helped the poor and set free the chained and sacrificed ourselves and built things and invented things and were concerned with each others’ wellbeing. If we do that here, now, in our own neighborhoods, in our own cities, our nation’s gonna change all on its own. The bills will pass – the action will be taken – because we all agreed on them. Because this nation is us.

All nations are special to God. All governments are special to God. He cares for them all, and we Americans are one of many. It falls to us to make our nation better, not because we’re holier, but because we’re here, same as everyone else.