Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Myth of a Christian Nation, Part 8

Perhaps now is a good time to allow Greg, in his own words, to give us a quick recap of his argument up to this point.

As we have noted, many Christians believe that America is, or at least once was, a Christian nation. We have argues\d that this notion is inaccurate for the simple reason that Christian means Christlike," and there never was a time when America as a nation has acted Christlike. Indeed we have argued that it is impossible for any version of the kingdom of the world to be Christlike for the simple reason that they participate in a system of domination that necessarily places its trust in the power of the sword. It may use this power in just or unjust ways--and we should certainly do all we can do to influence the former and resist the latter--but in neither case can it be said to be acting like Christ. The kingdom of God, which always looks like Jesus is not simply an improved version of the kingdom of the world, for a version of the kingdom of the world may be relatively good, but it cannot be beautiful.

That is the essence of Boyd's argument, and for the rest of the book, he looks at the effects of believing the myth.

Chapter 8 of Myth... begins to discuss what Boyd calls five negative consequences that have resulted from the myth that America is a Christian nation. In this chapter he looks at the first three.

1. The myth that America is a Christian nation harms global missions

The primary cause of harm to global missions, Boyd argues, is waging war in the name of God, as has been done throughout history, and he gives several examples. More recently, though, "[t]his Christianization of military force was strongly reinforced when President George W. Bush depicted America as being on a holy 'crusade' against 'evildoers.' Elsewhere he said that America is 'the light of the world,' which the 'darkness' (that is, our natural enemies) could not extinguish. He was of course quoting scripture to make his point--Scripture that refers to Jesus (John 1:1-5)."

The result of using this religious language to further nationalistic goals results in much of the world hating Americans. "Not only does America represent greed, violence, and sexual immorality to [those who hate us], but they view America as exploitive and opportunistic." The result "is that this disdain gets associated with Christ when America is identified as a Christian nation.”

You can see where this would make it hard for a missionary to convince an Iraqi (or anyone) that the actions of America do not represent the heart of Christ.

2. The myth that America is a Christian nation harms missionary work in our own country

In this section, Boyd separates what he calls the "Civil Religion" of a nation, which in America's case is Christianity, with true Christianity. A civil religion is the “Christian” aspects of American culture (such as our holidays, having “In God We Trust” on our coins, saying “one nation under God” in our pledge, and hearing the religious rhetoric of our politicians). The civil religion is just a front. As Greg says, "If you peel back the facade of the civil religion, you find that America is about as pagan as any country we could send missionaries to." There are at least two dangers that go along with this civil religion of Christianity in America. First is the danger that Christians will believe that "winning these fights somehow brings America closer to the kingdom of God.” Secondly, it dilutes those in America who need Christ by leading them to think they are Christians without having a relationship with Jesus, in addition to killing the evangelistic zeal of American Christians.

3. The myth that America is a Christian nation tends to commit Christians to trust "power over" rather than "power under."
Thirdly, Boyd argues that believing this myth leads Christians to tend to resort to "power over" rather than to power under. Christians too often resort to lobbying and political means to change society, rather than trusting prayer, servanthood, love, and generosity. Boyd goes into great detail about social action in the chapter, talking about how Christians too often depend on the government to do what God has called the Church to do, like care for the poor and the broken.

What are your thoughts about these first three consequences of the myth that Boyd points out?

Next time we will look at my favorite chapter in the book, called "When Chief Sinners Become Moral Guardians."


Chip Burkitt said...

It sounds like Boyd may be overstating his case. Take war, for example. It's impossible to imagine going to war except for what we believe is right. What country goes to war believing it is in the wrong? Even aggressors believe they have a right to invade a neighbor. And as soon as we start talking about what is just or right, we are firmly on religious ground. Is it so surprising, then, that war in America is almost always justified using Christian language? I think most Westerners understand this and do not equate America's war propaganda with the gospel.

The problem arises with Muslims. Most Islamic states do not have anything like the notion of separation of church and state that has had such a long tradition in the West. In Islamic countries the political and religious spheres overlap much more than in the West, and many Muslims do perceive America as both Christian and Satanic.

I'm not sure, though, that this perception increases resistance to the gospel. If the gospel is true, it spreads by personal testimony, deeds of love, and miraculous signs. These three present an unstoppable force that has nothing to do with America's military might.

Nick said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Chip. To foster conversation, here are some thoughts in response.

And as soon as we start talking about what is just or right, we are firmly on religious ground. Is it so surprising, then, that war in America is almost always justified using Christian language?

Yes, but I think we would agree that using religious lingo to justify going to war to protect oil interests(or any other clearly selfish motive) is in bad taste. Even if it is what we "should expect" doesn't mean that it is right or good.

I think most Westerners understand this and do not equate America's war propaganda with the gospel.

Maybe not, but I think they do associate militarism with the religious right (or vise versa), and the religious right with Christianity, and Christianity with the gospel. It may not be direct, but surely it has some influence, right?

I'm still in thought about your 2nd and 3rd paragraphs. I'm not sure what to say right now. Maybe I will a little later.

Thanks for faithfully reading and commenting, Chip.