I don’t talk about religion very much on this blog anymore. I tend to save religious discussions for my Christian Heresy blog. I do however often discuss politics here. Since this post is about both religion and politics in the United States, I thought it was better suited for this blog.
Yesterday was the Fourth of July – our Independence Day. Last night I watched the movie version of the Broadway musical 1776 on Turner Classic Movies. The movie was actually better than I expected, mainly because it was less of a musical than I thought it would be. I found the dramatization of some of the debates in the Continental Congress rather interesting. I don’t know how historically accurate those dramatizations were. At one point in the movie, our Founding Fathers were recommending the various and sundry changes to the original wording of the Declaration of Independence. One of the delegates from the South asked for the inclusion of the phrase containing Divine Providence. He felt that the colonies would have no chance winning a war against Great Britain without divine help and that our declaration should acknowledge that. That’s certainly makes sense given the times and the culture of the colonies in 1776.
However, including Divine Providence in the Declaration of Independence really opened a very nasty can of worms that this country is still trying to close. For the last 241 years, there has been an unholy alliance in this country between very conservative political fundamentalists and very conservative religious fundamentalists. These fundamentalists of both varieties use religion to justify their political conservatism, and their political conservatism to justify their religious fundamentalism. Why do I call it an unholy alliance? That is what this post is about.
The religious fundamentalists in this country are almost exclusively self-proclaimed Christians. These so-called Christians seem to think that we Americans are the chosen people of God and that this country is somehow divinely ordained as the home of God’s people. Well, I can think of millions and millions of human beings who would object to that and probably do. Why do you think the United States has such problems, politically speaking, with Islamic countries? Maybe it’s because the Islamic fundamentalists (and there are many just as there are many Christian fundamentalists) believe that -they- are God’s chosen people. Then there are the Israelis. Did not God tell Abraham that He was giving the Promised Land to Abraham and his descendants? Is not the Promised Land what we now call Israel? Were not the ancient Hebrews God’s original Chosen People? Where in Scripture does it say that the citizens of the United States of America have replaced the Hebrews and their descendants as God’s Chosen People?
There is one way we Americans can justify such a claim. However, I am not sure that many of the Christian fundamentalists would support this argument. When the Babylonians conquered ancient Israel and destroyed the First Temple built by Solomon, the Hebrews were exiled, for the most part, from Israel. That is called the Diaspora. There was another Diaspora about six centuries later when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple built by Herod, who, at least according to Scripture, was not a Jew/Hebrew. He was supposedly a Bedouin. Whatever Jews were left in Israel, then called Palestine, were scattered to the four winds and to the four corners of the earth. Many of them seem to have found their way to Europe.
The ancient Hebrews, including those of the first century A.D., were predominantly Semitic, not Aryan like the Europeans. With the Diaspora, the Jews over time split into two somewhat distinctive “ethnic” groups: the Sephardi (the Jews who remained in the middle east) and the Ashkenazi (the European Jews. The Ashkenazi over time lost a fair amount of their Semitic physical characteristics. I suspect that that was the result of a certain amount of intermarriage between non-Jewish Europeans and Jews. There is also a fair amount of scriptural and historic evidence that the Jews of the Diaspora did do a fair amount of proselytizing. The centuries just before and just after the birth of Jesus were a period of great religious turmoil throughout the Roman Empire. This was probably especially true among the conquered peoples of that Empire. It is not uncommon for conquered peoples to look for a “Messiah” to save them from their conqueror. Judaism has long promised a Messiah. Christianity, which did start as a Jewish sect, claims that Jesus Christ was and is that Messiah. That would certainly explain the possibility of a fair number of European conversions to Judaism and later to Christianity. I suspect that the European Jews of the Diaspora were not quite the fervent advocates of Jewish “purity” that later Jewish fundamentalists were and are. I suspect that there was more intermarriage between the people of the Diaspora and the indigenous Europeans then either side might be willing to admit. Such intermarriage would obviously change to some degree the physical appearance of European Jews.
So what was the purpose of that rather long historical diatribe? Well, Christian fundamentalists, those who see Christians as the true Chosen People of God, could argue that they are actually descendants, in the genetic sense, of the Diaspora Jews. They are the Lost Tribes of Israel. In fact, I believe there are some splinter Christian sects that actually do believe that. So, why not make this idea part of mainstream Christian doctrine? (I am not really advocating this. This paragraph should be read as dripping with sarcasm).
The only real link between Christianity and the principles that form the basis of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence is that both are about freedom. The trouble is that the freedom that Christianity preaches is not the same as the freedom the Constitution preaches. Christian freedom is not necessarily political freedom. According to the canonical traditions of Christianity, Jesus Christ was not advocating any form of all political revolt against the Roman Empire. He preached, for the lack of a better word, spiritual freedom, freedom from within rather than without. I don’t necessarily agree with this interpretation of what Jesus was all about, as I will discuss on my Christian Heresy blog. But this is the interpretation of Christian orthodoxy.
The US Constitution is about political freedom, freedom from tyranny, freedom from political oppression. One of those freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution is freedom of religion. The wording of the First Amendment has been interpreted numerous times by the Supreme Court as meaning that each American is free to worship whatever God they choose, and that the US government cannot restrict the practice of religion to a specific faith or specific group of faiths. That one gives the Christian fundamentalists in this country heart failure. After all, how can this be God’s chosen country if some of the people worship a different God? What if they are pagans? Satanists? Wiccans? Buddhists? Hindus? Taoists? Even Muslims? How can these non-Christians be God’s Chosen People? (Again, read this is sarcasm. Also note: I have not mentioned Jews. As far as I know, Jews do not consider this country as the “New Israel.” Nor is there a large amount of anti-Jewish sentiment in this country. By the way, anti-Semitism should include anti-Muslim behavior. After all, most Muslims are of Arab descent. Last time I looked, Arabs were considered a Semitic people).
If we are going to support the First Amendment as fervently as we support the Second Amendment, then let’s take the religious rhetoric out of politics. The United States is very far from being a homogeneous country. It is not exclusively Christian. It is not exclusively Caucasian. It is not exclusively Anglo-Saxon. American citizens, in various religions, racial groups, ethnic groups and at least two genders, if not more. Let’s keep Christianity focused on spiritual freedom and leave the political freedom to the Constitution. Stop trying to force various sectarian religious principles on the language of the Constitution. That is what our Founding Fathers intended when they added the First Amendment.