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Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy 4th of July, Babylon!

I love the Fourth of July. Even as I criticize the various injustices and foibles of our polticial and economic system, I can celebrate the constitutional guarantees of my right to criticize my country. As an atheist, I can also embrace this wholly secular holiday more whole-heartedly than any of the church holidays that dominate our Western calendar.

If I were a Christian, I might have to change my fife-and-drum tune. Pastor Shel Boese warns his fellow believers to watch what the worship this Sunday. Pastor Shel refers us to Pastor Bob Wyatt of Oregon, who questions the compatibility of national patriotism and Christianity:

Tony Campolo puts it this way: “America may be the best Babylon the world has, but it is still Babylon nonetheless.”

We are exiles living in Babylon, folks. Our corner may be called “America,” or “Canada,” or “France,” but it’s still all a part of the same thing: a world system that transcends borders, is dominated by materialistic consumerism and exploitation, and is fundamentally opposed to the Kingdom of God. And while love and affection for the people living in that system is entirely necessary, and while we should certainly pray for the peace and well-being of the place where God has set us, we need to avoid the mistake we see over and over in Scripture: becoming so enamored with our temporary dwelling—whether that’s called Egypt, Babylon, or even America—that we lose sight of what Hebrews calls “a better place” [Pastor Bob Wyatt, "Be Careful What You Worship on July 4," Out of Ur, 2010.07.01]

Lest you revert to conflating piety and patriotism, take a couple more swigs of that Campolo quote:
  1. "America is the best Babylon in the world. But Babylon is a whore. Whores seduce. Babylon consumes all the resources on the earth, and eats up the souls of men (Rev 18)."
  2. “As the system was collapsing, as Babylon was going down the tubes, this other group of people was saying, 'hallelujah, Babylon is no more! The great whore is dying'.... Don’t get me wrong, I love the United States of America. It’s the best Babylon on the face of the earth, but it’s still Babylon and it’s not the kingdom of God.”
Whew—I'm glad I don't have to reconcile that on Sunday morning. And hey, what is that flag doing up on the Christian altar, anyway?

As some of my more enlightened Christian friends would say, God Bless America... and the rest of the world, too!

35 comments:

  1. Tony Campolo is one of the last people I'd be looking to for moral guidance; he's compromised God's truth too many times in too many ways to be relied upon.

    Accordingly, most people who balk at the compatibility of American patriotism and Christianity usually loath the principles of one, the other, or both.

    While no nation on earth throughout history has ever been perfect, the United States has done better than any other one, being founded by devout Christians on Christian principles. That's worth praising God and thanking him for these blessings of liberty.

    God did, after all, say, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus," and "Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" and "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him," So there will be many Christians giving thanks to God this Sunday for the "firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence" displayed by our founders, and that their prayers "were heard, and they were graciously answered," and for the unparalleled blessings, peace and prosperity with which God has showered the people of the United States.

    One final thought on the celebration of Independence Day: "It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty." - John Adams.

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  2. God, schmod.

    American patriotism and christianity is code for the guns, rape, mayhem, genocide, and slavery that brought form to this country, Bob; same as the Crusades before it.

    Put up or shut up...

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  3. Thank you, Larry! Those honest moments of transparent loathing for our country and our founding principles are so refreshing after all the usual liberal masquerading.

    Have a blessed Independence Day!

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  4. It is not America that I loathe, Bob. I loathe the murder of truth by pigs like you.

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  5. Classic Bob Ellis: always missing the point and making mine. The issue is not whether America is a nice country: it is. The issue is whether Christians ought to comingle religion and patriotism, as Mr. Ellis so plainly does by cloaking himself in his show-patriotism and wishing us all a "blessed Independence Day!" Imagine if Jesus wished you a "blessed Caesar's Birthday!" or whatever other secualr imperial holidays Rome might have imposed on captive Jerusalem. he could only have done so with wiseguy irony.

    As a secular humanist, I can celebrate the Fourth of July with complete consistency. Mr. Ellis, on the other hand, cannot come to grips with Campolo's clear explanation of the Christian's calling to hold such holidays at some distance.

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  6. And Larry, remember: the First Amendment protects even Bob's lies. America is great enough to tolerate even his deception.

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  7. Anabaptists have been decrying Civil Religion (whether it uses a veneer of Atheism, Christian or some other belief system) for 500 years. I could have given you great Biblical and historical authors on the subject other than Campolo.

    At any rate the USSR created Civil Religion using secular humanism...so it's not magically exempt from the rites of state that create false unity for the purpose of dehumanization of the other...

    just sayin

    The founders got this one right - religion and state must be separate for both to thrive. The Anabaptist reformers understood true faith must be voluntarily assented to - not coerced by governments.

    Furthermore ALL state-sanctioned religions kill the religion and the civil-religion of the state over time.

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  8. Religion is a result of mental illness: http://interested-party.blogspot.com/2010/03/holy-spirit-mental-illness-linked.html

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  9. Religion is a result of mental illness Awesome! Where are you building the facility that will fix me? Seriously, you're going Freudian here? Do you accept his view that all neurosis comes from a troubled relationship with one's mother? Hopefully you have a program that will fix all them dysfunctional moms and save the world. It is so convenient when people you don't agree with are simply insane. You don't even have to regard them as human anymore!

    This is the height of rational secular argument? You call one commenter a "pig" (isn't that the essence of DEhumanization?), and present the complexities of history with,
    guns, rape, mayhem, genocide, and slavery that brought form to this country ,
    which is, I guess, the absurd opposite of "there was a continent full of horrid savages and we build the City of God over it." I don't buy either myth.

    So this is the great rationality that is suppossed to fix the world?

    Just those few quotes are so full of fallacies - ad hominem, poisoning the well, appeal to ignorance - that I don't know where to begin. But I supposse that's the strategy - fling enough incoherent stuff around and there's no coherent way to answer it. And there are points in this thread worth discussing... but how to get through the storm of b.s. to even approach them?

    The central point - that Christianity gets corrupt when conflated with other stuff - is fine. C.S. Lewis made a similar argument. The New Testament writers were on the margins, representing a kingdom which, as Jesus said, is "not of this world." Good historical arguments can be made about the rot that can set in when the Church and state are conflated, and Tocqueville admired American Christianity because it actually enhanced thought about liberty rather than "vegetated" (his term) like the State churches he knew in Europe. He also noted that American Christianity, as a cultural rather than Constitutional reality, established shared principles that spared us the religious warfare common in Europe.

    History is complex and messy. Christianity can be corrupted by collusion with secular power. But ya know what? Reason can be poisoned by the closed systems and irrationality of ideology - including secular ideology.

    Good luck with that.

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  10. It's Tim, right?

    Seminary was clearly very good for you; however, it is a mistake to confuse christianity with Christianity or religion with Religion.

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  11. Oh, and Tim? Amerika has hardly been spared religious warfare.

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  12. Larry:"American patriotism and christianity is code for the guns, rape, mayhem, genocide, and slavery that brought form to this country, Bob; same as the Crusades before it."

    I'm I wrong in my perception that guns, rape, mayhem, genocide, and slavery ALL predate even the colonization of America, let alone the development of our constitutional republic? Not only did it exist before us, it has found far more fertile ground in places that reject the basic principles of the American experiment: Communist China, Vietnam, North Korea, Germany, South Africa, Congo. The absolute closest you can come to attributing genocide to the US is the trail of tears, and even that is a stretch. You then mention the Cursades as if to emphasize your historical ignorance of the Islamic invasions of Africa and Europe including 300 years of war and subjugation prior to the Christian response that freed Europe from slavery but later earned the revilement of idiots who think of it as an example of christian imperialism. The abolition movement in America was a christian movement that included many of the founders. The slave trade itself was outlawed in 7 of the 13 colonies by 1804, 4 of them before the constitutional convention. You act like Christianity and the founders created slavery, instead of being part of creating the first movement in history to end it. Servitude and outright slavery was an utterly accepted practice by Aristotle and the Empires of Greece, not to mention the Roman, Mongol, Ottoman, Persian, Japan, and many Native American tribes.

    But what should I expect out of someone who listens to Amy Goodman :)

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  13. Interlocutorily, yes, Rog. Nice to have you back in the game.

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  14. Larry: My religious wife has shown no signs of mental illness. Even if religion has its flaws, my wife seems to make the best of it.

    I have yet to hear a single commenter truly indict the logic of what Campolo and Wyatt and Boese say about how Christianity and patriotism fundamentally conflict. How does the permanent exile claim to love one country above others? How does the Christian justify cloaking the altar in the symbol of one earthly empire (especially given the history of the flag in church as a phenomenon of the 20th century when Lutherans of German descent felt the need to prove their American loyalty to avoid secular persecution)?

    I loathe neither Christianity nor America. I have a bone to pick with those who aggrandize themselves through conflation of both.

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  15. Cory, you have made it abundantly clear that you not only loathe those who appreciate America and Christianity, but that you loathe what we love even more. It would be nice if you could at least match Larry's level of transparency--though I know that's a lot to ask of the average liberal.

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  16. No, no, no, Bob: you don't get to ascribe to me the things you wished I believed but which I don't believe. I am who I am, say what I believe.

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  17. Larry likes to shock. The article suggested Paul had epilepsy: "Seizures in this area can be associated with a feeling of religious ecstasy, accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations. An initial seizure would be a profound experience in one as devout as Paul and could certainly result in an about-face in religious beliefs."

    They say he was critical in spreading Christianity because of his zeal, protected status as Roman citizen and willingness to convert gentiles.

    The question to me is always why some people are so intolerant. My religion is the only way. The American way is the only way. That's crazy.

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  18. Shock, yes. Someday ip will be a fraction as good of a writer as Ellis or Cory.

    What did you think of ip, John? Did you look around in there? It doesn't look like you voted on one of the polls.

    Cory, teach me how to use your tags to make hyperlinks?

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  19. Cory, I can only go on what you say and how you say it. If you malign America and her founding principles, no rational person can somehow ascribe that to love of country. If you denigrate Christianity and those who ascribe to it, no rational person can somehow ascribe that to respect.

    An honest person embraces identification with the values they espouse--that is why i readily admit I am a Christian, a conservative, and a patriotic American.

    I'm sorry, but I will not allow your lies to stand unchallenged. You behave as if you loathe America and Christianity; you should at least have the integrity to embrace your behavior as Larry usually does.

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  20. Bob, you're using your wishful lies about me to distract from your failure to address the original point to hide your failure to live consistently in Jesus's word. You choose jingoism and John-Wayne play-acting over true Christianity. You are a fraud, a failed Christian, and embarassment to those who truly live in the Word. I live Christ's Word more consistenly than you do. Now stop calling me a liar and deal with your own inadequacy.

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  21. Larry often has a much less extreme underlying message. Shock too much, people won't look.

    Get real Bob, Cory constantly puts his ideas out on every possible topic. He'll aggressively debate but not demand exclusive agreement. The my-way-only mentality you defend is not loving or patriotic.

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  22. I pointed out to you quite clearly how the thanks that many Christians are giving and have given for God's blessing in America is completely consistent with Christ's teachings; somehow you imagine yourself to be morally superior by denying both the truth of God's Word and the blessing he has provided in America. That is the pinnacle of hypocrisy. You live in the world of Isaiah 5:20.

    Please, try to be honest. If you loathe America--which have abundantly proven you do--just admit it. I don't ask that you love our country; just try being as transparent as Larry is in his hatred for our nation. That would be so refreshing.

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  23. Your hypocritheocratic america deserves loathing and fear, Bob.

    Help me draft a peoples' referendum that brings Statehood for Mexico to a vote of the Mexican people.

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  24. You see, Cory? With few exceptions, Larry isn't afraid to let his loathing of our country and our founding principles shine through unimpeded.

    That's the mark: either learn to love our great land, or at least don't try to deceive people about your loathing of it. One should either be proud enough to stand behind the positions they articulate, or change those positions.

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  25. I'll take the US Congress over civil war any day, Bob. Mexico would have quite a number of seats in the House. It's got to have bi-partisan support.

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  26. They're nearly all christian, Bob.

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  27. "fundamentally opposed to the Kingdom of God" is simply wrong. He criticizes the nation by pointing out the flaws of human nature and conflating them with the country those people live in. He claims to advocate love and affection for the people living in the system but the problems he has with materialism and exploitation are the flaws in those same people, not flaws in the country they live in. It is certainly not a problem in the attributes of America that patriots honor. Who feels patriotic fervor for materialism or exploitation?! Patriotism is about honoring the unique and greatest attributes of a country, not the flaws. Feeling patriotism for America is not really about apple pie or baseball, and not about greed, it is about the ideals described in our founding documents. To say that patriotism is opposed to the kingdom of god is saying the freedoms of speech, of religion, of due process, or of the press are opposed to the kingdom of god.

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  28. Larry: "...Statehood for Mexico to a vote of the Mexican People"

    I didn't realize non-members of a group could vote themselves into the club. I should vote myself into the skull and bones then.

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  29. Your statement is illogical, Roger. Patriotism is not at all what you say it is. My saying patriotism and religion are incompatible is not a critique of freedom of speech or any of the other items you pile on. Patriotism is defined pretty clearly and consistently as love of one's country. That patriotism you describe (and the version I critique) is a perverted, lying version where we ignore reality and look only at the good, not the bad. That's as unhealthy as a human relationship where we see only the good in our spouse but never notice or mention unhealthy behavior. True love demands dealing with the object of one's love (human or nation) in toto, praising the good, recognizing and helping change the bad. Identifying and changing the bad is all the more just with a country, since a country has no will/autonomy independent of its lovers. A Christian perspective would all the more oblige a citizen to set aside blind rah-rah patriotism and work to fix the flaws in a nation just as a Christian confesses his own sinful nature and works to overcome them.

    And the point still stands, unrefuted by any of Bob's posturing, that church is not the place to declare one's undying devotion to any earthly empire. From a Christian (not secular) perspective, displays of flag-waving patriotism are inappropriate in church.

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  30. The people of Mexico would have to dissolve their own constitution and government, Roger. Without assurances from US that seems radical.

    If there was an invitation that came from the grassroots rather than from government, Mexicans would have incentive rather than suspicion.

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  31. Larry: I still have no idea where the annexation of Mexico as a state has anything as all to do with the conversation. It would require the acceptance of Congress and the demonstrable will of the Mexican people. Neither will ever be given in any of our lifetimes, why did you bring it up?

    Cory: "love of one's country" is not a solid definition when there is still the question of what distinguishes America from other countries. If you think of America as just another one of many nations defined by its borders and society only then you are thinking little deeper than the 'patriotism' of sports fan for the home team. Patriotism can take that form for some people, but that makes it little more than just the nationalism instead of devotion towards the things that make us American. That kind of patriotism is a driving force in many, like some in some of the Tea Party, who see the unhealthy behavior in our government that those like Cory, lacking this patriotism, are blind to. Christianity does demand recognizing ones own sinful nature, and patriotism obliges the citizen to recognize how government has become corrupted and restore America.

    Standing up in church and declaring your devotion to the fundamental principles of America is in complete agreement with Christianity, as those principles of individual freedom compliment the individual responsibility required for salvation.

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  32. Whoops! Something is going wrong with the comment form! Roger submitted the following comment; I received it in my e-mail, but it hasn't showed up here. Weird! Here's what Roger said:

    ---------------------------------
    Larry: I still have no idea where the annexation of Mexico as a state has anything as all to do with the conversation. It would require the acceptance of Congress and the demonstrable will of the Mexican people. Neither will ever be given in any of our lifetimes, why did you bring it up?

    Cory: "love of one's country" is not a solid definition when there is still the question of what distinguishes America from other countries. If you think of America as just another one of many nations defined by its borders and society only then you are thinking little deeper than the 'patriotism' of sports fan for the home team. Patriotism can take that form for some people, but that makes it little more than just the nationalism instead of devotion towards the things that make us American. That kind of patriotism is a driving force in many, like some in some of the Tea Party, who see the unhealthy behavior in our government that those like Cory, lacking this patriotism, are blind to. Christianity does demand recognizing ones own sinful nature, and patriotism obliges the citizen to recognize how government has become corrupted and restore America.

    Standing up in church and declaring your devotion to the fundamental principles of America is in complete agreement with Christianity, as those principles of individual freedom compliment the individual responsibility required for salvation.
    --------------------------------

    My reply:

    Now you're playing definition games, Roger. Patriotism is love of country. Love of any one country over another is problematic for Christians. You don't get to let Christians off the hook by positing that America isn't like other countries. Exceptionalism only makes our patriotism and the contradiction with Christianity worse.

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  33. Preference of one country over another is problematic for Christians? Are you positing that the Christian born in Iran or China or North Korea have no interest in making their countries more like the American ideal? I don't think American Christians should affirm their love of their country, I think ALL Christians should love the American ideal, recognizing the affinity the principles of individual liberty have with their faith. Perhaps patriotism isn't the right word after all, since is implies love of ones own country, rather than love of government limited to the ideals of individual liberty, created to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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  34. You might be getting closer, Roger. One mustn't confuse love of principles with love of country, for there will inevitably come times when your country (a fallible human institution) will fail to live up to the principles you love. Do be careful with the phrasing, though. Suggesting that Christians everywhere should love American principles feels wrong. Christians should love Christian principles. They should work to see that all nations follow them. Some principles of some countries (American protection of individual liberty) do that better than others (North Korean submission to the totalitarian state). But no country offers a complete template that Christians should follow. Remember, rugged individualism, capitalism, and materialism are very American, and those principles don't fit well with Christianity. Devotion to any one country, with all its earthly flaws, contradicts Christianity.

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  35. I believe you are mistaken, Roger. Statehood for Mexico is a realistic alternative to the North American Union, the concept railed against by the right-wing as a Marxist plot.

    Mexico is a conservative christian voting bloc with a trillion and a half economy. It is an opportunity whose time has come.

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