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Posts Tagged ‘America’

On the eve of the Rally to Restore Sanity (which I’m going to! Hooray!), there have been some people asking whether it is simply a get-out-the-vote effort for the Democratic Party. Others, too, have expressed the fear that it could become political. And that certainly is a danger; viewers of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report do tend to lean to the left. And the Democratic Party would love a bit of momentum to stem the Election Day shellacking they are likely to receive, and would love to use this rally to gain momentum.

I really hope that doesn’t happen. If the message of Stewart and Colbert became politicized, it would be terrible for America, because their message is exactly what our national discourse needs. Consider these two videos: the infamous head-stomping at a Rand Paul rally, and Keith Olbermann’s Glenn Beck-esque declaration of the Tea Party’s intention of bringing back Jim Crow and hanging union leaders.

Both sides are losing their damn minds. The increasing hysteria only serves to allow one side to hysterically point out the other side’s hysteria as proof that the first side is the non-hysterical one. And the media, conservative and “lamestream” alike, treat it like a boxing match, without ever asking why they give the hyperventilating fools a platform. What do they care if the country goes to hell? It makes for great TV.

In the midst of this stupidity, Stewart and Colbert point and invite everyone to laugh at the stupidity. And in the midst of the laughing, they hit on a pretty important idea: the governance of the country is not a reality show or a sporting event. It should be more grown up than this. While we laugh, we stop and realize, hey that’s a good point.

That’s why I’m going to the rally. Because it invites us, after we’re done laughing at stupid people, to realize that America is bigger than an ideology. We’re attempting to “create a more perfect union.” You know, union–like a marriage. And unions don’t work out when the husband is stomping on his wife’s face, and the wife says her husband wants to bring back Jim Crow and hang union organizers. You have to stop the name-calling, and try to see it from the other person’s side, and admit that sometimes you’re wrong, and work out a livable compromise. That’s what the rally is about. And that’s why I’m going.

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That is the question I have for today. It was sparked by Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial last weekend. I didn’t watch any of it, so admittedly, my thoughts might be completely off base.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a very negative opinion of Glenn Beck. Although I’m pretty libertarian in my political views (and therefore more likely to agree with him on issues than not), I can’t stand him. I think he’s a hack, and that he has the critical thinking skills of an average middle schooler. Politicians fall into more categories than “fighting for freedom” and “trying to impose tyranny,” and this has yet to occur to Mr. Beck. But I digress; I’m not trying to explain why I don’t like him. The fact that I don’t like him, and that I’m therefore biased, will suffice.

Beck’s rally was advertisted as being religious, not political. From what I have read about it, this was largely the case. Beck called for America to pray, and declared that “Today, America begins to turn back to God,” or something pretty close to that.

Now, being suspicious of Beck as I am, I am inclined to question his motives. Prayer, and turning to God, are pretty good things to do, and what he said naturally appeals to serious religious people. But I think that he knows that. And while he may believe it himself, he’s very well aware that lots of other people do too. And I think that his end in all this has less to do with God, than with America. To paraphrase Mary Poppins, a spoonful of religion helps the political agenda go down.

I voiced this opinion on that bastion of courteous civil discourse, Facebook. Some people agreed with me. But others thought it was awful that Christians could say that. No religious leaders have done what Beck has done, someone pointed out. Yes, Beck is a Mormon (and therefore, according to most Christian denominations, a member of a cult and probably going to hell), but he was doing a very good thing, calling Americans to pray. And, despite the religious nature of the rally, Mormonism never came up; it was all about God, Christ, and turning back to him. Prominent religious leaders weren’t doing that, so why jump on Glenn Beck?

So why haven’t religious leaders been telling America to devote themselves to prayer, and to turn to God? (Well, first off, anyone who thinks religious leaders haven’t been telling America to repent/pray more/turn to God hasn’t been paying attention for a long time.) Well, I thought to myself, because religious leaders have been telling the adherents of their religion to pray more and turn to God. This is what’s supposed to (and, the majority of the time, does) happen at a church, but not necessarily outside of one. Think about it. Assuming you aren’t trying to convert them, why tell a crowd of people who aren’t part of your religion to pray, or “turn to God,” or anything at all? Imagine if the Dalai Lama stood up and told a bunch of random people, who weren’t necessarily Buddhist, that they all needed to, as a group, submit themselves to the Eightfold Path. Not that they needed to convert to Buddhism (yes I know that it doesn’t quite work that way with Buddhists but stay with me), but that they simply needed to be better Buddhists. There would be a bit of confusion. Well, okay, but, why are you telling us this? We aren’t Buddhist. We respect you and what you do, but the ethical imperatives of your religion, and your authority as a religious figure, mean nothing to us. Because we aren’t Buddhist. In short, the reason that religious leaders haven’t been telling Americans to be better religious people (even though they have), is that there is a sense in which they don’t have the right to. “American” isn’t a religious affiliation, it’s a national one.

At this point, it occured to me: what if America is considered almost a religious affiliation? Which then led to the question: what if America, for Christians, has replaced the Church? I don’t mean the church in the sense of a place where Christians pray and hear sermons and sing songs and find out how to go to heaven and be a good person. I mean the Church–the universal church, the transcendent Bride of Christ, reaching across time and space, the one holy catholic and apostolic church that Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox all declare in the great Creeds. What if the great, sacred brotherhood, THE great transcendent reality, based in historical figures and documents that have assumed mythical proportions, in whose association we find our deepest, truest identity, is no longer The Church, but America?

The more I think about it, the more it makes complete sense. The sort of traditions that have, historically, been so important to the Church, have been largely rejected (or worse, ignored) by American Protestant evangelicals. Chanting the Apostle’s Creed (much less the longer Nicene) scares people–all that chanting sounds cultish. (And what do they mean by “holy catholic church” anyways?) Catechisms (or even commentaries and theological treatises) are viewed with suspicion or ambivalence, because teaching doctrine and theology about non-essentials only divides people; just teach the Bible instead. The hymns are good and all that, but they’re boring and inaccessible to people today; let’s do contemporary praise choruses instead. The church fathers were great, and we should respect them, but they were sinners just like anyone else. It’s not like everything they said was infallible, or like because they said it we should give it more credence than what other people said. But they’re definitely worth reading where they were right. And the Church calendar is largely ignored (Lent, Epiphany, Pentecost, to name a few), with the exception of the two most commercially lucrative religious holidays, Christmas and Easter.

But the American traditions, however, are still strongly defended by those same people who reject that of the Church. Try to take the Pledge of Allegiance out of as many schools as churches have removed (or simply ignored) the creeds, and see what happens. Even attempting to change the wording causes anger. As catechisms, commentaries and treatises are largely ignored, there is a revival of interest in the Federalist Papers–what you might call the commentaries of the Constitution. And can you imagine trying to rework “America the Beautiful” like some of the hymns have been gone over? Give it a catchier melody, simpler chord progressions, and of course, write a new little chorus that can be sung with emotional abandon (a la this and this from my least favorite Christian “artist”). And I recall a backlash against pointing out the chinks in the mythology of the Founding Fathers (they owned slaves, Thomas Jefferson was his slave’s baby daddy, Ben Franklin was a horndog, a bunch of them were Deists who denied miracles and the divinity of Christ). Some said that people who studied the Founders did so to demythologize them, so that they could in turn deny the special beginnings of America and remake it in their own image. And the American calendar (Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, etc.) has not faded as that of the Church.

To further the parallels between America and the Church, consider the “sacred writings.” For the Church, it obviously has been the Bible; but it has not fallen out of favor the way that the creeds, catechisms, and liturgies have. The Constitution was the foundational document of America, and it remains so, just as the Bible remains so for the Christians. (Actually, it’s worth considering whether the Declaration of Independence could be treated as the Old Testament, and the Constitution as the New.) And there are similar battles going on over both. There are Biblical literalists and inerrantists, just as there are strict constructionists. There are those who are willing to reinterpret the Bible in light of changes in society today, just as there are those who refer to the Constitution as a living, breathing document.

So there it is. The Church used to be the defining reality for Christians. For the great thinkers of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism, the invisible, mystical Bride of Christ, physically manifested in the visible, institutional, apostolic Church, was the primary spiritual reality on earth. I think it is fair to say that this high view of the church as The Church is no longer the dominant view in American Christianity.  But has The Church been replaced by America, for many evangelicals? Glenn Beck’s rally was religious, but what religion was being rallied for? There was mention of God, and of Christ, and prayer, but what Christianity was Beck speaking for? Mormonism is rejected as heretical by pretty much every other branch of Christianity. And as far as I know, there was no mention whatsoever of salvation, or an afterlife. Was he speaking for Catholics? Presbyterians? Methodists? Orthodox? Baptists? In the name of which institution did Glenn Beck speak? And, most importantly, which institutional affiliation made his words so powerful to evangelicals?

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