16 October 2010


Seems to me that since the founding by Europeans of the American colonies there has existed the Christian thought of "the City on a Bright Shining Hill" which led directly to ideas of American Exceptionalism and even to Manifest Destiny. God was seen as being resolutely on the side of America. America's experiences in the 20th century--acknowledged as the American Century--including the success of the Second World War and more recently the "winning" of the Cold War, reinforced the ideology of that exceptionalism, as if the nation could do no wrong, especially in foreign policy but also in domestic affairs. The fact that America has the world's largest economy and is militarily unchallenged (for now) has been internalized by Americans as reinforcement and proof of its (moral) superiority. The reasoning goes thus (like the Social Darwinists of the 19th century who saw "natural" God-given superiority of the upper social classes): That America is on top means that it was supposed to be on top as pre-ordained by God. This must have been part, then, of what many see as American hubris and some of the exploits of American foreign adventurism, such as both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. If America has been imperialistic, then God must have willed it.

If Christian scripture is accurately describing the current dissolution of American social conditions (assuming you mean to indicate that Scripture was specifically foretelling American history 1,900 years and more into the future from when it was written), then there seems to be some historical cognitive dissonance between the historical idea of America's metaphysical founding, and subsequent singular guidance by God (which surely influenced the conduct of American foreign policy), and the current biblical apocalyptic interpretation of its decline. The American Christian cognitive dissonance results from the belief that America, the New Jerusalem, is now in the throes of evil forces leading to debauchery and imminent demise. All this as if Christian ideology itself had nothing to do with the historical evolution of current conditions.

I understand that there must be a great deal of frustration among some Christian groups, leading to the Religious Right and to a wing of the Tea Party movement. It (the American religious interpretation of America's place in Christian teleology) has at least partly led, I believe, to imperial overreach (two current Asian land wars) and some of the very conditions of its (near) demise. Certainly the lingering costs of the Vietnam misadventure and the already-one-trillion-dollar war in Iraq have been a significant part of the current American malaise. We have seen erosion of civil liberties (the Patriot Act) and the squandering of treasure on needless wars (and a $700 billion military budget this year). American religious ideology has surely been an important contributor to what has led us to the current situation.

In addition, Christian ideology does not seem to value God's Creation, either, since capitalism has been essentialized as a "natural" outgrowth of the Christian worldview of how to conduct human affairs. Capitalism (interpreted as ordained by God as the "natural" economic system), for its part, requires constant growth and search for new markets and resources. Christianity largely endorses this state of affairs, does it not?

Can American Christians let go of some of their religio-political beliefs (certainly not all are destructive), so that capitalism as a globally monolithic system can be jettisoned? So that foreign (mis)adventurism and imperial overreach do not drain our coffers? So that the City on a Bright Shining Hill does not fire destructive military cannonades into the surrounding landscape? I fear not; most likely in times of turmoil the current religious ideology governing the affairs of the economic-governmental superstructure will be clutched even tighter. In that case, we will just wait for the end while we continue to clutch to our bosom the ideas of ordained Exceptionalism. At least we will feel morally superior while we watch the destruction.

No comments: