American Christians and the Anti-American Temptation


This piece was adapted from Russell Moore. Newsletter. Subscribe here.

YoIf any political idea in American life has proven itself in recent years, I can think of no better candidate than the “horseshoe theory”: the notion that, at their extremes, the left and the right lean one. towards the other, sometimes as being almost indistinguishable.

One of the ways we can see this is in a bleak and increasingly dark vision of the United States of America. The question is not so much whether right-wing or left-wing extremists seem to hate America these days, but rather the question of whether because.

More than 15 years ago, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign was rocked by a videotape of sermons by Obama’s pastor, Chicago preacher Jeremiah Wright, in which Wright discussed the 9/11 attacks on language reminiscent of Malcolm X after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, like “the chickens come home to roost.”

Wright denounced the idea of ​​“God bless America,” replacing it with a “God damn America” call. The controversy proved to have no staying power, not because most Americans agreed with Wright, but because almost no one actually believed that Obama himself held such views. In fact, Obama disowned his pastor and left the church.

Wright’s bleak view of the United States was not unusual for a specific current of the most distant sectors of the American left, at least since the Vietnam era. After all, countercultural protesters once burned American flags and referred to the country as “Amerika,” equating the United States with an imperialist dictatorship.

In more recent years, some initiatives such as the Project 1619 have gone beyond the well-established truth that slavery and systemic racial injustice were America’s original sin and continuing struggle. They argue that, in fact, slavery is the reason for the founding in the first place, making American racism unaccountable to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and irredeemable.

If this is a “culture war,” then one would expect the right to defend such traditional values ​​as “America: love it or leave it” patriotism. And yet, we see, if anything, an even bleaker vision of the United States from the most radicalized sectors of the populist right.

damon linker detailed the dark vision of the world articulated by “illiberal” right-wing intellectuals, which caused New York Times columnist Paul Krugman ask, “Why does the right hate America?” The concept of a “Flight 93“The vision of an American project whose cabin should be loaded and fall to Earth is, in fact, a big change from “It’s morning again in America.”

Indeed, the kind of American Christian language that leans toward Gomorrah or a new Babylon sounds more appropriate for a leftist critique of American “imperialism” than for those who once heralded a kind of civil religion that seemed to confuse, if not merge, piety with Americanism.

Not long ago I found myself wondering, “How did ‘God and Country’ Christians become so unpatriotic? Why do so many self-proclaimed ‘Christian nationalists’ seem to hate their own nation? Why do many progressives seem to disdain any progress?”

Actually, this should not perplex us. Psychologists have a category for disordered personalities that they idealize and then discard. The person whose spouse is expected to meet all of his or her spiritual, emotional, and physical needs (to be the perfect “soul mate”) is often headed for divorce. Parents who build their entire lives around their children’s achievements often end up distancing themselves from them, or even hating them. We cannot love what is important but not fundamental if we expect it to be fundamental.

That’s what idolatry always does. We expect our idols to fulfill meanings and purposes that they can never fulfill. When they disappoint us, we tend to reject them and get angry before looking for some other idol to repeat the process.

A progressive with a vision of an ascendant, utopian future will ultimately resent anything that is not a utopia, even if it is as uniquely conducive an engine for justice and human flourishing as liberal democracy. And a conservative with an idealized vision of a golden age of the past will soon resent an era that doesn’t live up to that illusion.

Messiahs who don’t live up to our expectations of them are quickly discarded for the Barrabbases we believe will.

The American founders were not the Christian models that some forms of Christian propaganda (aka “lies”) have told us. These same founders were also not the cartoon supervillains that other forms of propaganda would characterize them as. They were sinners who aspired to something that they never fulfilled and that we never fulfilled either. The great thing was that they did not seek to erase those tensions.

EB White—author of Charlotte’s website and Stuart Little—taught an entire generation of Americans grammar and the art of writing. Many of us were flagged in high school finals for deviating from Strunk and White. style elements.

In 1936, White argued that the United States Constitution was not only not a sacred document but was not even grammatical. White noted that “We the people of the United States, to form a more perfect union” is language intended to turn “the stomachs of many grammarians, perfection being a state that admits of no degrees.” Something is perfect or imperfect. It cannot be “more perfect” or “less perfect.”

In this case, however, White was willing to sacrifice the rules. “A meticulous draftsman would have written simply ‘to form a perfect union,’ something our ancestors did not dare predict, even for reasons of grammar.”

A Christian vision of humanity should free us to differentiate between a claim to perfection and an aspiration to that which is “more perfect.”

Every age is full of grace, and every age since Eden falls short of the glory of God. We can love our parents, our children, or our spouses, not even though they have defects, but precisely because They are not meant to be our gods.

We who are Americans can love America, with all its flaws and failures, precisely because we do not expect it to be the kingdom of God.

Christian nationalism can never end in patriotism because it confuses the latest and the next. Progressive utopianism can never result in patriotism because it does the same thing.

However, genuinely kingdom-first Christianity can and should free us from nationalism, nativism, and perfectionism to truly love God and country, because we know the difference between the two.

Russell Moore is the editor-in-chief of Christianity today and directs its Public Theology Project.


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