Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Athanasius Wept

Kenneth C. Davis has an interesting piece arguing that the United States is not a Christian nation. I have to agree with Mr. Davis, especially since his article is a good example of why America should not be seen as the leading Christian nation in the world today. For starters, Mr. Davis himself seems confused as to what constitutes orthodox Christian doctrine. For example, Mr. Davis writes:

“No one can argue, as 'Christian Nation' proponents correctly state, that the Founding Fathers were not Christian, although some notably doubted Christ's divinity.” 

I would think that doubting Christ’s divinity would, at the very least, make one’s commitment to Christianity questionable. But then Mr. Davis makes an even more egregious error by lumping Mormons in with Baptists as Christian “sects.” While I am definitely not a theologian, Mormon rejection of the Trinity is just one of the many areas where the Latter Day Saint movement deviates tremendously from orthodox Christian doctrine as passed down throughout the centuries. This confusion about what constitutes basic Christian doctrine is very common in the United States, where Mormons, Unitarians, and a host of other non-orthodox groups get lumped in with Catholics, Orthodox Christians and mainstream Protestants. 

None of this is surprising given America’s history as a breeding ground for non-orthodox interpretations of Christian doctrine and the current lack of religious knowledge among even devout Americans reflects the sorry state of religious education in the country. While these issues may seem academic, they actually have important consequences for the country and the world. For example, it is certainly worth arguing that the belief that America is some kind of holy nation ordained by God to spread it ideals across the globe has helped to fuel American military intervention abroad. When combined with a general ignorance regarding the history of Christianity, you end up with the Iraq debacle and the devastation of the ancient Iraqi Christian community by forces let loose by our invasion. I won’t even get into the Christian Zionists and related End Times theologies, but I think we can see how these ideas can be problematic for America and the rest of the world. 

1 comment:

  1. Whatever else Mormonism may be, it is certainly not a "Christian sect"; in fact, its popularity, like that of America's numerous other frankly heterodox variations, raises very serious questions about the allegedly Christian character of that country. As does the fact that the American Founding Fathers, by whom Thanksgiving was invented in no small measure to supplant Christmas, were not Christians. They were Deists, and their position is exemplified by The Jefferson Bible, from which he excised all reference to Christ's Divinity, Resurrection or miracles. However, the actual phrase "the separation of Church and State" does not occur in the Constitution.

    Rather, the First Amendment's reference to religion was designed to stop Congress, full of Deists as it was, from suppressing the Established Churches of several states, although they all disestablished them of their own volition later on. This might not have been what Christine O'Donnell meant. But there we are. Like neoconservatism, the Tea Party is strikingly uninterested in abortion or in the definition of marriage. It is really about lower taxes and nothing else. Indeed, where religion is concerned, it embraces Sharron Angle's ties to Scientology, Christine O'Donnell's dabbling in witchcraft, and Rand Paul's Aqua Buddha, cheered on by the Moonie-founded, and until recently Moonie-owned, Washington Times.

    Even in America, most Evangelicals do not use the Scofield Reference Bible or take it at all seriously. Anywhere else, such as in Britain, it is hard to obtain. The Left Behind series has no British distributor, since it has no conceivable British audience. But their attitude to Levantine Christianity is much like their attitude to the Sub-Apostolic Fathers: they either do not know, or do not want to know, about entirely matter-of-fact descriptions of all things "Romish" existing during the lifetimes of the Apostles and providing the context that the New Testament text presupposes. Nor do they wish to be confronted with the entirely matter-of-fact existence of communities of that kind which have been present continuously for two thousand years, right there in the Bible Lands.

    Christian communities that go all the way back to the Day of Pentecost are problematic enough in themselves for them, without those communities' having become, at best, Anglican or Lutheran rather than, say, Baptist, and far more commonly Latin Catholic or Maronite Catholic, Melkite Catholic or Greek Orthodox, Syrian Catholic or Syrian Jacobite, Armenian Catholic or Armenian Apostolic, Chaldean Catholic or Assyrian. As part of Evangelicalism's general upward trend in educational terms, Evangelical theology is increasingly looking beyond the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to its earlier and more cerebral roots, and thus to a place within the older, broader and deeper Tradition. Approaches to the Middle East are starting to reflect this shift.

    But most churchgoers, and indeed most clergy, are not academic theologians. So, for the most part, the attitude continues to be essentially the same as that which has since the nineteenth century maintained the completely made-up Garden Tomb because those who invented it did not like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and did not want people to know about it. We see the consequences in relation to the Holy Land, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.