Tuesday, April 29, 2014

God and Country

I grew up on the idea that the US is somehow extra special in God's plan for the world.  I read material claiming that the US somehow was spotless from imperialism, was a land of perfect freedom, that the USA was in some sense a Christian nation where the truth's of God could be favored over other belief systems, and that the USA had some kind of special role to play in bringing about the events leading to the end of the world.  As I became more mature and my understanding deepened  I understood that the United States history cannot be understood properly while ignoring its imperialistic past, that the USA is more important as a place where some ideals of freedom were formed as opposed to where they were first or best realized, that calls for running the government as a "Christian Nation" often are intended to be acted out in violations of the freedoms of those who were not Christians or whose version of Christianity differed from those in power, and that the end of the world predictions I heard in Sunday had often more to do with patriotism than with scriptures.

But, despite all of that the idea of the US being somehow special in God's plan just seemed like a harmless extension of patriotim that could be winked at.

Now I find the whole package kind of frighteningly unnerving.  In all the history classes I had taken up to date I had never understood the religious nature of the world wars.  I had assumed that Europe had secularized because of the trauma of the religious wars of the reformation.  I hadn't realized that it took a lot longer than this.  I hadn't realized that state religions had flourished in much of Europe until the world wars.  I hadn't realized that so many of the state religions had rallied for God and Country- to the point of preaching death to the enemy and often participating either actively or compliantly with the state brutality encouraged by Nazism.  Being in a religion doesn't make you a good person even if it gives you a narrative to explain how and why you want to be one.  After seeing so much killing done in the name of God and Country it makes sense for Europe to back away from state religions just as it backed away from the hyper nationalism of fascism.

But just how did these religious leaders justify to themselves the violence that they condoned?  It made so much more sense when I watched a video of some of them explaining what happened online.

In this film, it is explained how Hitler combined a sense of love of God and country together in a toxic mass of glorified nonsense.  German Christians who experienced his masterful rhetoric often would have viewed that the Nazi party acting through a militant Germany was God's answer to the Godless Atheists of Communism.  It was all part of God's plan for saving the world from the evils of the last days.  But evil is perfectly capable of acting through a theistic Hitler as through an atheistic Stalin.

So why does that matter regarding the USA?  I watched another video

In this video, Billy Graham argues that a militant United States is God's answer to the evils of godless communism, but only if it purifies itself through purer conversion to Christ.  One might argue that surely Hitler and the Christians who followed him were wrong and Billy Graham was right?  I'd argue that the Lutherans who followed Hitler and the Billy Graham's of the world aren't any more right or wrong than each other.  They were both expression a by then traditional form of patriotism by mixing up God in their own political and military goals.  The Lutherans following Hitler were simply unlucky that the traditional association of God and country turned out so sour for them because Hitler was a man of profoundly evil assumptions about the world.  But you might argue that in the US we aren't that depraved and that we would never allow our sense of destiny to override our sense of morality.  To that I'd say watch this clip

When a popular politician who was close to being vice president blasphemously suggests that the US should use water boarding to "baptize terrorists" and the crowd cheers at the idea- we aren't any inherently better than the Croatian Catholics who shocked even the Nazis by their brutality in massacring people whose religion they disagreed with.  We're simply lucky we haven't had a political leader elected who actually asked us to do such things on such a scale and instead get off easy with just a few incidents of Muslim prisoners raped and at least one tortured to death in US prisons.  We aren't magically moral because of our country or our God- but when we link God and Country too closely in our minds we risk assuming that we are and that all our actions are justified because of it.