Archive for civil religion
This guest article is by Jeff Wright. Jeff is the founder of the Evangelicals for Liberty blog. He is a Chaplain in a "city of lost souls" and holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from Dallas Theological Seminary. You can also find him on Twitter at @jeffwrightjr.
The idea that America is the last, best hope of the world is the spirit that animates a great deal of political activity in our country. The “last, best hope” is one of the most enduring rallying cries preached to garner support and enthusiasm for major government initiatives throughout American history. It has become such a widely accepted notion that its veracity and relevance for lawmaking and executive action is simply assumed, even among Christians.
In his first inaugural address in 1801, Thomas Jefferson reasoned, “I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government cannot be strong, that this Government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this Government, the world’s best hope, may by possibility want [lack] energy to preserve itself? I trust not.” Jefferson lifted America’s republican form of government up as the world’s best hope.
I said last year in my article on "Romans 13 and National Defense" that I had been asked many times over the years to write something on Romans 13, that it was something I had thought about a great deal, and that it was something I knew that I must eventually do. Unfortunately, this is still not that article. However, because of questions about Romans 13 that I recently received and answered, I thought I would expand upon my answer here.
First, the text:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. (Romans 13:1-5)
Christian apologists for the state’s military "defending our freedoms" and its wars "over there so we don’t have to fight them over here" incessantly quote their "obey the powers that be" mantra derived from Romans 13 in an attempt to justify their blind nationalism, American exceptionalism, flag waving, God and country rhetoric, warmongering, prayers for the troops, illicit affection for the military, and unholy desire to legitimize killing in war – as well as justify the state’s imperialism, militarism, and unjust wars.
But even worse than Christian warmongers reciting their "obey the powers that be" mantra, is the chant of "Romans 13" after some statement justifying war or the military:
The war in Iraq was a just war. Romans 13. The troop surge was necessary. Romans 13. Dropping the atomic bombs on Japan was necessary. Romans 13. President Bush did the right thing with the intelligence he had. Romans 13. Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Romans 13. Collateral damage happens. Romans 13. The Vietnam War was necessary to fight communism. Romans 13. My country, right or wrong. Romans 13. Soldiers are just following orders. Romans 13. We must fight them "over there" so we don’t have to fight them "over here." Romans 13. Osama bin Laden needed to be killed. Romans 13. Governments have a God-given right to defend themselves. Romans 13. Waterboarding is not torture. Romans 13. Drone strikes are necessary to protect Americans. Romans 13. Support the troops. Romans 13.
The chant of "Romans 13" is used to put a divine stamp of approval on U.S. wars and militarism. It is never used to put a divine stamp of approval on other countries’ wars and militarism, unless, of course, they are allied with the United States at the time.
Now, regarding Romans 13, I just want to briefly mention five things to provide a longer and more thought-out answer to that which I recently gave a young man who is now, thank God, out of the military.
First of all, it won’t do any good to explain it away, correct it, revise it, limit it to godly governments, or limit it to the Constitution. This is because there are two other passages that are even more explicit:
Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, (Titus 3:1)
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of may for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king; as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: (1 Peter 2:13-15)
Second, I continue to be puzzled that some Christians stumble over this. Only a madman would say that obeying the government in Romans 13 is absolute. Even the most diehard Christian apologist for the state, its military, and its wars would never think of saying such a thing. Although the way some Christians repeat the "obey the powers that be" mantra may make one think they would slit their own mothers’ throats if the state told them to do so, they wouldn’t do it no matter how they were threatened by the state. If government agents came to them and said, "Here, put on this uniform, take this gun, and go shoot your neighbor," they would likewise refuse and suffer the consequences. No Christian is going to make his wife get an abortion because the government says he has too many children. No Christian is going to accept every government pronouncement, support every government program, or blindly follow whatever the president or the government says – even when the Republicans are in control. Any admonition in Scripture to obey the government is tempered by command to "obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29) and the sixth commandment "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13), which is repeated in Romans 13:9.
Third, what about Christians in other countries? Shouldn’t they also "obey the powers that be"? Aren’t their powers that be likewise ordained of God? What if their government instructs them to conduct drone attacks in the United States, bomb the United States, commit acts of terrorism against the United States, or invade the United States? Aren’t they resisting the ordinance of God if they don’t do it? Should all Christian soldiers in the German army during World War II have disobeyed orders and laid down their weapons when America entered the war? Christian warmongers are such hypocrites. They are very selective about which governments they think Christians should obey. What they really mean by their mantra is that all people everywhere in the world should only obey the powers that be in the United States.
Fourth, obedience is not really the issue. Obeying the government is not absolute when the government commands something that is contrary to the word of God. The problem with the former-Marine pastor of the former soldier who wrote to me and other Christian warmongers is in what they believe to be contrary to the word of God. It is here that we are at an impasse. When someone defends unjust foreign wars (are there any other kind?), bloated military budgets, torture, drone strikes, bombing campaigns, secret prison camps, indefinite detention, CIA meddling and black ops, almost anything the military does, an empire of troops and bases around the world, and an interventionist U.S. foreign policy in general as not contrary to the word of God as long as it is Americans are doing these things to foreigners and not foreigners to Americans, I say that he is a Christian warmonger who needs to rethink his position. So the issue is not actually obedience, it is what constitutes something contrary to the word of God. The real issue is what extent of disobedience is obedience to God.
Fifth, Christians who recite their "obey the powers that be" mantra and chant "Romans 13" when they want to put a divine stamp of approval on U.S. wars and militarism are falsely leading people to believe that defending US wars and military interventions has something to do with obeying the government. Obeying the government has nothing to do with believing everything the government says, accepting everything the government does, supporting the government’s troops, or defending the government’s wars. The US government hasn’t commanded any American to think or say that the war on terror is a good thing, that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are just wars, that US foreign policy should be supported, that prayers should be made for US troops, or that the US Navy is "a global force for good." And the government certainly hasn’t commanded any individual to go kill and maim on its behalf in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no draft. No one was forced to join the military. And no one who bothered to study US military history for five minutes would joined before these wars began and not known that there was a chance he would have to kill and maim for the state.
In conclusion, I will just say this.
When I see a sign in a government-owned park that says "Don’t Walk on the Grass," I don’t walk on the grass. When I see a sign at a government-owned zoo that says "Don’t Feed the Animals," I don’t feed the animals. When a situation arises like when I see a sign on the Interstate that says "Speed Limit 65" while everyone is passing me doing 75, I speed up, but always mindful that some connoisseur of coffee and doughnuts might be lurking around the bend, just waiting to give me a ticket.
But when I am told to sit at a desk and kill foreigners via drone, fly over some foreign country and drop bombs, invade some foreign country that was no threat to the United States, indefinitely detain some foreigner in prison without trial, or occupy some foreign country that I would have to look up on a map to know where it was, I dissent and refuse to obey.
Originally published at LewRockwell.com on June 13, 2012.
All States have a vested interest in clothing themselves in a religious veneer or a “civil religion,” but this does not necessarily take the form of an “official” religion such as in the European states of old or western Asian countries now. In the case of the United States, there are many of what I like to call “statist sacraments” that reinforce a kind of mythology around the centralized power of the State.
A few weeks ago, the Christian Libertarian Facebook group had a great discussion about forms of civil religion that we encounter regularly. It was such an interesting thread that I just had to record the highlights for posterity here at LCC. (I’ll add some light edits for clarity.)
The discussion began with Drew: “In just a few words or a couple sentences, please describe the worst forms of nationalism, idolatry, and/or propaganda that you encounter regularly. For example, one of my pet peeves is the idol worship of past presidents like Lincoln and such. I’m working on a new writing project and I wanted to get some your thoughts or experiences.”
Here are some of the responses:
“The idol of the dollar. People spend countless hours of their lives working for a piece of cotton while basing all their transactions with it. People devote their lives to it.”
“Worship of ‘Public Safety Personnel.’ Farmers and a few others have higher injury and fatality rate. Last I checked I can survive most days without a police officer writing a report about something bad that happened, but would be hard pressed to survive without the farmer’s production. Which job is more dangerous? Which is more important? Which actually defends my liberty? Which is most beneficial to me? The farmer whose property we steal and leave with no retirement is my advocate. The officer consumes my sustenance, depends on me for his salary and retirement and increasingly threatens my liberty as the state increases in power.”
“I would add idolatry of the [Jewish state] as well.”
“The flag, blind patriotism, and the pledge of allegiance.”
“Lincoln’s a big one. The whitewashing of Reagan galls me, too.”
“Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He got us out the Great Depression, you know.”
“Many liberals I know have said that they believe rights come from the government or ‘the people.’ Seriously disturbing.”
“Who can deny the way Americans worship the ‘Founding Fathers’? I was certainly guilty of this when I was [part of the] religious right. I think American evangelicalism in general places an emphasis on the founders that is unhealthy.” … “[The Founders] were just ordinary men who lived in an extraordinary time, but they are worshiped and some have elevated them to the level of prophets. Further, the Constitution is venerated to such a degree that, though you will be hard pressed to get any of the one’s who worship it to admit it, they view it as another book of the Bible.”
“How about political freedom as an idol?” … “Milton Friedman was a liberty-idolizer. He even said it was his ‘god’, in a manner of speaking. Worldly liberty, while I see it as the true loving ‘political’ or ‘governing’ act… free-will is [still] from God… It is God who gave us liberty. I’d much rather worship God than His creation of liberty. Even better God offers an even greater liberty from the chains of sin!”
“The god named ‘Society’ who has forced us into a contract, despite this being a complete contradiction. Its priesthood are primarily soldiers and teachers. Its church is the preferred political party.”
“One that hasn’t been mentioned yet… the worshipful singing of the national anthem before every sporting event known to man. Happens more often these days than praying before meals. What should that tell you?”
“My oldest is in preschool, and it drives me nuts that he recites the pledge of allegiance every day. I look forward to the day when he’ll be old enough to understand why he shouldn’t recite it and can decide for himself whether or not he wants to.”
“The idolatry of the American Soldier. I was majorly guilty of that one. Many people hold them to a point of Sainthood. I have a great amount of respect for them, but they are venerated in modern society — and the unfortunate indictment – modern evangelicalism.”
“Government and banks creating money from nothing is a claim to create something ex nihilo, which only God can do. This is a logically precise case of government as god… No one claims to create new physical laws. Neither can any other law be created by man. The claim to create law is a claim to be god, by government, legislators and by those who approve of the lie that men can create law.”
“Misinterpretation of Romans 13:1-7, leading to logically incoherent application of Scripture to the role of government, a term not even present in the text. This leaves Christians advocating for and self-censoring themselves in support of ungodly government, thus idolizing government.”
“Hollywood, of course. The celebrity spokesmen (and assumed authorities on all topics) for the state.” … “We Americans (indeed the whole world) WORSHIP Hollywood. Look at all the magazines and TV shows that hang on every word out of the mouth of the likes of Brat Pitt, Angelina Jolie, or George Clooney. (ad nauseum) They are considered experts on whatever cause they happen to be focusing on at the time. We gush over their clothes, hair, make up, marriages, breakups, etc. It’s sickening.”
“Don’t complain unless you are part of the political process, vote, etc, as though that its a test of genuine concern for ‘the nation.’ [In other words] worship of the political process. Also, worship of the political party, rather than seeking wisdom and standing on principle.
“The greatest idolatry, in my honest opinion, is the worship of democracy. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe said, [democracy is] ‘the god that failed’ … After all, what are governments but mere men pretending to be gods?”
That’s a lot of input! Do you have any other examples that the above discussion missed? Let us know in the comments.
Today is Veteran’s Day, and there has been some interesting discussion on the new Christian Libertarian Facebook group about it. But one thing came to my mind as I was reading the posts… Does anybody – conservative or liberal or whatever in between – ever wonder why the government has the power to just suddenly establish holidays? From what I can tell, there are two problems with this:
(1) A holiday officially declared by the Federal Government is unconstitutional. There is no power in the Constitution to establish a holiday, or to do 99% of the other things the Feds do for that matter. This gets particularly ironic with “Constitution Day”, which unconstitutionally requires unconstitutionally established educational institutions to teach about – you guessed it – the Constitution. Although C-day is not strictly speaking a “holiday” where certain privileged classes (i.e. government workers) get a day off, the contradictory nature of it all is biting.
(2) Government-established holidays subtly reinforce the meta-narrative of the-state-as-religion, because a holiday is, after all, a "holy day". I get the idea of commemorating events, that’s fine, and obviously a day like Veteran’s Day isn’t treated the same way as true "holy days" like Christmas or Easter, but it still rubs me the wrong way.
What do you think?
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all."
There are three holidays that cause otherwise sound-in-the-faith evangelical, conservative, and fundamentalist Christians to lose their religion.
I am referring to Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day.
One of these holidays doesn’t even have to fall on a Sunday for some churches to go wild with celebration.
Memorial Day, of course, is always observed on a Monday. The other two holidays only fall on a Sunday every seven or so years. But if one of them doesn’t happen to fall on a Sunday, the Sunday before the holiday will do just as well. In some years, like when the Fourth of July or Veterans Day occurs late in the week, the Sunday after the holiday is reserved by some churches for observation.
As if the blind nationalism, hymns to the state, and exaltation of the military that occurs in some churches on these Sundays isn’t bad enough, sometimes the festivities also include the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, in church, by the congregation, facing the flag on the platform. The Pledge is usually led by the pastor or a boy scout or veteran, sometimes in uniform.
This is not only unfortunate; it is an anti-biblical disgrace.
There are several reasons why no one that treasures liberty, is familiar with American history, and knows the history behind the Pledge (an ad campaign to sell magazines) would waste his time saying the Pledge. I want to focus on one of them.
There are also several reasons why Christians that treasure liberty, are familiar with American history, and know the history behind the Pledge (written by a socialist minister) would waste his time saying the Pledge. Again, I want to focus on one of them.
In 2000, an atheist sued his daughter’s school district because he said that the words "under God" in the Pledge amounted to an unconstitutional establishment of religion. He lost.
After an appeal by the atheist parent, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2002 that the phrase in question was unconstitutional.
After an appeal by the school district, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that the father of the child lacked standing to file the lawsuit because his daughter’s mother had sole legal custody of her and that she was not opposed to her daughter reciting the Pledge. The ruling of the appeals court was then reversed.
In 2010, the same federal appeals court upheld the words "under God" in the Pledge in another case, ruling that the phrase does not constitute an establishment of religion.
The idea that the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is ludicrous. As stated by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in its 2010 ruling:
Not every mention of God or religion by our government or at the government’s direction is a violation of the Establishment Clause.
We hold that the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the Establishment Clause because Congress’ ostensible and predominant purpose was to inspire patriotism and that the context of the Pledge – its wording as a whole, the preamble to the statute, and this nation’s history – demonstrate that it is a predominantly patriotic exercise. For these reasons, the phrase "one Nation under God" does not turn this patriotic exercise into a religious activity.
However, just because the phrase "under God" in the Pledge doesn’t violate the Constitution doesn’t mean that it belongs in the Pledge or, more importantly, that Christians should recite the Pledge.
One reason why Christians should not recite the Pledge is a simple one, and one that has nothing to do with patriotism or religion.
The United States is not a nation "under God."
The United States is in fact about as far from being "under God" as any country on the planet.
The United States leads the world in the incarceration rate, the total prison population, the divorce rate, car thefts, rapes, total crimes, illegal drug use, legal drug use, and Internet pornography production.
At least the United States is second to Russia when it comes to abortions.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, "nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and about four in 10 of these are terminated by abortion" and "twenty-two percent of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion." There are over 1,700 abortion providers in the United States. And even worse, 37 percent of women obtaining abortions identify as Protestant and 28 percent as Catholic.
Only a madman would say that the United States is a nation "under God."
Oh, but the Pledge is just some words, some say, the reciting of which doesn’t really mean anything.
Then why say it? If the Pledge is just some words that don’t really mean anything, then it makes more sense not to say it than to say it.
The Pledge doesn’t say that the United States used to be one nation under God. It doesn’t say that the United States should be one nation under God. It says that the United States is one nation under God.
That is a lie.
Christians are not supposed to lie:
Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds (Colossians 3:9)
Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another (Ephesians 4:25)
Thou shalt not bear false witness (Romans 13:9)
Is it unpatriotic to not say the Pledge? It may be. But it is certainly right, Christian, and biblical not to.