So, Mike L. asked me what I thought about a face book post promoting an organization that wants to return America to Christian values. I just tried to find the site, and was unable to do so. There are dozens of organizations that have ambiguous names and wrap themselves in the American flag in a display of pseudo-patriotism, so I will not address any particular organization, but just deal with the topic as I see it. In analyzing the concept of returning America to Christian values, it is necessary to ask two questions: what are the values upon which America was based, and what are Christian values?
First, what are the values upon which our great nation was founded? Our founding fathers talked a lot about personal liberty and representative democracy. Read, for example, the Declaration of Independence, ratified by a committee, but authored principally by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was strongly influenced by the writings of John Locke (1632-1704) a leader of The Enlightenment Movement. Locke is considered to be the Father of Liberalism. The Magna Carta, signed in 1215, is the document upon which subsequent ideas of liberty were established. It was signed to settle a feud between the King of England and the lesser nobility. It established the limits of authority of the king, but was never meant to address the rights of common people. The Declaration of Independence asserts the right of people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but in reality, they were referring only to people who were white male landowners. Non-whites, women, and ordinary working class people were all less entitled. Over the last 200-plus years great strides have been made by the groups not included in the original ideas of liberty, but not without strong push-back from wealthy white men. Other values generally considered to be fundamentally American are expressed in the Constitution of the United States of America, especially in the Bill of Rights. These values include freedom of religion, separation of church and state, freedom of assembly, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and freedom of speech. It is worth noting that all this was established at the same time that women had no vote, and millions of blacks were held in slavery. I point this out to establish that the grand ideals expressed by our founding fathers were ideal in their expression only, not in practical application.
So, what are Christian values? These are based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, a Jewish preacher who lived 2100 years ago in Israel, and who was crucified by the Romans. Jesus was asked what is the foremost commandment of all, and his reply was to love God, and to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. He emphasized the importance of brotherly love. He even commanded his followers to love their enemies! He advised his followers to forgive those who had harmed them.He counseled against revenge and hatred. He advised his followers to help those less fortunate than themselves. He taught not to be judgmental of others, but rather, to judge one’s own thoughts and actions. He taught the Golden Rule, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And he taught a lot more, but you get the idea. All people are the family of man, male and female, rich and poor, black, brown, red, yellow, and white. His teachings were based upon his understanding of God that he learned from the Hebrew Bible, the teachings of the rabbis, and his innate understanding of God’s will. He understood that you can’t take anything away from another person without taking something away from yourself. Now, it is well known that ever since Christianity became a religion, great atrocities have been justified, supported and even promulgated in the name of Jesus and Christianity. The same can be said about what has been done by the American and state governments in the names of freedom and justice. So the ideals taught by Jesus have all too often been at best ignored. It is a real shame.
So, what is a Christian anyway, and who is entitled to call themselves Christian? One answer would be a Christian is a person who has undergone the ritual sacrament of Baptism in the names of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Another answer would be a Christian is a person who believes that Jesus Christ died and was resurrected so that he personally might be saved, and forgiven for his sins. Another answer might be that a Christian is anyone who says he is a Christian. I don’t think I have a right to say who is or is not a Christian. I do think it is of interest that many of our founding fathers were not Christians, or at least not in their belief system. Deism was a prominent philosophy of the time. Deists believed in God, but not in a God who intervened in the affairs of men. So they certainly did not believe that Jesus Christ was who Christians said he was. Thomas Jefferson was a Deist. In the introductory paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, where he established the basis for the right of the colonies to declare their independence from the tyranny of the King of England, he used the expressions “Laws of Nature” and “Nature’s God” as the source of their authority. In the concluding section he referred to “Divine Providence.” Thomas Paine was the most outspoken of the Deists, and expressed his belief thusly: “I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy.” So, it is worth pointing out that the philosophical underpinnings of the founders of our government were not specifically or exclusively Christian, at least not in the sense of the Christian religion.
What is the source of energy that drives people to wrap themselves in the flag and decry the current state of affairs? What is it that people fear? What people fear the most is losing what they have or not getting what they want. And what changes are taking place in America at this time? I see many things that are changing, but two in particular, I think, are driving this effort to return to the “good old days” when men were men, and women were women, and you could tell who was a white person and who wasn’t. The first is the gradual erosion of the United States of America as the most powerful nation on earth. This is inevitable as the other countries gain greater levels of education and economic productivity. If “Make America Great Again” means reversing the globalization of the economy, it is a con game, and not going to happen. The other change taking place in America is the population shift towards the time when whites will be in the minority. (In my home state of Georgia I am told that there is only one of close to 170 counties in which the majority of the population is white.) Xenophobia is alive and well. If the white people think that they will be able to prevent this they are wrong. so what they will try to do instead is through various tactics deprive people of color from their hard fought right to vote, deprive poor people of a good opportunity for education, keep brown and black people from coming to our country, try to expel as many people of color as possible, deprive poor people of decent health care, and keep locking up as many black, brown, and red people as possible, with the help of repressive laws against drug use. It is perfectly understandable that they will try, but they will fail precisely because America is a great county that is established on the principles of justice and liberty. We are witnessing a reaction in our country to having elected a black president. The pendulum has swung in the other direction, but it will swing back. The message of Jesus is love, and take it from me, Black Magic, that love is the answer, and the more we love and take care of each other, the more will come back to us as a strong and peaceful society.
On a more personal note, today is Mike and Judy’s 22nd wedding anniversary. They are still very much in love with each other, and such good friends. It is very sweet.