Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How Christian are We?

We often think of Israel as a Jewish state or France a Catholic country. But the United States is more Christian (83%) than Israel Jewish (76%) or France Catholic (65%). There is often talk of a Judeo/Christian heritage, or our multiculturalism. But only 4% of the United States population identifies themselves as part of a non-Christian religion, the rest identify themselves as either Christian or atheist/agnostic. (ABC News)

While America’s major film, television and publishing industries try to depict the country as a multicultural religious melting pot, nothing could be farther from the truth. Again, we are more homogenous religiously than Israel. While there is an immense racial, linguistic, and cultural diversity, the strong Christian unity of the nation is not emphasized in an overzealous attempt by a small non-Christian minority (less than 4%) to protect the secular playing field.
But let’s try and imagine a United States that was as unabashedly Christian as Israel was Jewish. This would at least be democratic, considering the demographics. Let’s imagine a country that really united around the core message of Jesus, and promoted a culture, social policy and a foreign policy that was Christian. This in no way means mixing church and state, which would be ludicrous and truly run counter to our very successful political traditions. Let’s simply imagine a country whose social, cultural and political life reflected the one unifying factor that holds together our wide diversity.

There are two pillars to the message of Jesus, love and commitment to the spiritual life. The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount epitomizes Jesus’ message of love.

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Imagine a country united around these principles. The weak, the poor and the hungry of the wealthiest nation in the history of the Earth would be given health care, a good education and a safe, clean place to live. We would stop being the largest police state in the world with over 2 million people in prison. We would find a way to peacefully and humanely rehabilitate non-violent criminals. In fact, we would become a society that abhorred all forms and manifestations of violence; rejecting it in favor of a commitment to love, peace and sustainability.

Our foreign policy would search for peace in the world, and would commit to war only under the most drastic of circumstances. As the wealthiest nation in the world, the US would use its influence to help those that were weak, hungry, downtrodden and hopeless. We would never again commit atrocities abroad that we would consider abhorrent at home.

We would reject the cult of money and personal grandiosity in favor of a society that first looked after its weak, poor, hungry and desperate. America will always be a land of opportunity and wealth, but we will once again remember our core Christian values. Before we build McMansions and buy Hummers, we will make sure the folks in our communities are at least safe, warm, and fed.

While our public discourse would always be charged and varied, we would have an underlying respect and love for each other, even when our ideas were radically different. And no matter how diverse out opinions, certain precepts would unite us: love, peace, compassion and mercy.

Jesus taught us to love each other. He also taught us to pursue the spiritual life. We are not beasts of burden doomed to work and labor our lives away for food and shelter. We are spiritual beings and we should have faith in life, and the life force of the universe. Of course we must tend to ourselves and ours societies, but there is something so much more powerful, so much more fulfilling than the materialism we cling to out of desperation. Time and again Jesus returns to this theme, to choose the spiritual life over the material.

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

How poignant is this message to our consumer driven society desperately looking for meaning and peace yet bombarded by materialism and medication as the way towards happiness. Why should we be embarrassed to embrace the one thing that can unite this country, our overwhelmingly Christian faith? Yet even as I write this I feel the taboo of bringing into the public forum the words of Jesus. How absurd is that? How did we get so far away from the driving force of our spiritual lives?

The hypocrisy of public and political Christianity in America has made it an embarrassment to all but the most fundamentalist and right wing Christians. The left has been terrified to bring religion into the cultural and political spectrum while the right has had no qualms about using Christianity as the bully-pulpit for conservative and neo-conservative agendas, both of which have almost nothing to do with the authentic message of Jesus; we have allowed them to co-opt the brand.

How did George Bush, Tom Delay and the war mongering neo-conservatives come to dominate the Christian message? The political center of America, both Republican and Democrat, must be able to recapture the one great unifying principle of American society, Christianity, even if a vociferous minority will fight tooth and nail to keep Jesus out of mainstream culture. Christianity and the message of Jesus must be ripped away from radicals and manipulators and given its sacred place at the center of American culture.

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3 comments:

  1. love, helpfulness and friendliness, support sounds good, but please don't attach to christianty. I have just finished Richard Dawkins book "the god delusion": especially the section about the USA-christianity sounds terrible: That sounds rather like "naziness" with just Jesus as Hitler. By the way, HItler was raised a katholic and in the beginning supported by this church! only later he tried to get rid of them as he saw himself as kind of german Jesus and paulus, the jews etc all as traitors...
    I suggest: get rid of all religions and the world will be a place with more love and happiness.... Nikolaus

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  2. "And no matter how diverse out opinions, certain precepts would unite us: love, peace, compassion and mercy."
    Indeed, these are the core tenets of Christianity.
    Speaking personally, when I alone decided what was right and wrong, 'more love and happiness' did not overwhelm me or those I was close to.
    Christianity doesn't force me to do or not do anything - it only holds up the example of Jesus, who sacrificed himself for others.
    In giving, in selflessness, in non-attachment to transient things, in forgiveness...true freedom if offered us.
    -Steve

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  3. Maybe if we talked less and actively cared for those about us more...

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