I. God as Effect in a Nation (b)

February 18, 2015

This time I’m broadening the topic to discuss God as an Effect in a Nation, period. If, as I suggested, we only know something by its effect and are therefore experiencing God in the public sphere on a daily basis whether we “believe” in God or not simply because a majority of our population acts at least on occasion on the premise that God exists and is an influence on their behavior, then we get a sense of God as an expression of the people. Last time I mentioned how much in contrast the modern “public religion” version of God in America differs from the alleged source and inspiration for this God. Therefore, one could very well argue that America’s God  bears some resemblance to Its scriptural and historical inspiration but is  markedly different than the God of the early Christian church. This God is a nation’s God; patriotism is clearly in the mix as modern Americans simultaneously praise “God and Country,” ask fervently that God “Bless America” (and often imply “and no one else”), and pray in public politics. Certainly this is not new; this has been a gradual development with peaks and valleys and at least some such praise is expressed merely as “lip service” to constituents and believers. Yet if something only exists as it has an effect, this is a real “God” that we see acting in American politics. There is a Christian precedent for this God; “Queen and Country” and the Church of England; nation-churches throughout Europe; and of course Constantine’s Christian Empire. All of these examples differ drastically from the early Christian church and the historical Jesus of  course, both of which worked in spite of  nation and often in contrast to nation. The “Kingdom of God” certainly wasn’t an allusion to the then current Roman empire. Yet perhaps this expression was a rupture from the “normal” evolution of nation and God. Another similar rupture would have to be Siddhartha and the early Buddhists as a king renounced the kingdom for a higher path.
If we trace the evolution of Western religious theism, the earliest examples we have to study are the Greeks. The Greeks celebrated a pantheon of gods–gods who were exaggerated humans with emotions, whims, and often nefarious plans. Worship of the gods was intrinsically tied up with celebrating the state which was the sole purpose of individual life. These aspects of worship were amplified in the Classical Roman religious expressions when worship at the temple and prayers to the gods and the emperor were the focus of public morale and societal participation. Greek gods and Roman gods and the worship thereof were tied up with national identity inseparably.

It’s worth noting that the first monotheists, the Hebrews, did not separate national identity from religion either. Hebrews initially worshiped their God solely while acknowledging the existence of other gods. As that belief evolved into a pure monotheism, the importance of their religion as a nation of people remained. After the destruction of the temple and the diaspora, text and tradition replaced nation but of course in our modern day a nation of Israel once again exists. Though it is inhabited by a huge percentage of secularists, the religious Jews around the world (and many Christians by extension) still place a large religious significance on the nation as an expression of their heritage and faith. Also, many secular Jews devote their religious attention solely to Israel as a nation as their religion. National identity has also played a large role in the history of Islam. Though strict monotheism and an emphasis on the universal intent of the faith–i.e. this is a religion for all not just the original Arabian people–it was also a religion that even in the early days was inter-related with the civic activities of the people,  politics were viewed through a religious lens, and the success of the nation was seen as part of the religion.

So judging by the evolution of theism, it may be that early Christianity (and to some extent diaspora Rabbinical Judaism) is an aberration in the history of God. At most points in history one’s support of the state was inextricably linked with one’s worship of a higher power. Perhaps this is a pull that for the average person is unavoidable and why modern America exemplifies this in contrast to both its religious and political roots.

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