How to Love America

Noah Millman proposes this (while meditating on G. K. Chesterton):

People feel an attachment, and a willingness to fight to protect, their homes, and their communities. That can take noble and ignoble forms — sometimes fighting to defend your community means committing injustice (as, for example, if you band together with your neighbors to prevent someone from a disfavored ethnic group from moving to the neighborhood). But the feeling is rooted in a direct experience, not an abstract attachment.

For any political community larger than a city, though, that attachment necessarily becomes abstract. So you need to teach your children why they should care about that larger community, be proud of it, and treat it as constituent of their identity.

Chesterton famously quipped that the sentiment, “my country, right or wrong” is like the sentiment, “my mother, drunk or sober.” But the thing about the latter is that she is your mother whether she’s drunk or sober — it’s just that your obligations change based on her condition. If she’s drunk, you won’t let her drive — instead, you’ll make sure she gets home safely.

The question, then, is how you teach your children to see their country as, in some sense, like a mother when their relationship is necessarily abstract rather than directly felt. A love of country based on the lie that your mother is never drunk will be too brittle to survive any kind of honest encounter with reality. But it seems to me equally problematic to say that you should love your country because it is on-balance a good one. Does anyone say about their mother that they love them because on-balance they are sober?

While Millman stresses the particular (a people, a place, a way of life — think baseball), Kevin DeYoung goes abstract and is thankful for the “idea” of America:

The United States of America began with the conviction that a nation should be founded upon truth. Not simply values or preferences, but upon truths. Self-evident truths that were true, are true, and will remain true no matter the time, the place, or the culture.

And central among these truths is the belief that all men are created equal. No one possesses more intrinsic worth for being born rich or poor, male or female, artisan or aristocracy. Of course, this truth, as much as any, unmasks our history of hypocrisy, for 3/5 of a person is an eternity from equality. But truth is still true. We all come into the world with the same rights and the same dignity–whether “gated community” in the world’s estimation or “trailer trash.”

These unalienable rights, we must note, are not granted by the Declaration of Independence. Our rights do not depend upon government for their existence. They are not owing to the largesse of the state or the beneficence of any institution. The rights of man are the gifts of God. The Creator endows; the state exists to protect. These unalienable rights can be suppressed or denied. But they cannot be annulled. We possess them–no matter what kings or parliaments say or presidents and congress decree–by virtue of being created in the image of our Creator.

Oh, by the way, if all humans have these rights irrespective of government, then how is that the basis for founding a nation? Didn’t this way of thinking lead in France to Napoleon’s wars to teach Europe liberty good and hard?

The thing is, if you stress ideas you wind up with a creedal nation, one that you tend to treat like a church, with people divided into the camps of orthodox and heretics, saints and pagans. Protestants suffer from this affliction and it shows in the recent anti-liberalism of Peter Leithart and Jake Meador.

Leithart took Matt Tuininga to task for turning Calvin into a liberal. Leithart added an objection to liberalism that fits with the nation-as-idea mentality:

Virtually none of liberalism’s theological critics objects to these forms and procedures as such. Their complaint isn’t against representative government or voting or freedom of speech and association. No one advocates a fusion of Church and state.

Rather, they claim that such a formal, procedural description masks the basic thrust of liberalism. Liberalism’s stated aim is to construct a society without substantive commitments, leaving everyone free to choose whatever his or her or hir own may be. Liberalism’s common good is to protect society from adopting any single vision of the common good. That’s a deviation from classical and traditional Christian politics (including Calvin’s), which sought to orchestrate common life toward a common end—the cultivation of virtue or the glory of God. In fact—and this is the other side of the critique—liberal societies do have substantive commitments. The liberal state pretends to be a referee, but beneath the striped shirt it wears the jersey of the home team. Under the cover of neutrality, liberal order embodies, encourages, and sometimes enforces an anthropology, ecclesiology, and vision of the good society that is often starkly at odds with Christian faith. Tuininga never confronts that line of analysis.

Since the U.S. is a liberal nation, it’s its liberal order becomes its an orthodoxy. But I thought the liberalism of the founders was not to form a society. They already had one — a people, a place, and a way of life. What they wanted was a liberal government, one that would not take sides in religion and other matters. If the U.S began to replace a liberal government with a liberal society, you could blame the centralizing and bureaucratizing effects of a national government that needed to organize the economy, schools, and industry to fight world wars, even cold ones. It really helps when the churches jump on the bandwagon and tell American officials the government is making the nation great.

Jake Meador thinks that the current spate of intolerance that liberals direct toward Christians is a function of liberalism itself:

If the move that western Christians attempt to make in response to all these challenges is to simply rebuild liberalism, then whatever victories we win will be short term. Liberalism is the soil from which the current regime has grown. It’s emphasis on individual autonomy and self-definition and the illegitimacy of unchosen authorities is precisely how we ended up where we are today.

So, two points: First, trying to Make Liberalism Great Again is probably no more realistic than trying to return America to the 1950s. In both cases, the order in question was the unique product of historical circumstances that our own era does not share. Thus any attempt to recreate said order is doomed to fail. Second, we need better language and concepts to make our case to both those within our church communities and those outside the church. Liberalism is not the way forward. It is the way toward further and deeper darkness. If we start thinking about common goods, shared life, and the neighborly arts, then we may be onto something. But all of these things, of course, assume a sort of communitarian sensibility that has always had a hard time reconciling itself to the deeply democratic, egalitarian nature of American Christianity. Therefore, whatever our project ends up being, it figures to be a long-term thing.

Meador should likely include Protestantism as the soil out of which liberal progressivism grew. Protestants were intolerant of Roman Catholics and other outsiders. Remember the threat that parochial schools posed to public ones and the way that American governments insisted no parochial school receive a whiff of public funding (still in the balance in SCOTUS’s recent Trinity Lutheran v. Comer decision). He has a point about “common goods, shared life, and the neighborly arts.” I wish he had included baseball and drip coffee makers. But why these way-of-life matters are at odds with liberalism baffles me.

A truly liberal government, like the one the founders hoped for, was one with a fairly small footprint within the broader American society. Government, in other words, is not society. Communities and people groups have existed within the terms set by the founders for better or worse for the better part of two centuries.

The challenge for the U.S. on this holiday of independence is to figure out how to separate the nation from the government, so that officials do somethings, people and communities do other, and we have a national identity that does not revolve around an idea like liberty and justice for all, and the military campaigns that justify such abstract convictions.

To paraphrase Meador, Americanism or the liberal international order that the U.S. has maintained in its capacity as leader of the free world is not the way forward, at least for building attachments to the nation. We still need less national government, more attachments to people, places, and the ways of life that emerge from them.


Make America Great (just like England, France, Russia, and Germany)

Ron Granieri reminds that idolizing one’s nation is something that came to Americans late:

We begin with England. Formerly a semi-barbaric province of the Roman Empire, England re-imagined itself during the Reformation as a specially favored place, threatened by Spanish tyranny and Inquisitional obscurantism. As this story developed, this favored land defended itself thanks to its native creativity and bravery and the divine blessings of a Protestant Wind.

The poet of English exceptionalism was, of course, Shakespeare, who, sunning himself in the glow of Gloriana herself, wrote less than a decade after the defeat of the Armada these immortal words in Richard II:

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands, —

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Those last lines in particular suggest the ultimately defensive nature of English exceptionalism, the idea that the blessed plot could retreat behind its moat and revel in the perfection of the “little world.”

Don’t forget France:

England’s great rival as it grew into a world power was France, and France also displays the imperial temptation of exceptionalism. Threatened with extinction in the 15th century after English victories at Agincourt and elsewhere, the French monarchy reasserted itself in part thanks to a sense of exceptionalism. Jeanne d’Arc heard divine voices calling her to save France from the invaders and to restore a divinely sanctioned order—a crusade that made her a saint to her fellow Frenchmen and a dangerous witch to her English coreligionists.

After going through its own internal religious struggle during the Reformation and Wars of Religion, France then reasserted itself as a special model of its own, thanks to the Absolutism of Henry IV, Cardinal Richelieu, and Louis XIV. This organization of the state magnified French power and led to triumphs in wars that expanded the size as well as the wealth of France. The more that France imagined itself to be special, the harder it was for French leaders to keep it to themselves. Henry IV was assassinated in 1610 on the eve of a major campaign against France’s Habsburg rivals; Richelieu opened the era of secular warfare when he allied France with Protestant Sweden against those same Habsburgs during the Thirty Years’ War; and Louis XIV spent virtually his entire reign attempting to expand France into its “natural boundaries,” while asserting France’s claim to cultural leadership on the continent and beyond.

It was the French Revolution, however, which especially marked French Exceptionalism. Shaped by their interpretation of Enlightenment thought, the Revolutionaries initially imagined France as an island of new thinking in a sea of obscurantism. When Revolutionary France declared war on Austria and Prussia in 1792, France’s initial posture was completely defensive. The revolutionary anthem embraced during the first months of war, the Marseillaise, called on the “children of the fatherland” to rush to arms and march on to fight off invaders “so that their blood can water our fields.” After the surprising French victory at Valmy that September, however, which offered the chance to go on the offensive, Revolutionary France dropped its defensive pose and embraced the mission to expand and spread the benefits of revolution. Victory at Jemappes in November 1792 was just the beginning, and by the time the Revolution had been co-opted by the military dictator and future Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, the Marseillaise was associated with expansion and conquest. Indeed, when writing his 1812 Overture, Tchaikovsky drowned out the Marseillaise with God Save the Tsar to symbolize Russia’s deliverance, turning the revolutionary anthem on its head as a hymn to monarchy triumphs.

Exceptionalism Russian-style:

France’s rise in the 19th century provoked two other large cultures to action and to develop their own sense of exceptionalism.

The first was Russia. Already having developed its own historical narrative about shaking off the “Tatar yoke” and defending Christianity against the Asiatic hordes, Russia was uncertain about its place in the larger world. Leaders such as Peter the Great and Catherine the Great had hoped that selective embrace of western ideas would make Russia modern and strong, and they pursued aggressive expansion of Tsarist power at home and imperial conquest abroad. But it was the mystic Alexander I, in the wars against Napoleon, who tried to formulate a specifically Russian vision of conservative stability and engagement with Europe, heavily flavored with Orthodox religiosity. Alexander’s Russia was the architect of Napoleon’s defeat, though the Hundred Days and Waterloo robbed Russia of its role as the Corsican’s conqueror. Alexander also joined with Metternich of Austria in creating the Holy Alliance as a vehicle for preserving the postwar order. Alexander’s vision faltered on his own odd personality and his early death, and he bequeathed a mixed legacy to his successors. After the failed liberal Decembrist revolt in 1825, Nicholas I and subsequent conservative Tsars rejected the liberal ideas of the West and adopted a more defensive posture toward the outside world, but continued to believe that Russia had a special mission. As the “third Rome,” Russia imagined itself as the defender and cultivator of Christian civilization, which encouraged imperial wars against the Turks in the south and expansion into Siberia in the east. By the mid-19th century, conflicts between Slavophiles and Westernizers marked differences within the Russian elite, though both groups could be motivated to expand Russia.

And then there was Germany:

Which brings us to France’s other rival, Germany. In a way, Germany was born to consider itself exceptional. It was a German philosopher, Johann Gottfried Herder, who first explicitly developed the idea that every individual culture had its own unique Volksgeist. That was Herder’s way of reacting to the universalist claims of French Enlightenment thought, using its principles to develop the idea that the Germans—indeed, every people—were different from other peoples, and thus each nation should cultivate its own identity and also govern itself. The French may have invented the idea of modern nationalism to serve their revolutionary purposes, but the Germans were the first culture to shape it both retrospectively and prospectively developing a historical narrative to impose coherence on a scattered collection of territories with no natural boundaries. Thus, various past leaders whose Germanness was, at best, notional, from Arminius to Frederick the Great, were absorbed into a nationalist narrative that made the creation of the German empire the inevitable product of historical logic, irrefutable in the eyes of scholars who had themselves created it in the first place.

German nationalism offered, in AJP Taylor’s famous phrase, two faces: to the West, it offered the eager face of the mimic and aspirant, attempting to measure up to the cultural trendsetters across the Rhine. To the East, however, the Germans offered the cold sneer of cultural superiority, justifying centuries of conquest and dominance over allegedly inferior cultures of the East. By the 20th century, as the German Empire emerged as a powerful state in its own right, German opinion leaders tired of the earnest mimic pose and complained of the encirclement of Germany by envious inferiors.

This new attitude crested during the First World War. Novelist Thomas Mann was the most distinguished of thinkers who attempted to explain this by distinguishing authentic German Kultur, with its deep appreciation of art, community, and history, and the shallow, materialistic civilisation of France and Britain. . . .

In bringing up the Nazis, I realize I have just violated Godwin’s Law, but in this case, it is unavoidable. For the Nazis took ideas of exceptionalism and imperialism to their logically illogical conclusions. The greatest temptation for a people that considers itself exceptional is to conclude that it is superior, and that superiority justifies spreading the word to other peoples—even imposing this allegedly superior system on them and removing those people who stand in the way. Indeed, as Mark Mazower’s monumental work, Hitler’s Empire, has demonstrated, the Nazis essentially applied the lessons European powers had perfected in their overseas empires to their European empire. By forcing Western Civilization to recognize the barbarous implications of their conquests, the Nazis delivered a fatal blow to justifications for empire.

One lesson is that American exceptionalism is pretty ordinary.

The second is that the United States had a real chance to be exceptional by not following the ways of European greatness. A modest republic of hardworking and self-discipline citizens with a limited government was what some had in mind. That would have been great.

Selective Implicit Bias

The journalistic treatment of the Larycia Hawkins controversy at Wheaton College is out (written by a lapsed Orthodox Presbyterian no less). Once again evidence of academic naivete cloaked in a pose of dissent and asking hard questions emerges.

I have no problem with Dr. Hawkins questioning jingoistic American patriotism or American Protestants who wrap themselves in the flag. American civil religion is national patriotism at it worst and Protestants have been especially egregious in their fawning over American greatness (though for the last 30 years they have had lots of help from Neuhaus Roman Catholics). But if you challenge Americanism, don’t you also have to question Islam?

A year or two after arriving on campus, [Hawkins] developed a distaste for performances of patriotism and decided to stop saluting the flag and singing the national anthem. “I feel very strongly that my first allegiance is to a different kingdom than an earthly kingdom,” she told me. “It’s to a heavenly kingdom, and it’s to the principles of that kingdom.” Evangelicals tend to emphasize righteousness on an individual scale, but Hawkins was becoming attracted to theological traditions that emphasize systemic sin and repentance.

In particular, she was reading a lot of black liberation theology, a strain of thinking that emerged from the Black Power movement of the 1960s. Jesus’ central mission was to liberate the oppressed, the philosophy argues, but mainstream American Christianity is beholden to irredeemably corrupt “white theology.” The tone of black liberation is often angry — think of Jeremiah Wright’s infamous “God damn America” sermon — and conservative evangelicals are wary of it because of its theological pessimism and its politically radical roots. But Hawkins was beginning to view many of the Bible’s commands through a lens of race and class. “Theology is always contextual,” she told me, a core idea of black liberation theology. She said that evangelicals have trouble confronting “an ontological blackness of Christ.” Responding to Wheaton’s charge for professors to “integrate faith and learning,” she took these ideas into the classroom.

Fine. But an academic’s job is also to ask hard questions about Islam, liberation theology, and Jeremiah Wright. It’s not fair selecting which ox you gore.


Rod Dreher admits to feeling unpatriotic during his visit to Monticello:

I had a very disconcerting moment, an unusual feeling, I think, for an American to have in a place like Mr. Jefferson’s house. We stood with the guide in the parlor, admiring the oil portraits Jefferson hung along the wall — most of them of historical figures he admired. On the southern wall were three portraits in a row: Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke — described by Jefferson as “my trinity of the three greatest men the world has ever produced.” That, plus the marble bust of Voltaire flanking one side of the door in the entrance hall, really brought home to me how much a man of the Enlightenment Jefferson was. All the Founding Fathers were, but ignorant as I am about colonial history, I had not realized how deeply Jefferson identified with the Enlightenment.

As someone who has been doing a lot of reading lately in European intellectual history, and who has very mixed feelings about the Enlightenment, I was startled by the feeling that Jefferson was, well, wrong about some important matters. Obviously this is contestable, and I expect that most Americans would disagree. The only reason I bring it up was because I felt a bit profane, even unpatriotic, having those thoughts there…. I had a faintly similar sense of alienation. I wondered: Had I been alive during the Revolution, would I have been a Loyalist to the Crown, for the same reasons that being in Jefferson’s house and being confronted in his art by his Enlightened sensibilities made me feel so surprisingly alien.

Protestants don’t experience such a conflict in the presence of the Bible.

If Roman Catholics disagree with the pope, do they feel un-Christian? Can anything other than loyalty to the Bishop of Rome be acceptable in Roman Catholicism?

Are Christian W-w Voters Selfish?

A curious exchange today at American Conservative between Alan Jacobs and Noah Millman over voting for a party that both supports religious freedom and wars on behalf of liberty. Jacobs, the Christian, writes:

Now, some Christians might also argue that the Church exists for others, so that promoting religious freedom, even at the cost of lives lost overseas, is still the selfless thing to do. And that could be right, but I think we all ought to be very wary of arguments that provide such a neat dovetailing of our moral obligations and our self-interest.

I honestly don’t know what I think about this, and still less do I know how to apply the proper principles to our own more complex political scene. But I do think it’s right to conclude that there are at least some potential circumstances in which religious believers, in order to be faithful to their religious traditions, would need to refrain from direct political advocacy for those traditions.

In other words, voting simply on the basis of religious convictions may be an oversimplification of electoral politics and of public and foreign policy. Say hello to 2k.

But Millman responds that self-interest is the wrong way to frame the question:

I’m pretty sure I don’t agree with the underlying premise that voters should aspire to cast their ballots in a selfless manner. Indeed, I think “selfless” is a red-herring. The objective oughtn’t be to deny the needs or wants of the self, but to see beyond them, to feel other selves as equally worthy of care (and yourself as equally unworthy of supremacy), and thereby to achieve a feeling of solidarity with those other selves. (Then again, I’m not a Christian, so your mileage may vary.)

So is it the case that Christians, even when they recognize the limits of faith-based voting as Jacobs does, come across as inherently selfish when they vote according to their beliefs? Millman’s point is especially pertinent when he talks about seeing others “as equally worthy of care” and feeling solidarity with them. If people who have a heightened sense of the anti-thesis, Christians, that is, people who are also keenly aware of God’s law and those who break it, are also supposed as members of a civic community to feel solidarity with other citizens, is faith something that impedes or assists such fellow-feeling? Not to put too fine a point on it, but can Christians feel solidarity with gays or advocates of same-sex marriage?

Maybe Millman is wrong about a sense of belonging with other Americans, though any small dose of Aaron Sorkin’s television series West Wing or the Newsroom should confirm Millman’s point. But if Christians judge Millman wrong, then what hope have we for a free society if it consists of Christians and non-Christians?

Has Aaron Sorkin been Reading John Calvin?

The Hart home has a problem. The missus and I are about 2/3 of the way through season four of The Wire (for at least the third time for the whole series), and we are also making our way pleasantly through West Wing thanks to being smitten by Newsroom. As I’ve tried to explain elsewhere, you can’t have two more diametrical views of political life in the United States than Simon’s sober portrait of the state of nature (Hobbesian) with a veneer of civilization or Sorkin’s inspiring depiction of large, national institutions like the executive branch of the federal government or the reporting of network news organizations. The conflict within this hyphenated blogger is thoroughly appreciating the self-interest that pervades all walks of life in Simon’s Baltimore and the genuine love of country that steers both West Wing’s president, Josiah Bartlet, Newsroom’s anchor, Will McAvoy. So powerful have Sorkin’s series been that I have found myself rooting for President Obama and (finally) recognizing how destructive (even if entertaining) conservative talk radio is. (I am still enough of an Augustinian and Madisonian to understand that people in power need to be questioned and checked.)

And thanks to the life of Martin O’Malley serving as the basis for the white city-councilman who becomes mayor in Simon’s Baltimore, I’m especially hoping that O’Malley beats Hillary in the Democratic primaries and becomes president. Then maybe Simon and Sorkin can co-produce a series on an O’Malley administration.

Another Aaron, the one who blogs for Ref21, has a few remarks about Calvin on civil government that help me justify my new-found patriotism and the shows that inspired it:

In Calvin’s estimation, the Christian life is properly one of constant gratitude. Gratitude bears fruit in holiness — we can and should say “thank you” to God with our lives as well as our lips. The root of gratitude is constant and careful attention to God’s remarkable gifts to us in spite of our creaturely finitude and culpability both for Adam’s sin and our own. God’s greatest gift to us, of course, is Jesus Christ, to whom we are joined by the power of the Spirit as the basis of our forgiveness, renewal in the divine image, and restoration to fellowship with the Triune God. But God has given other gifts to us — gifts that are common to believers and unbelievers alike, but should no less be noted and appreciated. Government is one such gift. Any reflection upon civil government which does not ultimately lead to gratitude (and therefore greater holiness) is faulty by Calvin’s standard. Thus he introduces the subject of human government in his Institutes by observing: “It is of no slight importance to us to know how lovingly God has provided in this respect for mankind, that greater zeal for piety may flourish in us to attest our gratefulness.”

It is, importantly, not government in abstracto that should lead us to “gratefulness” but government in concreto. To put a finer edge on this point: it is this government — this president, this congress, this parliament, this prime minister, this monarch, this mayor, etc. — that should properly catapult us into a posture of prayerful gratitude before God. Calvin has little interest, in fact, in government in the abstract. Thus he dismisses debates/conversations about the “best kind of government” (whether monarchy, oligarchy, or democracy) as an “idle pastime” for persons who have no real influence upon the particular form of government where they live. He proceeds, ironically, to spend some time considering the advantages and disadvantages (and there are both) of each “kind” of government, but concludes the matter by highlighting the superfluity of even his own words: “All these things are needlessly spoken to those for whom the will of the Lord is enough. For if it has seemed good to him to set kings over kingdoms, senates or municipal officers over free cities, it is our duty to show ourselves compliant and obedient to whomever he sets over the places where we live” (emphasis mine). What really matters, in other words, is not what government would be best, but what government you’ve been given. That is the government to which you must submit; that, by the same token, is the government for which you should offer thanks, with both your lips and your life, to God.

It may even be that for Calvin, gratitude is the basis for the Christian life.

Slippery Christendom, Theonomic Patriotism

The Baylys once again tightened my jaws by asserting that spirituality of the church folks don’t choose Jesus when the choice is between Jesus and the U.S. This is pretty nutty since, one, the Baylys choose the U.S. all the time when they fashion their message, rather than limiting it to what Jesus revealed; and, two, they constantly complain that spirituality of the church men won’t choose the U.S. and fight secularism, immorality, feminization. Damned if we do or don’t. That is life in a theocracy. See the Old Testament.

The BeeBees (brothers B for those who can’t remember the Brothers Gibb) take their cue this time from Doug Wilson who says rightly that American Christians need to be Christians first and give up American exceptionalism:

So when the decree comes down and we are told — as we are now being prepared to be told — that we cannot oppose same sex mirage and be good Americans, our first reply ought to be “very well then, have it your way. We shall be bad Americans.”

My citizenship, my affections, my loyalties whether national or regional, my manner of expression, my lever-action Winchester, my language, my love of pie, my Americanism . . . these are all contingent things. They are all creatures, because they are attributes of my life and existence, and I am a creature. Our nation, and all its pleasant things, is a creature. The grass withers, and the flower fades.

The purveyors of soft despotism want to arrange things so that we conform fully to their agenda, or consign ourselves to their idea of the outer darkness, which turns out to be the same kind of place as Stalin’s.

Because I think like a Christian, I don’t necessarily think it is a necessary choice at all. But it is only not necessary in a nation that is not despotic — and ours is metastasizing into despotism. So under their terms, under their rule, such a choice is mandatory — because in times of persecution, they will make it necessary — which means that I will swallow the reductio. Force me to choose between Jesus and America, and then watch me choose Jesus.

Wilson is clever but his cleverness is always tinged with hysteria — as in, we are about to be persecuted just like the early Christians were, because they would not bow to the emperor who claimed to be divine. Try to convince Wilson that Obama lacks divine pretensions and he can point to all the soft despotism that nurtures a reverence for the president akin to emperor worship (and forget all the freedoms Christians still enjoy — and for which they should not have a chip on their shoulder — that allow them to worship every Sunday and in most cases have the entire day off). It is never lines of demarcations but shades that blur from 21st-century U.S. to first century Jerusalem. A tax that is objectionable, becomes a tax that is unjust, becomes theft, becomes policy that nurtures disrespect for life, becomes murder. Forget distinctions, feel the similarities. (Or a New Mexico court ruling becomes a noose around Christians’ necks.)

The problem in part is that Wilson also traffics in an unspecified patriotism. Most of the viewers of Fox News and readers of World magazine distinguish between the U.S. as a government and America as a land, country, or people. So it is easy for Wilson to gain a following among these folks when he denounces Obamacare as sin, or Federal Treasury policy as abomination. Does he issue similar condemnations when George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan is in office? I doubt if Wilson was blogging during the Reagan years. (A quick search for Bush at his blog revealed this: “Because of the Incarnation, the bias of particularity in politics favors the anti-ideological, which is to say, it is a bias against idolatry. And that describes historic conservatism very well. At the same time, I grant that it does not describe George W. Bush’s spending habits very well — there the resemblance would be more like a pack of simians that got into an Congo merchant’s storehouse of trade gin.” Wow, the doctrine of the second person of the Trinity used to justify paleo-conservatism. What would Michael Oakeshott do?)

Most paleo-conservatives distinguish the U.S. from the national government. For them, patriotism is love of the people (Americans) who live in a particular place (the U.S.A.). Does Wilson actually look at the U.S. this way? I suspect he loves the land south of the Canadian border in a way differently from the way he might appreciate Europe or Palestine. But does he love the American people which includes a diverse lot of believers and non-believers, gays and straights, feminists and Sarah Palin? This isn’t a trick question, insinuating that Wilson hates non-Christians. It is though a question about Wilson’s love of country. Does he love America when populated only by Christians? Or can he love America when it includes idolaters (Mormons) and blasphemers (Jehovah’s Witnesses)?

The bigger problem is Wilson’s commitment to Christendom. Is Wilson willing to say of Christendom what he says of America?

My citizenship, my affections, my loyalties whether national or regional, my manner of expression, my lever-action Winchester, my language, my love of pie, my Americanism Christendom . . . these are all contingent things. They are all creatures, because they are attributes of my life and existence, and I am a creature. Our nation, and all its pleasant things, is a creature. The grass withers, and the flower fades.

In other words, is Christendom a creation or is it heaven on earth? Does Wilson violate every canon of Christian and conservative conviction by immanentizing the eschaton? It sure looks like his postmillenniaism and repeated briefs on behalf of Christendom has a lot of immanentizing going on. Then again, it’s a slippery Christendom and a libertarian theocracy he advocates (oxymoron intended).

In point of fact, Wilson does not acknowledge that Christians are aliens and strangers. His model for Christian political and cultural engagement is Christendom (minus the Crusades, papacy, Index of Books, Jewish ghettos). It is not the Israelites in exile who went along with regimes that were suffused with assertions of pagan gods and did not whine, except to long for their homeland. Nor is it the early Christians who tried to fit in and honor the emperor but refused to worship him, and suffered the consequences. (I can’t imagine Paul blogging about Nero the way Wilson or the BeeBees do about Obama.)

Of course, the image of Christians as persecuted and martyrs doesn’t play well among folks who like to hurl “sissy” as an epithet. Turning the other cheek is not a model for cultural domination or for Mere Christendom — not sure it works for cultural engagement, actually. (And Wilson and others need to be clear that turning the other cheek is not what turned around the empire — the emperor, Constantine did; go figure.) Nor did turning the other cheek inspire political revolutions like the Dutch, the English, or the American. So alienated spirituality of the church men are not only strange but pansies in the eyes of the soft theonomists. I understand the stereotyping. I’m having trouble finding the proof text.

Love of Country

I was glad to see Matt Holst challenge modestly Rick Phillips’ patriotic post about the need for Christians to love the United States. One of the best ways to register a 2k perspective is to ask whether Christianity has a special relationship with any particular nation, or whether Christians themselves have an obligation, no matter their citizenship, to the United States. Christians in the U.S. would not like instructions to love Mexico on the fifth day of May and would likely snicker at similar exhortations about a duty to love Canada on July 1. Why American Protestants don’t recognize the problem that Christian patriotism poses for Christians who are not citizens but reside LEGALLY in the U.S. is a riddle I am still trying to solve. But Charles Hodge’s argument in the context of the Civil War that the church supporting the Federal Government was akin to singing the Star Spangled Banner at the observance of the Lord’s Supper captures the 2k dynamic nicely. So does a Dutchman asking why a congregation has a U.S. flag at the front of its church.

Holst’s objection started with an acknowledgment that he is a “furr-ner,” an outsider:

It is always an interesting time of year for a foreigner to be in America. Every Fourth of July, I jest with our church members that the Sunday morning sermon closest to the Fourth will be on Romans 13 – submission to the civil magistrate. People laugh…usually. The obvious historical reasons aside, it is even more interesting for someone from Britain to be in the States on this date because Britain is a peculiarly unpatriotic place – nothing like America in that sense. I don’t recall ever seeing Union flags displayed on people’s houses, except in peculiar circumstances such as a royal birth or sporting achievement. The view of the armed forces in the UK has been nothing like that in America; it is much more low-key and much less admired, to be quite honest. To be clear, I am not saying that such is a good thing.

Moreover, Britain is itself a nation divided into four countries and four separate identities. When asked where I am from, my answer is Wales, not the UK. Speaking to most people over here, I inevitably have to explain where Wales is located. As an aside, I was once talking to a seminary student, who commented “You’re not from around here are you?”. I replied “No I’m from Wales”. To which he replied, in all seriousness, “Ah, a good Scotsman!” The conversation ended pretty quickly after that. My point is that the UK has multiple identities, with very few Welshmen being willing to accept the moniker “Scottish” and absolutely no Welshman willing to accept the label “English”. In spite of a rich and varied history, and maybe because of it, the UK does not have the same level or expressions of patriotism regularly evidenced on this side of the Atlantic.

In other words, Christianity transcends nations and so calling for Christian love of country only begins to make sense if you create space between country and faith, with patriotism being one form of affection, membership in the church another.

But Holst bring up some other matters that deserve comment, especially his contrast between the UK and the U.S. In fact, he touches on a subject that I am not sure Brits necessarily understand any better than Yanks, that is, the nature of British identity. Sports journalists needed to wrestle with this recently when Andrew Murray won at Wimbledon. Is Murray a Scot? A Brit? An Englishman? Some conjectured that whenever Murray lost he was a Scot, but when he won he was English. Indeed, among the three kingdoms that comprise the “United” Kingdom, national identity is anything but fixed, at least as J.C.D. Clark explains:

‘British” as a term in general usage has therefore had at least two senses. One was a spontaneous or encouraged Unionist identity allegedly felt equally by Scots, Irish, Welsh and English. This may indeed have been problematic. But another usage was more prevalent: as employed by the four groups, usually when abroad, ‘British’ was an official, political euphemism for one’s sectional identity, whether English, Welsh, Irish, or Scots: it was to a considerable degree synonymous with, and not a substitute for, sectional national identities. If so, it matters less that ‘British’ in the sense of the whig defenders of 1707 had shallow foundations: ‘Britishness’ in its prevalent sense rested in large part on the ancient and massive foundations of Englishness, and the equally ancient if differently formulated identities of England’s neighbours.

. . . . Britain was not invented; it developed. It was not devised by a small number of cultural entrepreneurs, acting like advertising executives to package and market a new product; it grew, the often unintended result of actions by men and women in many walks of life, often, too the result of conflicts and cross-purposes.

But contrary to Holst (and I am not criticizing as much as I am working out some of my own fascination with religious affiliations and national identities), a sense of Britishness did emerge, according to Clark, very much with the aid of Protestantism:

The ancient identity of the Ecclesia Anglicana meant that the Reformation did not at once create a unitary national identity. As a religious message of universal validity, Protestantism initially implied a reaction against the national subdivision of the universal church; only subsequently were some sections of ‘Protestantism’ identified with national churches and so with national identities. One strand of the Reformation stressed a pan-European solidarity between believers in the Reformed traditions, a shared sense of a supra-national destiny. Since the English had ‘a long-standing reputation for xenophobia’ even by 1500, it did not help that Protestant theology was originally associated with German reformers; not until the reign of Mary I (I553-8) were reformers ‘given the opportunity to sail for the first time under Protestant colours.’ Anti-popery, too, could be an international phenomenon, and not until Elizabeth’s reign did an assumption become prevalent that England had a special, or even the leading, role in that drama.125 The church in England only adopted the label ‘Protestant’ for itself in the first decade of the seventeenth century, and then in order to distinguish itself from both Rome and Geneva: Anglican Protestantism did not become pan-European. In Scotland and Northern Ireland the Reformation went much further: confessional differences have been basic to the emerging ‘three kingdoms’ explanation of the dynamics of state formation in the British Isles,” and when Wales acquired a distinct confessional identity from Protestant Dissent in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, that principality took its place as a fourth component in the model.

So it is not the case that Americans are the exceptions who link their faith to their patriotism. They learned it from the Brits, or English, or Scots, or Welsh, or Irish. For a popular rendition of English conflation of faith and patriotism, see the third season of Downton Abbey where Lord Grantham cannot tolerate the idea that his granddaughter, who is the child of an Irish Roman Catholic — chauffeur no less, will be baptized a Roman Catholic. The English national identity was very much bound up with the Protestantism of the Church of England.

But if that little hiccup of British civil religion is so obvious to American viewers of Downton Abbey, why aren’t similar conflations of faith and nationalism obvious to Christians in the U.S.? One reason may be the very notion of love of country. Holst makes the useful point that such love is not commanded in Scripture:

. . . when I read that a Christian is to love his country, I’m left a little bit confused. What exactly am I to love? Presidents? Congressmen? Hills, valleys streams, lakes (I have no difficulty loving them)? The people? The armed forces? Government? I wonder if Rick’s advice, which I regularly find beneficial and prudent, has, on this matter, slipped into an amorphous Americanity – a more subtle form of “God and Country” which is so prevalent in certain areas of the church. Such is the kind of Christianity which has the American flag on one side of the pulpit and the Christian flag (wherever that came from?) on the other. America, like every other Western nation has had a remarkable yet chequered history – morally, economically and militarily. What are we to love, and what kind of love are we to show?

Holst may be confused because most modern citizens of nation-states are confused. A colleague tells me that the proper way to love the United States is to think of it as a people and a place. Loving the American people can be a challenge since it would mean having to love Alex Rodgriguez along with Phil Hendrie. But loving a place may be easier if we took a greater delight in the locales where we live. Certainly, though, if we identify the United States with its government (and a chief part of that government’s expenditure — the military and all those damned wars), we will have a different kind of love than the older variety of love of country.

I myself do not think it is wrong to love country as long as it is a love qualified by higher and holier affections (no, not those kind). I love my wife, for instance. The Bible tells me I have to. But I also love our surviving cat. The Bible doesn’t tell me to do that. Nor does it prohibit such love, which is one of those key points bound up with Christian liberty and two-kingdom theology. We are free to love a country (I think) and we are free not to love a country. We are not free to identify a country with the kingdom of Christ.

American Pretty Goodness

I suppose Joe Carter thinks this finding is a positive attribute about American evangelicalism, but a 2ker can always spot the forest. USA Today indicates that white evangelicals are the most patriotic (since this excludes African-American evangelicals, correlating evangelicalism and U.S. nationalism is a question in search of an answer):

When it comes to God and country, white evangelicals report the most intense patriotic feelings in a new poll, with more than two-thirds (68 percent) saying they are extremely proud to be an American.

That figure was markedly higher than for white mainline Protestants (56 percent), minority Christians (49 percent), Catholics (48 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (39 percent), according to the study, conducted by the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service.

White evangelicals are also more likely than any other religious group surveyed to believe that God has granted the U.S. a special role in history (84 percent) and to say they will likely attend a public July 4th celebration (62 percent).

On the other end of the spectrum, relatively few religiously unaffiliated Americans believe in a God-given American exceptionalism, (40 percent) or plan to attend a public Independence Day celebration (48 percent).

Eric Metaxas, the popular Christian author and speaker, said evangelicals “are not patriotic and pro-American in a tribalistic, nationalistic, or jingoistic sense.

“But they do tend to be pro-America because they believe that the ideas of the Founders — religious liberty at the head of them — have been a huge blessing to those on our shores — and to those beyond them.”

I have often wondered why the evangelical laity and evangelical academics are so keen to insist on a Christian basis for the United States. One theory is that evangelicals, without the help of confessional Protestantism and its teaching about general revelation (something the neo-Cals have not helped with in their insistence that special revelation must interpret general revelation), have no middle category. Something is either good or it is bad. Evangelicals lack the category of common. Better, they lack the notion of good in contrast to holy and profane. As I have said before, the logic of the Lord’s Day is that common activities, like plumbing, are profane if performed on the Sabbath (without the warrant of an emergency). So plumbing is neither sacred, nor profane. It is simply good (because of the goodness of creation).

Another way of trying to account for evangelical beliefs about American greatness is the analogy of marriage. Christians are not supposed to marry unbelievers. Fine. But what happens with love for a country that is unbelieving? Evangelicals can’t love it. That would be a mixed patriotism. So evangelicals need to have a Christian United States in order to justify their love of country.(This may also be related to the language of “Great” as opposed to “Pretty Good” Awakenings.)

I am still learning about romantic nationalism from learned colleagues and fellow elders, but American greatness seems to hang on the notion that the United States is greatest nation on God’s green earth — sort of like the blond-bomb shell who wins Miss America, has a Masters in financial planning, and cooks a mean meatloaf. The perfect wife and the great nation can have no flaws. Any wife knows better than this (both about wives and husbands).

So why can’t evangelicals follow the heeding of Scripture, put no hope in princes (or republics), and simply love their country the way they love the old drunk uncle who shows up uncomfortably at July 4th picnics and makes the youngsters have to whisper questions to their parents?

And the Rocket's Red Glare . . .

I suppose citizens of the United States enjoy fireworks partly because our National Anthem celebrates bombs bursting in air. (I won’t go to Wikipedia to check.) Last night, the better half and I discovered, much to our surprise, that the window in our guest bedroom provides a terrific vantage from which to watch the City of Hillsdale’s fireworks. We are only a couple blocks from the Fairgrounds, the site from which municipal workers launch those bombs. Earlier in the day (all about us), we enjoyed the City’s Fourth of July parade from the driveway of a good friend and neighbor, though we are still wondering why the parade and fireworks took place on July 3rd.

One additional wonder of this holiday season is why we know so little about Francis Scott Key, the author of The Star Spangled Banner, and another of Baltimore’s accomplished artists. Google Books shows a number of children’s books about Key, his song, and the anthem’s adoption as the nation’s song — it did not happen until 1931 (I wonder what they sang at baseball games when Babe Ruth was a rookie). But for any aspiring (or established) historian out there, the life of Key, who was an prolific poet and hymn writer, his poem about a significant battle during the War of 1812, how this war played in the imagination of the new nation, and the process by which later generations of Americans appropriated Key’s anthem, offers a historical canvass waiting to be filled. It could even work as well as the recent book of our neighbor and good friend.

Not to mention that Key’s anthem contains a political theology that few citizens of the United States ever consider. To remind my fellow Americans, here is the complete text of the Star Spangled Banner:

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!