Patriotism

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Book Review: “Twelve Lies that Hold America Captive” by Jonathan Walton

Twelve Lies that Hold America Captive is a provocative title for a book, and the subtitle: “And the Truth that Sets Us Free” only calls for a closer look. Jonathan Walton, in this work, calls for a close look at several pervasive ideas in the United States and calls them out for being mistaken on several counts.

Walton pulls no punches in his denunciation of the mixture of Christianity with nationalism. Early on, he notes that “Many Christians hold the same level of commitment to the Pledge of Allegiance that they hold to the Apostles’ Creed” (12). One could go on from this statement and note that plenty of Christians likely have the former memorized but know almost nothing about the formulation of the Apostles’ belief as outlined in the Creed. What does this say about the allegiance of American Christianity? Walton continues to press this kind of point throughout the book.

What are the twelve lies? They are: We are a Christian Nation; We All Are Immigrants, We Are a Melting Pot, All Men Are Created Equal, We Are a Great Democracy, The American Dream is Alive and Well, We are the Most Prosperous Nation in the World, We Are the Most Generous People in the World, America Is the Land of the Free, America Is the Home of the Brave, America Is the Greatest Country on Earth, and We Are One Nation. One’s visceral reaction to seeing these sentiments as “lies” is a good guide for how much this book is needed. I personally had a negative response to calling some of these lies, but as Walton drew out his meaning and the implications for a Christian life, came to find myself in agreement on most of his points.

Walton continues to make convicting points throughout the book. For example, while talking about the lie that “All Men are Created Equal,” Walton notes that it encourages us to see all achievement as personal success, thus leading to a kind of works righteousness in which if one just does what they ought, they receive (financial) reward. It’s a distortion of the Christian message, and ignores real, societal challenges to success that exist. It also encourages the vision of politeness rather than true kindness. Walton writes, “Preserving the image of a society that is polite and respectful and rewards hard work and grit is more important than genuine kindness, justice, and living like every person is made in the image of God” (65). It is this kind of insight and call to true Christianity that is found throughout the book.

Each chapter goes back to the Bible and Christianity to find a truth instead of the lie that nationalism and what Walton calls “White American Folk Religion” offers. For example, in the chapter on the “melting pot,” Walton points out that God’s kingdom is not a melting pot and instead that it will have every tribe, tongue, and nation–that God’s Kingdom is “shalom [peace] amid difference” (57). Again, the book is filled to the brim with this kind of insight.

Twelve Lies that Hold America Captive is a thoughtful, challenging book. It calls Christians to do better–to see beyond themselves and even their country to the ties that bind us all together in Christ. I recommend it very highly.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Against the Idolatry of the State – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

dietrich_bonhoefferThere is virtually nothing so nefarious as putting our trust in the state or in patriotic hope that our nation will be our savior. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man executed by the Nazis for his religious opposition to their totalitarian regime, spoke frequently on the great danger of putting our hope in nations or organizations. One of the nefarious ways that patriotism or statism can become idolatry is when people put their hope in individual leaders:

If the leader tries to become the idol the led are looking for–something the led always hope from their leader–then the image of the leader shifts to one of a mis-leader, then the leader is acting improperly toward the led as well as toward himself. The true leader must always be able to disappoint. This, especially, is part of the leader’s responsibility and objectivity. (DBW 12, II/9 cited in Schlingensiepen, 117)

We have a way of rushing to put our hopes or trust in individuals. Bonhoeffer recognized this and even acknowledged that the leader-as-idol is not necessarily something the leader does unilaterally; often it is something that we people want ourselves. We want to be led–we want our leaders to be perfect. Such devotion can lead to our leaders mis-leading by taking up the praise we offer and becoming our idols. Woe to a church that is afraid to call out leaders for wrongdoing.

Individuals are not the only way we make idols of our nations. We can put our hope in nations rather than just in individual leaders. We may begin to speak of the righteousness of the nation, the honor of a people, or the holiness of the state. We may not use these words, but when we dismiss wrongdoing of our own nation, or when we argue that one nation is to be put above all others, we have effectively done just these things. Responding to the question asked in 1932 of why the church is afraid, Bonhoeffer said these convicting words:

Because it [the church] knows there is a commandment to peace, and yet with the clear vision that is given to the church, sees the reality that is full of hate, enmity, violence. It is as if all the powers on earth had conspired together against peace, as if money, the economy, the drive to power, even the love of one’s fatherland have been dragged into the service of hate…

How could it be anything but blasphemous mindlessness, if we were to declare ‘No more war!’ and think with that, and a new organization–even a Christian one–we could exorcise the devil? Such organizations are nothing…

Christ must be present among us in preaching and sacrament, the Crucified One who made peace between God and humankind. The Crucified One is our peace. (DBW 11, 354-355, cited in Schlingensiepen, cited below)

The message is clear: putting hope in any institution is itself idolatry and blasphemous. That institution may be a para-church group, a church, or even a nation-state. The only true hope–the only possibility of hope–is found in Christ alone. Whenever we cease to acknowledge that–whenever we put our hope in anything else–we have committed blasphemy and are called to repent.

Source

Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance (New York: Continuum, 2010).

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SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion” by John Wilsey

aecr-wilsey

John D. Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion sheds light on the ways that Americans through history have conceived of the United States as a blessed nation.

The book is organized around various historical periods, from the origins of exceptionalism in the earliest colonial periods to modern times. One aspect of American exceptionalism is “the idea that Americans are a people specially chosen by God and given a destiny to fulfill by him…” (16, cited below).  Throughout the book, Wilsey shows how this idea has developed and how it has negatively impacted not only our theology but also the way the country developed politically and ethically.

Wilsey traces the sad history of slavery and expansion into North America, highlighting how the ideology of American Exceptionalism played into the whole endeavor. Because that which was deemed “American” was theologically tied to a concept of chosen nation and a skewed view of manifest destiny, people from the lowliest white farmer to the President of the United States were able to justify heinous acts upon fellow human beings. Furthermore, due to the concept of chosen nation that theologians lifted from the pages of the Bible and applied to the United States, many of these atrocities were dismissed as aspects of a new eschatological narrative pointing towards the concept of America’s growth and civil religion.

This notion is made particularly acute in the chapter entitled “The Innocent Nation” which shows how various American leaders portrayed the United States as innocent and without moral faults. Though this narrative was often challenged, it has been maintained over time and modified to keep up a notion of America as the moral light for all nations. The occasional mixing in of imagery is a powerful way Wilsey depicts narratives like this, such as the image of John Gust’s American Progress (featured on p. 78). Readers are exposed to a number of firsthand accounts and quotes from those involved in the process of theologizing and putting forth ideas about the United States.

Balance is an admirable feature of this book, which cautions against going to extremes in either direction related to the notion of the United States as a chosen nation. Moreover, even when critical of certain figures throughout history, Wilsey notes how many helped to bring about some good as well. For example, a few Presidents have perpetuated notions of America as an “Innocent Nation” while still working for justice and international peace–thus showing that exceptionalism can lead to a belief that those with the blessings ought to use them to help others.

What is all too often lacking in books like this is presentation of a way forward. That is, too often books like this focus solely on showing the problems with systematic corruption or evil, but then leave readers at a loss for how to combat it or try to move beyond it. Wilsey, however, laces commentary on “open exceptionalism” throughout the book as a way for Christians to remain appreciative of the blessings of their country without turning to an unbiblical view of deifying their nation. This open exceptionalism allows for Americans to see the United States as blessed with certain freedoms and prosperity, while still moderating notions that might lead to seeing America as above criticism or without fault. Thus, he provides a way to reevaluate our own views and move towards a position where we can remain patriotic while not falling into the traps of an exceptionalism that redefines Christianity.

American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion is an incisive critique of the notion of American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion. Moreover, it provides a way forward for those wanting to help bring about change.

The Good

+Excellent analysis of American exceptionalism
+Balanced view
+Presents a positive way forward
+Utilizes several threads of evidence

The Bad

-Requires readers to draw out definitions on some points

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book by the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

John D. Wilsey, American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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