What Pew actually did over two weeks in May was ask 820 self-identifying American Christians “Do you think of yourself first as American or as Christian?” And in this case, 42% of Christians did actually answer “Christian first.” Another 48% answered “American first,” while 7% ducked and said they thought of themselves as both.
Not surprisingly, the “Christian first” response emanated disproportionately from self-identified Evangelicals, 62% of whom said “Christian first.” By contrast, the figures for other major Christian sectors were nearly reversed, with 62% of Catholics and 65% of Mainline Protestants saying “American first”.
To some, the 42% “Christian first” number will seem a shocking bit of data. It certainly seems to be a new one. As far as Pew knows and I have been able to determine, nobody ever asked the “Christian or American?” question before. Perhaps that’s because it’s divisive on the face of it, almost un-American: why should anyone have to choose between his faith and his nationality? Doesn’t the very query assume some sort of nefarious loyalty test, or hint at a fifth-column movement? And what would be the criteria for choosing? Why are you taking us down this road? ~David Van Biema, Time
Via Ross Douthat
I think I must owe Ross a drink for pointing out this hilarious article. What a hoot! (I also appreciate the generous link to my latest theocon post, about which I will have more another time.) I suppose if I believed the nation was “built on the separation of church and state” as Mr. Van Biema does, I would also be somewhat distressed at these results. Happily, I do not believe any such thing, and I am left pondering what the other 48% might be thinking when they identify as Americans first. Goodness knows I appreciate the principle of America First when it comes policy and politics, but how is it that a properly catechised Christian (I know, that’s quite an assumption right there) would believe that his loyalty or identity is first to a land or kingdom of this world? I can understand why there would be some residual hesitation on the part of Catholics to give priority to their Christian identity, since American Catholics have gone to quite a lot of trouble over the last century and a half to convince their neighbours that they are good Americans and have had to put up with quite a lot of criticism asserting the contrary. But what other answer can a Christian give? There is no question of necessarily choosing between faith and nationality–it is a question of ordering priorities in a hierarchy, in which religious commitment and faith take precedence for Christians, as you would expect. This does not cancel out patriotism or national loyalty, and can even serve to bolster and confirm such feelings in a way that does not have to give wild-eyed nationalism or chauvinism religious justification, and it is not a case where one must choose one or the other. The only thing divisive about any of this is the reaction to the result, in which Mr. Van Biema first takes us through a tour of similarly worded polls used to gauge Muslim sentiments (for many secular reporters, religion is religion is religion, and the content thereof is irrelevant) and then responds to a statement of the classic opposition between the Kingdom and the world with an almost self-parodying comment:
Well, that was then… But where, I asked, might a contemporary Christian’s interest diverge from an American’s?
I’m pretty sure Mr. Van Biema really didn’t get the point of the lesson, which is that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). In that sense, you could have a fine, old Christian empire and it would still be imperative to understand that your primary loyalty as a Christian is to Christ and the Church and not to the emperor and the empire. We are, after all, only sojourning here below. It isn’t even necessarily a question of “interests,” though if the state intrudes upon matters of faith or becomes an abominable tyranny that would change things considerably.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Van Biema declares himself uninterested in theologically-defined “meta-citizenship.” And he was so close to passing his meta-citizenship test!