As Foxman said in his speech, “Make no mistake: We are facing an emerging Christian right leadership that intends to ‘Christianize’ all aspects of American life, from the halls of government to the libraries, to the movies, to recording studios, to the playing fields and local rooms of professional collegiate and amateur sport, from the military to SpongeBob SquarePants.” ~Michelle Goldberg, Salon.com
Via The Revealer via The New Pantagruel.
It is always safe to say that Abe Foxman is suffering from delusions, but his latest outburst is a remarkable one. There is less ‘danger’ today than there was 30 years ago of seeing what Foxman is denouncing, and this is regrettable. There would not be anything wrong with thoroughly Christianising all aspects of American life, and one would expect a country with a majority population of self-identified Christians to live in just such a way. What makes nonsense of Foxman’s claims, and what reveals the emptiness of so much of the pseudo-theonomic rhetoric of many evangelical leaders is the reality that vast numbers of those who consider themselves Christians are not really living anything approximating a pious and God-fearing life.
One of the several problems I have come to have with the rhetoric of “the Christian nation,” besides being empirically falsifiable (“the Christian nation” would not launch wars of aggression, just for starters), is that it readily mistakes an ideological American nationalism for something that somehow reflects America’s Christian heritage because of “American values.” It is the notion of a proposition nation suffused with religious intensity. It is the evangelical version of the First Things heresy that the Enlightenment and Christianity can happily and uniquely coexist in America because natural law is understood more or less the same by philosophe and Christian, but in this version the two traditions not only coexist and intersect but become, in a sense, interchangeable.
Thus in one of the odd inversions of history, where evangelicals used to be the staunch supporters of American neutrality and non-intervention, evangelical America against its better instincts has come to endorse idealist and interventionist foreign policy on several occasions in the past few decades to defend
American “values.” As I have hinted in earlier posts, and as I will discuss in more detail when I review Icarus Fallen, those who have succumbed to the language of “values” have long since accepted the assumptions behind a modern, secularist and relativist ethics. What hath light to do with darkness, or Truth with “value”? So far from a “long march through the institutions” are Christian leaders, and so close to the “open marketplace” model that Foxman endorses, that the methods and language of marketing and PR have become the latest craze in proselytising by evangelical churches. We might call this rather twisted development the commodification of Christ.
Elsewhere, the conventional goods of American capitalism, rather than taken as an essentially neutral but potentially dangerous means, are sometimes invested with providential meaning in the most carnal way. To take one glaring example, rather than confronting and understanding the implications of the overwhelming scriptural and patristic warnings against attachment to wealth and the desire for gain, there are some churches that preach a “prosperity gospel,” (a rather different sort of Gospel of Wealth!), that endorses and encourages acquisition and consumption. Some might argue that this is to take the conventions and modes of the modern world and putting them in service to Christ, but there is no sense of service in these things. If there were, the “prosperity gospel” would be impossible, as it is very difficult to see much that is Christ-like in endless self-aggrandisement. These people had their choice between two masters, and it is clear which one they prefer.
The Fathers would often adopt and transform the conventions of the society, language and imagery from the world around them. They might compare the martyrs to athletes without thereby necessarily endorsing the games, or frequently use martial imagery to describe spiritual warfare without necessarily lending spiritual meaning to physical warfare. They would use the emperor’s image on a coin as an example of identity in the Arian controversy to affirm a claim about the divinity and consubstantiality of the Word, not necessarily to say anything in favour or against coinage or imperial authority. This is how Christians appropriate and change a culture–by making the Gospel intelligible to the culture and coming to infuse the culture, but never through simply accommodating with it.