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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Serving a national God?

The denomination our church belongs to prints a monthly publication, the Covenant Companion, that consistently runs thought-provoking articles. One of the magazine's offerings is a column by John E. Phelan, Jr., president and dean of North Park Theological Seminary, called "Markings". Phelan always has something of depth to say, whether I agree with him or not. (Unfortunately his column is not available online)

In the latest issue, Phelan quotes Daniel Lazare from an article in The Nation, stating that "Lazare implies that the Christian God is much more pliable and agreeable to cooperating with the national cult [than is the Islamic God]. He was a usable God, as far as Eisenhower (and many before and after him) was concerned."

I'm not convinced that the Islamic God isn't a national God, but agree with what he says about the Christian God: "God stands in judgment on all peoples and states, all parties and politicians."

He follows, "God will not be used as the ground of American democracy and power." I agree about the power part, but, as far as democracy goes, I'm not sure what would be a preferable ground.

On distinguishing between the God of Islam and the Christian God, Phelan quotes John Ashcroft: "God sends his son to die for you" whereas the God of Islam requires you "to send your son to die for him." Not to say that European and American politicians have never "used the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus to get people to send their sons and daughters to die, not so much for him, as for the nation state." I don't think the two need be mutually exclusive, however.

He states that the Christian God "rejects our efforts to drape him in the flag." Perhaps, but I think He'd like us to drape our fellow American citizens, as well as citizens of the world, in Him.

Phelan quotes William Willimon from The Christian Century: "Frankly, I think the Muslims have got it right when they say that Christians in the West appear to have produced, or at least acquiesced to a pagan, sex-saturated, violent, materialistic society. Muslims seem to despise us not because we're so free (wrong, G. W. Bush) or because we're so very Christian (wrong, Jerry Falwell) but because we're so awfully pagan." I think there's truth to this, at least as part of the reason we are despised.

Says Phelan, "It is the pagan that uses God for their own purposes." An interesting statement, but I'm not sure it's true. A pagan isn't necessarily turned toward self. But I appreciate Phelan's distinction between the person who seeks after God and the one who tries to adopt Him as a pet.

He continues, "The Christian follows the God of Jesus by living the Jesus-life regardless of the siren call of money, power, sex, or even the nation state." I agree, obviously, except that I believe there's a difference between serving the nation state itself and serving it through serving God, as a parent serves their family.

Happy New Year, everyone!


  • Actually, if you want to go back to the ancient pagan, they used religion in exactly this sort of way. They didn't believe the emperor was really a god, but they bowed down to him for social acceptance because such acts were part of what the community did. You get lip service to the gods among many of the philosophers of the Hellenistic period for similar reasons.

    By Blogger Jeremy Pierce, at 6:41 PM  

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