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Friday, February 27, 2015

Should We Be Proud Of Christianity And The West?


Pat Buchanan is on a rampage. Much anger he has. And his anger is due to President Obama's brief mentioning of Christianity's past sins during the National Prayer Breakfast (click here). What did Obama say? To put words into Buchanan's mouth, we could say that Obama acted like an Alabama student attending a home football game wearing neutral colors and booing instead of chanting "We're number 1!" To be more specific, during the National Prayer Breakfast, Obama, according to Buchanan, demonstrated that he prefers to belong to the world than to us (click here for Buchanan's article). 

A totally Christian oriented but extremely short response to Buchanan's article might appear in Wednesday's, March 4th, edition of Comments Which Conservatives Block From Their Blogs blogpost on this blog pending the Imaginative Conservative blogsite's decision to post my comment with the article. Stayed tuned. But here, this blogpost will take a more expansive look at Buchanan's complaints. 

Buchanan states his issues with Obama in the first paragraph. He claims that Obama doesn't love his own nation. Here, we should note that Buchanan's definition of the word 'love' has yet to be defined. The fourth paragraph gives a little clearer picture. Obama showed that he doesn't love his country because he ticked off Christians by reminding them of their past crimes which Buchanan described as being 'real or imagined.' The history of the crimes Obama briefly referred to matters not to Buchanan. It is the reminder of these dark times to which Buchanan is responding. Of course we can guess that Buchanan will later on whittle away at the real history to move more instances of real history into the imagined bin.

Buchanan's definition for what qualifies as loving one's own nation, that is if one is a Christian American, is revealed a few paragraphs afterwards. An American Christian's love for his/her own nation is determined by whether one believes in the superiority of their country over all others. And this superior quality of America comes from its Christian heritage. So this recognition of supremacy is not just attributed to America, it is bestowed on Christianity as well.

What we should note about claims of superiority is that they usually come with some baggage. The minimum baggage consists of a sense of entitlement and an embracing of an active authoritarianism. The sense of entitlement involves the perceived right to privileges which others do not have. The active form of authoritarianism assumes that one has merited the right to rule over others. There are degrees to which one chooses to so preside. One can act as a totalitarian or one can pick and choose when they will exercise control. And because we are dealing with authoritarianism here, anger naturally arises when one's authority is not recognized. That is because one's position of authority is believed to have been earned by meeting the qualifications which others did not.

That is at the core of Buchanan's reaction to Obama. For Buchanan, its bad enough when the inferiors do not recognize the prestige we've earned by not bowing to our supremacy; but when one of our own knocks us down a peg, it is considered to be almost tantamount to treason because of the self-sabotage being employed. Of course, all of that comes from an authoritarian position.

These delusions of superiority that dance in Buchanan's head while claiming that Obama, who btw is way too conservative for me, does not love our country can remind one of Emma Goldman's description of patriotism (click here). 
Indeed, conceit, arrogance, and egotism are the essentials of patriotism. Let me illustrate. Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.

Now read Buchanan's main complaint against Obama and see how much, if any,  Goldman's description of patriotism applies to Buchanan:
He sees himself as a citizen of the world, who rejects the idea that our cradle faith Christianity is superior, or that our civilization is superior. For he seems to seize every opportunity to point out the sins of Christianity and the West and the contributions of other faiths and civilizations.

At this point, Buchanan switches from offense to defense. First, he tries to distance Christianity from slavery by noting its preexistence. The implication, of course, is that Christianity didn't own slavery. What Buchanan doesn't mention is how Christians in America still used the Bible to defend it.

Buchanan continues by stating that Christian teaching about the dignity of each person goes against the notion of slavery, but his view was not the view practiced by many Christians. And while Buchanan wants to assert Christianity's superiority over Islam because of when the practice of slavery ended for each religion, we should note that Jim Crow contained elements of slavery and was brutally oppressive and that was practiced and by many Christians who used the Bible to defend it up until the 1960s.

Then, though he admits that atrocities were committed by both sides,  Buchanan defends the Crusades by describing the participants as Christian Knights fighting to reclaim what rightfully belonged to Christianity. We should note that when wars are assessed, they must be measured on more than one criteria. We know from our own military ventures that our politicians often use the valor of our troops as a moral shield to defend their policies. So we need to assess the Popes and why they ordered the crusades. We should note that the promise of indulgences offered by the first Pope who ordered the Crusades. We should also be aware that Popes were increasing their political power. And we need to assess the participants by their stated motives as well as their actions. The fact that some of them committed atrocities, in many cases worse than what some Muslims did, should relegate their knightly position in society to a blurb in history.

Buchanan also comments on the Inquisition. He starts off with a comparison measurement. Others killed more people than the Inquisition did. He cited Lenin as an example.  BTW, what Buchanan seems unaware of were that some of Lenin's contemporary comrades opposed his tyrannical rule because such violated their socialist convictions. So here, we can't use Lenin and Stalin to compare Socialism with Christianity and the West. That is because like most other groups, Socialism is not a monolith.

Finally, while Buchanan wants to cite the surge in Islamic fanaticism, he is silent on the Western Imperialism that has been brutal at times and has installed artificial boundaries throughout the Middle East.

We should note that Buchanan does not deny the faults and sins committed by Christianity and the West. Rather, his strategy is to say that we are superior because we lag behind others in the  number of atrocities committed. And yet, Obama's point wasn't that the Christian civilization committed more sins than any other civilization. Rather his point was that we Christians can't afford to self-righteously judge others because we have committed sins ourselves. Obama wasn't concerned about superiority here and so he simply said that we need to pay attention to our own faults. 

Buchanan, on the other hand, seems obsessed with going beyond the pointing out of past sins to measuring the history of all groups in order to declare a winner, to give an award to the superior civilization. Here we should remember that to many authoritarians, to the winner goes the spoils. That is to the superior civilization goes the entitlement to exclusive privileges and the authority to rule over others.

There are a number of perspectives from which one can analyze Buchanan's reaction to Obama's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. The approach this blogpost will take is an attempt view Buchanan's response from a Christian perspective. What this post will attempt to measure is how well did Buchanan's response to Obama represent Christianity. 

Here, part of our work is already done. A blogpost on Obama's speech has already been posted on February 13 (click here). One of the points of that blogpost was about what makes Christianity special, or superior using Buchanan jargon. It isn't the actions performed or avoided by Christians that causes our religion to rise above the others; rather, what makes Christianity what it is is Jesus and who He is and what He did. What makes Christianity important is that it is based on incarnation of God's son. And God sent His son in that way to save us from our sins. Thus, Buchanan starts off on the wrong foot when trying to defend Christianity. For as he focuses on what past Christians have and have not done, the defining characteristic for Christianity is based elsewhere. It is based on Jesus.

But given Buchanan's bad start, is his intended destination consistent with Christianity? Is it Christian for us Christians to use the uniqueness and superiority of our faith to see others as being below us? And if others are below us, are we allowed or even commanded to rule over them? The need for answering this question is suggested by Buchanan's authoritarian approach.

Here we have to divide our answer into two parts. For it seems that the Church history shows that there are multiple, distinct sources we can use to define the Christian Faith. The actual history of the Church provides one source for defining our faith while the Scriptures yield some information that agrees with portions of Church history and disagrees with other parts.

We should note that much of Church history associates the Christian Faith with authoritarianism. This is true starting with the time of the Apostles. However, that authoritarianism was not applied outside the borders of the Church until around the time of Constantine who credited the Christian God with a military victory of his. Then on an on-and-off basis, Church authority was significantly exercised on society. Popes and many Protestant leaders practiced varying degrees of rule over the people directly and over civil authorities. The Church has sometimes used its power over civil authorities to direct them to carry out punishments for violations of Church laws and to protect the Church's prestige and control over people.

So since the Church owns a mixed record on being authoritarian, Buchanan can cite precedence for his reaction to Obama.

But when we look at the Scriptures, the waters become muddier for both Buchanan and ourselves. We should note here that the New Testament warns us against judging others. The warning is not because one person or group sins more than we do, but because the presence of any sin qualifies us for certain doom. This point is made in Jesus' parable of the two men praying (Luke 18:9-14) and in Paul's letter to the Romans such as Romans 2:1-6 and Romans 6:23. The issue for us in the New Testament isn't about how we compare with others, it is about how we compare with what God expects (see Romans 3:9Romans 3:27-28, and Ephesians 2:8-9). Yes, the New Testament talks about a changed life, but that change does not imply that we can ever be either without the need of our Savior or that we have the qualifications to rule over others. 

And so this is where the waters become muddier for all of us. For Church History, whether we are talking about the Roman Church, the Protestant Churches, or even the Orthodox Church, has provided far too many examples of the Church assuming the right to rule over others. Implied in those examples are claims to superiority. But the Scriptures firmly fix the focus of our faith and qualifications in Jesus, not ourselves. And that, as the parable of the two men praying in Luke illustrates, we can never afford to let the new people we become through faith move us to act like the pharisee who went home condemned because he so favorably compared himself with the worst of sinners who, btw, went home justified.

Thus, as some of us are tempted to imitate Buchanan as he piled judgment after judgment on someone else by piling on him, we need to recognize that our faith some of the same roots part of Buchanan's schtick has. Those roots are Church history roots. And thus, in order to claim that Buchanan's reaction to Obama does not represent the Christian faith, as true as that might be, we must exercise great gentleness and the right nuance. That is because in pronouncing Buchan as wrong and guilty, we will be doing the same for many in Church history, which could quite possibly include some of our own heros. And we might even have to add ourselves to the list of the condemned. In addition, though disagreeing with Buchanan here is necessary, we must do so as equals for the same reasons why we must be gentle and subtle.

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