Christian Americans or American Christians?

I’ve recently noticed something a little strange about the relationship between politics and Christianity, something that can be seen by looking at some of the remarks in the above video. The speaker is Dinesh D’souza, a Dartmouth graduate, former policy adviser for the Reagan administration, and a Christian apologist. That strange thing that I’ve noticed is this: there seems to be a conflict between what is described in this video as “Our founding father’s dream” and “Our Father, who art in heaven’s” dream. It seems, moreover, that there might be a lack of introspection that would lead Christian Americans to see this conflict, a kind of forgetfulness regarding the supremacy of our Father over our founding fathers.

Now, it might be the case that this is not at all what is going on in this trailer. I have not seen D’souza’s movie, nor have I read the book upon which the movie is based. Whether my interpretation of D’souza’s words are correct, however, is largely irrelevant. I am not here attempting to attack D’souza (or anyone else for that matter). Rather, I am interested in examining a certain kind of mentality that seems common enough among my brothers and sisters to warrant some comment. Again, if it turns out that D’souza is not in fact exhibiting the kind of mentality that I wish to examine here, one can simply look to some of the rhetoric spit at the RNC this week, rhetoric that I am sure will also be employed next week for the DNC, for an example of the kind of thing I’m talking about.

To the trailer then. After looking at the trailer, it seems that one of the central claims of the film is that Obama’s dream for America is for it to be “downsized” in order to right the wrongs of colonialism. (Of course, we can question whether this is actually Obama’s intention, but that’s not what I’m interested in. Let’s assume D’souza is right. Let’s assume, that is, that Obama really is trying to downsize America.) Now, it seems clear enough that D’souza seems to think that this is bad. We are presented, at the end of the trailer, with an alternative: the dreams of our founding fathers, and the dreams of founding fathers seem to be presented as (comparatively) good.

Do you see the weird part yet?

If not, let’s ask these questions: Why is a Christian appropriating the “dreams of our founding fathers” as the dream to which we should aspire? Why, moreover, is a Christian (seemingly) frowning upon the possibility that America might seek to right the wrongs of the colonial past? Answer: Because maybe this Christian is an American Christian, rather than a Christian American. Maybe, in other words, the identity of this Christian has been partially superseded by the American one.

A Christian American, as I see it, should look at the “choice” D’souza is painting in the following way: Which choice would bring heaven closest to here? (Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.) This is a different kind of question than D’souza seems to asking. His question seems to be: Which choice would be in keeping with who we are as Americans?

If we ask the former question, then I think we will get a different feel regarding the choices with which we are presented. Couldn’t it actually be a good thing if colonial injustices were addressed, even if that meant America got downsized a little? What if America prioritized justice over its economic growth? What if starving children that are partially the products of colonial injustice had food to eat? (If you don’t think that the statement assumed in the previous question is true, then ask a slightly different one: What if starving children had food to eat?)

After looking at the choices this way, I’m no longer sure that “down-sizing” America would necessarily be a terrible idea. After all, aren’t we merely strangers here? Do we have an eternal interest in the continued economic and military power of America? Is it not the case that we are citizens of a higher kingdom, a kingdom in which the ideal of justice is perfectly realized? Is it not true that our duty as citizens of that kingdom is to see justice and compassion brought down here?

And what of our founding father’s dreams? What of liberty? To be sure, liberty is baller, but despite the way D’souza seems to present the issue, I’m not sure we have to choose either/or here. Remember he says, “America has a dream from our founding fathers…that together we must perfect liberty, and America must grow, so liberty grows.

Huh?

Is it really either/or here? Is it really the case that America’s economy must be bigger in order for liberty to “grow?” Well, I suppose that depends on how you define liberty, but if we define it as the freedom to realize our own conceptions of the good life (as long as we aren’t harming others), then I’m not sure why America would need to continue to grow economically for that to happen. Economic growth does not seem necessary for the realization of liberty. Nor does it seem that we will be guaranteed liberty if we do continue to grow economically. One look at China is sufficient to see that economic growth doesn’t guarantee liberty.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that America’s prospering is a bad thing. I like America. America is pretty freaking sick. I am only wondering whether there might be better things that we should aim for.

So, perhaps it is appropriate to conclude the examination of this seemingly strange mentality with a choice of our own, a choice that we, in some form or another face everyday, a choice that I have without a doubt sometimes failed to respond to appropriately, but yet a choice that I have been trying to bring to light so that we might hold one another accountable: Will we, as we contemplate our decision in the coming election, be Christian Americans or American Christians? Will we let the dreams that captivate us be replaced by something less than eternally good?

“Which dream will we carry into 2016?”

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