13 December 2011

The church is the state

[The sixth of a series of articles on the US Presidential Election 2004, written while in that country as a member of a team of international election monitors]

The constitution of the United States of America says, “We hold these truths as self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…..”  Bill Scott of Vassalboro, ME reminds the people of Central Maine, in a “reader’s view” carried in the Morning Sentinel, that George Washington himself had said “It is rightly impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible”.  The “world”, mind you, not just the USA.

Bill Scott “invites” all atheists and agnostics to leave the United States.  If Bill Scott does not have any African American or Native American blood in him, then he has a lot of gumption!  The ancestors of those who rule the USA did not come to North America by invitation.  They slaughtered the native populations and called it “Thanksgiving”.  There are other ironies, but let us brush them aside.  Let us focus on church and state, and the constitutional contradictions that are ever present and constantly re-affirmed in real life politics.

The Bill Scotts of this unhappy country know that the church and state are inseparable entities, regardless of what the constitution promises.  They are constantly reminded of this fact as they buy and sell bit and piece of what they believe is “life” using currency notes and coins issued by the United States Federal Reserve System.  “In God we trust” is the operational grist of the mill that facilitates life in these “united” states. 

The founding fathers made a fundamental mistake when they wrote the constitution.  They managed to separate the church and state in a way that did not really separate them, and this is commendable and indeed symptomatic of the schizophrenia that plays havoc with political practice.  Unfortunately, when they wrote “church” into the political practice that flows from constitutional edict, they forgot to state which church they meant.  They forgot to name the god on whom they are so dependent.  And so the history of the United States can be read as a struggle to define for itself a church and a god. 

Unable to reconcile the schisms of Christianity, the sons and daughters of the founding fathers chose the path of least resistance: they chose to focus on one “Other” or another in the hope that this violent encounter would yield as by-product a religious self-image. 

In the beginning, this fledgling “democracy” was shy about naming the project.  So shy were they that even the enemy’s name was coded in secular terms.  And so it was that this country fought wars, hot and cold and sometimes lukewarm, against The Evil Empire, the Drug Empire and Terrorism.  The rhetoric was about establishing democracy, about eradicating the violation of human rights, about making the world drug-free and free of fear, never mind the fact that these initiatives were patently anti-democratic, that they violated human rights and that they were fought by a nation that is the capital of the world’s drug lords. 

Disguises come off sooner or later, pretensions slip, and when you have accumulated enough money and guns it doesn’t really matter that you are a mass of contradiction and that the world sees you naked and ugly.  And so, today, even though it continues to define self by bouncing off a vaguely defined “other”, we see the United States finally dealing with its congenital schizophrenia regarding church and state.  Today the war is fought on behalf of Jesus Christ, flouting the ten commandments and making a mockery of the Sermon on the Mount, in ways that would have made Jesus Christ, re-invented as a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, Caucasian born somewhere in the “Red States” of the United States, refuse resurrection.  Today the enemy is a “heathen”, no different from the “unbelieving heathen” that was converted or slaughtered by Bible-toting missionaries and their gun-toting comrades-in-arms in the first centuries after Columbus mis-navigated his ship and caused so much confusion about Indians, West Indians, East Indians and Red Indians, as so beautifully outlined by Roy Shah in Hyde Park, London a couple of decades ago. 

Today the enemy is clearly identified as a person who does not subscribe to “Christian Values” and/or does not believe in the Christian God. This “enemy” includes not just the Muslim who asserts identity and proclaims faith in the Middle East and elsewhere, the Buddhist in Sri Lanka resisting unethical conversion of well-funded and fanatical god squads, and other pagans who find no reason to concede to Corporate Christianity a monopoly of the divine and/or spiritual, but it includes all Christians who are willing to accept that the divine speaks as many languages as there are peoples, is tolerant and essentially peaceful. 

All these “enemies” are defined as misbegotten doubters who are children of Satan, intent on erasing from human memory the notion of the holy trinity, the grace of the man from Galilee and the word of truth which they refuse to believe is written in a hundred different ways in the bible itself.  Yes, the “enemy” is a mad man and an aberration, a gargoyle and a fiend, a murderer and a thief, a beheader of democracy, a zealot and an escapee from hell who should be driven into his traditional homeland. 

This is the “enemy” of the America that refuses to see in itself the mirror image of the enemy, zealous, trigger-happy and willing to kill more than to die in defending not so much the message of the “savior” as protecting its corporate logo and the violence and misery it spawns globally. 

This is why this “America” references the need to resolve constitutional contradiction through a religious war, a Christian jihad, a 21st Century Crusade.  And this is why this “America” has declared war on its own people, seeking to establish by force of gun and threat of censure a religious monolith that defines itself by defining away all that is best in the Christian tradition.  This is why the world clasps its hands in prayer and raises its voice in an universal appeal to the differentiated and numerous divine, “God Help America!” 

A man walked up to me this afternoon, a white man, middle-aged, wearing a jacket decorated with Christian iconography.  “Sir, can I talk to you for a minute?” he asks.  “Sure,” I say.  “Could you please spare me a dollar?”  “Of course,” I say, and give him a one dollar bill, stamped of course with the ideological statement, “In God we trust”.  “Thank you, thank you very much.  Please don’t misunderstand.”  I smile and am about to cross the street when he says, “I am not prejudiced or anything, I believe only in love”.  Maybe he felt he needed to say that because I am black, because I would be in appearance and by the law of averages to be a non-believer, and because he felt he needed to apologize for the un-Christian arrogance of Church-is-the-State Americans of the United States.  I don’t know. I liked the “love” note in his statement. 

What happened to that Church, I asked myself.  The church of love, the church of the Sermon on the Mount, the church of the Ten Commandments, the humble church of the prince-of-peace Jesus Christ? I do not know, but if I was pushed for an answer, I would say the following.

That Church exists all over the United States of America, in the “blue” states and the “red”, and even within the hearts and minds of the Bill Scotts, not only in Vassalboro, ME, but in every small town and big city, in urban landscapes and in the rolling rural which surround them.  This Church lies persecuted by modern-day Pharisees clothed in the much polluted clothes of that decent and cool human being called Jesus Christ.  Perhaps, this Church is already crucified.  But then again, if America really wants to give final and absolute legitimacy to the marriage of church and state in a meaningful and liberating way, there is nothing in the script to say that this Church cannot and will not be resurrected. 



NoEalamInSL said...

Dec 13 (DM) Editorial: Let the concience be our guide. An interesting topic for dialogue, would be to ask how we have been programmed to want not to live a crooked life, but to make our lives straight. Some may live crooked, dishonest or bad lives, and yet precaution is taken to hide it from others. We may even justify certain practices or behaviour as being an excepted custom or way of life in a particular culture or society. Yet, as society evolves, those same practices are found to be, not right. A case in point is the slave trade that existed in many countries for centuries and was subsequently abolished. http://www.infolanka.com/news/IL/dm269.htm

Anonymous said...

Jesus, according to the Gospel itself was no prince of peace.... come on boss, you dont upset/destroy the scribes and the pharisees and say things like.." bring those that dont believe in me to my presence and Slay them in front of me.. "... and then have his followers gush up with prince O peace stories.. it never happened.