As provocative as the title of this post might seem, my Christian faith is more rock-solid than ever before. When I refer to beliefs here, I am speaking strict of socio-political beliefs.
I have always characterized myself as a conservative and make no apologies about that. But the older I get, and the more determined I become to make my philosophical foundation be based solely on my faith, rather than cultural considerations, the more difficult it becomes to articulate (and even understand) my own strange juxtaposition of beliefs.
Coming back to America after years of living in Japan, I have a heightened awareness and sensitivity to the blatant-yet-often-overlooked ways that American nationalism is married to Christian faith. There is an implicit assumption that America is God’s favorite country, and that we are a pseudo-theocratic state akin to Ancient Israel, subject to punishment when we get off track, making it vitally important to make sure that Christian belief is reflected in public policy.
But years of soul-searching and disillusionment with the American political system have led me to a rather cynical place. I don’t think America is God’s favorite country or any more special in his eyes than Zimbabwe, Scotland, Bulgaria, or the Philippines. America is neither all good nor all evil; like most countries, it has a mixture of good and bad qualities, and has been a force for good and bad things. It is nowhere near as straightforward as conservatives (America is [almost] all good!) or liberals (America is [mostly] bad!) believe.
Part of the reason why for a long time I was not particularly proud to be an American, or eager to identify myself as such, is because I’ve watched firsthand the rather dramatic degradation of American culture over the past twenty years. In the 1990s, you could be proud to be an American, despite the country’s faults, but today the country is a shell of its late-20th century glory days. Now America is a high-tech cultural wasteland that glorifies immorality and perversion, proclaims ugliness as beauty, and clamorously flails around in an attempt to remove the specks from its neighbor’s eyes, while vehemently denying that the logs in its own eyes even exist. All the while, its society aggressively punishes any dissenters: anyone willing to point out the obvious fact that The Emperor Has No Clothes will, in no uncertain terms, have his life destroyed.
For a long time, I have been fascinated by the alt-right, who recognize most of these same problems that phony conservatives ignore. But it has taken years to come to the realization that I don’t agree with them either. Their diagnosis is correct, but their medication is wrong. The alt-right discards the shape of the crucifix for the shape of the gun, their worship led by their esteemed bishop, the Individualist, who needs no help nor owes it to anybody; all taking place within the hallowed, ghostly cathedral of Western Civilization.
This Bishop is immediately and easily recognized by the Randian character held up as a model: selfish, greedy, fiercely territorial, always prepared to retaliate and take an eye for an eye. It is with no small amusement that I note, as much as the alt-right uses the Bible as justification for his worldview, while critical of secular leftists who misuse scripture, the alt-righter is blatantly Darwinian in his worldview. Besides that, he is every bit as guilty of misappropriating the Bible for his own purposes. The shocking reality is that both leftists and rightists are wrong and mistaken in how they use scripture.
The Leftist sees Jesus as the champion of “social justice,” a revolutionary who (much like how they see themselves) fought back against an oppressive system that kept down the Everyman. Meanwhile, the rightist sees the Bible as the foundation for individual freedom and autonomy, the cornerstone of Western Civilization, the basis for self-defense and self-interest. The problem is that the real Jesus never favored either of these.
He modeled a truly revolutionary, new way of living that was Not From This world, but most certainly for it. The gun mania of the rightist, as well as his worship of individualism and personal freedom, was completely alien to Jesus, who lived in a collectivist culture and intentionally chose nonviolence as a new (and better) way of living – despite considerable pressure to oppose Rome and restore Israel’s autonomy. Jesus is much less concerned about your nationalistic agenda or your “personal freedom” or how many guns you own. He doesn’t care about how much land or property you own, or how much money you made “fair and square.” He cares about whether you display love and self-sacrifice to others.
But Jesus was not a leftist, either: he had no interest in public policy and no interest in criticizing the establishment, despite every effort to goad him into it. He was not about inciting a revolution amongst the “oppressed” or telling the government to fix the problems or institute new social programs. Unlike the Leftist, who imposes his social programs from the top down, Jesus started with people at the very bottom and showed no concern for the power structures ostensibly at the top. And Jesus never, ever changed or made the basic morality of his culture more lax; he was always in favor of showing grace to those who had sinned and made mistakes: tax collectors, prostitutes, adulteresses, and Samaritans. Jesus always gave them grace first, and then said to go and sin no more. Jesus never hesitated to judge or call people out for their sin, either: the important distinction is that those people he showed grace were already fully aware of their own sin. The people Jesus called out were those who were unaware or in denial of their sinfulness. And I firmly believe that if he were in modern-day America, Jesus would be tearing into both rightists and leftists for their respective shortcomings.
In the next post, we’ll look at a related (and very important topic): Two Types of Civilization.