Christianity versus American Christianity

Since I’m on a roll…

This gives me a small flicker of hope:

Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns. “When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

Of course,

By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.

- Disowning Conservative Politics, Evangelical Pastor Rattles Flock, NYT

For a long time I really struggled with understanding American Evangelicalism - how can, for instance, American Christians support the bombing of Lebanese Christians? How can Janet Jackson’s bare breast be more worthy of outrage than the destruction of thousands of lives? What happened to “love thy neighbour”, let alone “love thy enemy and pray for those who persecute you?” How did a theology of triumph win over a theology of sacrifice? Made no sense.

So I went back to my notes from the All Nations courses: anthropology, sociology of religion, folk religion, and it became clear to me. You’re not going to like this, but I’ve come to believe it’s true: The situation only makes sense if you consider a separate entity called “American Christianity” which is an entirely separate religion to Christianity. Not a branch of Christianity, not a form of Christianity, but something with absolutely no connection to Christianity at all. It’s a separate religion. And what is the goal of this religion?

“They said, ‘You’re not doing what the church is supposed to be doing, which is supporting the Republican way.’”

Go for it; look at it phenomenologically, look at it sociologically, and what do you see? Basically a syncretic folk religion, based primarily on American nationalism, an expression of the “pervasive religious dimension of American political life”. (Bellah; see also “Civil Religion in America”) Its purposes are basically civil and political. Its morality is taken from a highly selective and individualistic reading of the Old Testament, and it mixes in bits of consumerism, Zionism, Republican political values, and corporatism for good measure. Add to this an almost romantic sentimentality concerning the person of Jesus, much like the contribution of Catholicism to Vodou religions, and suddenly it all makes sense.

American civil religion has its own prophets and its own martyrs; its own social events and sacred places; its own solemn rituals and symbols. (Bellah)

Fine with me, but can we give it a better name than “Christianity”, please?