04 November 2011

In Which god Does America Trust, Anyway?

Earlier this week, Congress confirmed that the phrase "In God We Trust" is indeed America's motto. This is good news, for it is grievous to see the ways in which government seeks to remove God from so many aspects of life. However, (and this may get me in a bit of trouble) I have to ask: does it really matter anymore? Don't get me wrong, I'd much prefer that this country claim trust in God than trust in state. Yet, claiming this as the country's "motto" doesn't mean that God is going to grant some extra blessing upon America, and I fear that is the interpretation that many patriotic-minded Christians will employ. If we're honest, we have to ask ourselves: in which God does America trust? Atheists affirm the god of themselves, there is the Mormon god, the Muslim the god, the hip "Jesus is my homeboy" god, the Jehovah's Witness god, the Buddhist god, the New Age god of the inner self, and on and on it goes. So nowadays it sadly seems as if there is very little point in declaring, "In God We Trust," at least for many Americans. We have too many gods, and the phrase has simply lost its meaning.

In March of 2010, the The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that this phrase did not constitute a state establishment of religion, and therefore did not need to be removed from currency and other locations. And that was good news, just like this week's ruling. At the time of that decision, however, Al Mohler noted something worthy of consideration:
But, what does it mean? Christians should pay close attention to the logic employed by the court in these two decisions. Consider this section of the court’s opinion in which it cites its own precedent in the case Aronow v. United States:
It is not easy to discern any religious significance attendant the payment of a bill with coin or currency on which has been imprinted ‘In God We Trust’ or the study of a government publication or document bearing that slogan. . . .   While ‘ceremonial’ and ‘patriotic’ may not be particularly apt words to describe the category of the national motto, it is excluded from First Amendment significance because the motto has no theological or ritualistic impact. As stated by the Congressional report, it has ‘spiritual and psychological value’ and ‘inspirational quality.’

In other words, the phrase “In God We Trust” as our national motto is theologically and religiously meaningless, having “no theological or ritualistic impact,” but only a “spiritual and psychological value.” 
The court is arguing that the phrases in question are not really theological statements at all, presumably because if the court found theological significance in the phrases it would have been led to rule otherwise.
This legal logic is recognizable, but so is the theological dimension of all this. The court has ruled, in effect, that the language of these contested phrases represents what is rightly called “civil religion.” In essence, civil religion is the mass religion that serves the purposes of the state and the culture as a unifying force — a rather bland and diffused religiosity — an innocuous theology with little specificity.
Christians must never confuse civil religion with the real thing. When our fellow citizens recite the pledge, it is not to be taken as a statement of personal faith in God. In that sense, Christians are rightly concerned that we make clear what authentic faith in God requires and means. Confusing civil religion with Christianity is deadly dangerous.
On the other hand, Christians are well aware of the constant danger of idolatry, and no entity rivals a powerful government in terms of the idolatrous temptation. In that sense, it is healthy and good that we employ language that relativizes the power and authority of the state. It is both important and healthy that our motto places trust in God, and not in the state. And the knowledge that the nation exists “under God” is no small matter.

So, we should welcome the decision of the Ninth Circuit panel but not read too much into the decision or the language at stake. Another legal challenge is always right around the corner. The task of defining true faith in God falls to us right now.  (Online Source)
Mohler's thoughts are important, and we ought not read too much into this latest ruling either. Nevertheless, "patriotic" Christians are in abundance, and last evening this story appeared at Christian Newswire:
The Cross Spangled Banner Combines the World's Two Most Powerful Symbols to Reawaken the Virtue America has Forgotten

The Most Powerful Symbol in the World is Needed to Reawaken the Virtues this Country Was Founded On

MILWAUKEE, Nov. 3, 2011 /Christian Newswire/ -- John Quincy Adams, Sixth President of the United States, stated, "The highest glory of the American Revolution was this -- that it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity."

It is to be expected that as the moral character of a people degenerate, their political and social character must follow. We must judge the tree by its fruits.

As Christians, America is our responsibility second only to the Lord. And America has forgotten God.

We have adapted a Christian flag of the United States, designed to do away with an arbitrary element: the star, which is proudly used, too, on the flags of China, North Korea, Vietnam, Pakistan, Somalia, Bosnia and, sadly, more like these.

What better way for us to bless the very nation we have built with the one universal symbol of His virtue?

This flag is a small symbolic act that contributes to the course of history and can help bring salvation to millions -- every Christians responsibility.
(Online Source, emphasis mine) 
"America is our responsibility second only to the Lord." Book, chapter and verse, please, because that is not in the Bible! It seems a case can be made for God first, spouse second, family third, and then draw your priorities from there. Regardless, believers are not called to moralize a nation, so if God remains one's first priority, then that one ought to know that changing behaviors will not result in saving souls.

Speaking of saving souls, how is it exactly that a flag with crosses on it is going to "help bring salvation to millions?" Answer: it won't. What will? The Gospel. The truth of God's Word.

How refreshing it would be if American Christians would realize that our job is not to "save" or moralize or "Christianize" this country, but rather our command is to preach the Gospel, the good news of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:19-20)

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