The void where the sacred used to be

5 01 2011

Another one from Salon:

The folk culture of American constitutionalism blends themes from 17th-century English Protestantism and 18th-century neoclassicism. From Protestantism comes the rejection of the “Catholic” idea of an evolving scriptural tradition interpreted by an authority — the Vatican or the Supreme Court — in favor of the idea that the Christian or American Creed is in danger of corruption if it strays too far from the literal words of the original, perfect revelation. According to the Washington Post, one Tea Party member in Louisiana “has attended weekend classes on the Constitution that she compared with church Bible study.”

From 18th-century neoclassicism comes the idea that citizens of a republic must be taught that their constitutions are perfect and were handed down by superhuman lawgivers or “Legislators” — Solon in Athens, Lycurgus in Sparta — and must be preserved without alteration as long as the republic endures.

The blending of Protestant fundamentalism and neoclassical Legislator-worship explains the semi-religious reverence with which the Founders or Framers or Fathers of the Constitution have long been discussed in the United States. Other, similar English-speaking democracies — not only Canada, Australia and New Zealand but modern Britain itself — achieved self-governance or universal suffrage generations later, when these Protestant and neoclassical traditions had died out in their domains. The Canadians do not revere their first prime minister, John Macdonald, and to this day the British do not even have a formal, written constitution. Our Anglophone peers regard American constitution-worship as bizarre and quaint, like our fondness for displaying the national flag.

Just as my literary education was more in Spanish literature, so my political education came more from studying the volatile history of Latin American republics rather than my own.

My wife and I were once in southern Alabama, and someone was selling shrimp out of the back of his truck. On one corner of his truck, a prominent American flag was placed, waving in the wind. For some reason it hit me then that it is a sacramental sign for most Americans. I have never shared such enthusiasm. When I was a Marxist, I would never do the flag salute or stand for the national anthem. Now I do it merely out of courtesy. Nor do I think the Constitution a particularly sane document. Really, I think “the American way of life” is more due to an interior and exterior imperialism masquerading as a republic. Also, the myth that the United States is a “classless society”. Nothing to get excited about, really.


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24 responses

16 01 2011
James K.

Merle Haggard wrote and recorded “Okie from Muskogee.”

9 01 2011
Leah

sortacatholic,

I would recommend the works of Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King, Jr. (especially his books “Strength to Love” and “Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community”), Benjamin E. Mays (you can find them used), and James Cone. I know some people will hyperventilate at the idea of learning from black protestant ministers, particularly Cone who explicitly identifies himself as a “black theologian”, but as I have mentioned before, black thinkers tend operate outside of the culture wars paradigm, especially since these guys lived before these issues were so important. I wish I had some more recent authors to suggest, but it seems to me that many modern-day black ministers have gotten too entrenched in the prosperity gospel to say anything interesting.

9 01 2011
john burnett

“At the end of the day though,like you, I still would rather live here than anywhere else.”

No, actually, at the end of the day, I prefer NOT to live in the US, and i no longer do so. In fact Africa is a much more congenial place to live, despite its problems. And indeed, much of the problem with the United States is this sense that somehow, the USA is a “better place than anywhere on earth” no matter what it becomes or does. It is decidedly not!

9 01 2011
sortacatholic

I agree that the “Christian Republic” of the United States won’t be classically fascist in a Nazi/Francoist/Italian Fascist strain. There will be no anointed Leader of the nation, and no overt racialist policy. There might be a “Hundred Flowers”-like persecution of the highly educated (as an American academic trained in Canada, I’ll be first at the guillotine.) The “one nation under God”, flag-waving jingoist aspect of the Fundie-Republic will be just a cover for the true victors of fascism: corporate America. The most insidious aspect of Christianism is not necessarily doctrinal. Rather, the real threat behind Christianism derives from its tolerance of unbridled corporatism in the suppression of peoples.

Recently I chatted with a friend who is convinced that the US is on the verge, if not already submerged, in a latter-day feudalism. In his view, the real threat isn’t fundamentalist ideology but the ability of certain large corporations to turn entire regions into company towns. This view aligns with Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus. Bageant’s book highlights the resignation of working Americans towards birth, life, and death within the shade of the meat-packing plant or assembly line. This resignation is quite similar to a serf’s ability to glimpse his or her five-mile-radius world from atop a hill. The latter day serf cannot speak out against workplace health violations or union suppression unless he or she loses the pitiful safety net offered by the town’s company. The local church tacitly facilitates the exploitation of labor through a refusal to speak up against corporate abuses. Corporatist exploitation, covered over by the hypocritical Christianist perpetuation of the prosperity gospel myth, will be the actual exploitation of most Americans under any rightist fascism.

Many, including myself, have difficulty conceiving of a potential Christianist state as nothing more than a proletariat-bourgeoisie dyad. Many of us have been subconsciously trained to think of all exploitations of labor in a Marxist frame. I do not know, however, the proper characterization of a false consciousness based on “evangelical piety”. Is there a way to characterize this endgame outside of Marxism?

8 01 2011
walt

John, the aspect I’ve noticed about the term “Vietnam Syndrome” was just the use of the word syndrome to describe a reluctance on the American public to get involved in foreign conflicts ,as if it was some disease to be cured.

Your remarks on the manipulation of the masses by the elites especially “the Proud to be an American” stuff, brought these random thoughts to mind.
A shift I thought of was the trend in popular culture and its depiction of the military in the 1980’s. There was the extended recruiting commercial ,the box office hit Top Gun, which showed the life of a Navy pilot as an exciting , glamorous 9-to-5 job. There also was Tom Clancy’s techno thriller novels climbing the bestseller lists also showing a highly polished military using , courage, initiative, and lots of high tech gadgetry to save the day. American exceptionalism and Yankee ingenuity at its finest. Even Vietnam was portrayed like this, that the notion that the US military could’ve won that war if Washington would’ve let them was given a full length film, Rambo. Look what one of our Green Berets could do! The year after that came a turnaround with Oliver Stone’s Platoon. I remember during my service in the Marines at the time, all of the criticism that came from certain quarters about how graphic it was and its unflattering depiction of American infantrymen in combat. True, as some Vietnam vets I served under said, not every combat unit had all of those morale and discipline problems but they said the movie felt real. Friendly fire falls on your troops, weapons break down, grown men come apart physically and mentally etc. Then came a stream of ‘Nam flicks and some TV shows trying to depict the reality of that war. There was also a popular interest that rose up regarding Vietnam vets and hearing their stories. Rambo was a comic strip superhero and Apocolypse Now was just weird , but Platoon at least tried for realism. Maybe I’m wrong but it seemed like the American public seemed somewhat interested in the reality of that war. That brief trend in popular culture seemed to come to an end with Desert Storm. We kicked the Vietnam Syndrome, flags went up on people’s cars , America was riding high again,
singing along with Lee Greenwood, and Stormin’ Norman was a household name. Realistic movies , documentaries and veteran’s stories about ‘Nam left the spotlight. Realistic depiction of combat scenes did stick around but the context of why soldiers are sent off to fight in wars, that reality, was subsumed once again. Barb Nicolosi reviewed Black Hawk Down a number of years ago and said as much. The recent spate of Iraq war movies didn’t too well but that’s because the war is in the news everyday.

Another thing that did remain from that time was the “Thank a vet” pratice. What started out 20 some years ago as a gesture of gratitude to Vietnam vets, an acknowledgment of the Joe Sixpacks, who as teenagers bore hardships and did their duties as citizens in an unpopular war has now festered into something bordering on idolatry. It seems every national holiday has morphed into yet another day to praise the US military. “Support the Troops” is our new national slogan.

At the end of the day though,like you, I still would rather live here than anywhere else.

7 01 2011
Jason

Patriotism doesn’t come naturally to me, but I read a chapter in Paul Goodman’s book “Growing up Absurd” that nudged me more toward appreciating patriotism…he discusses the essence of patriotism, as opposed to its manifestations in the organized system. Goodman suggests that it’s a great loss not to have a community, a patriotic community, that you are born into. I’m not sure what stings me the wrong way about American flag patriotism. Flag patriotism is not unique to America…indeed, I think flags probably mean even more for Latin Americans. A Latin American flag is sort of a badge of identity…maybe Latin American flag patriotism is different because of the large diaspora. I’m not sure. I’m my more cynical moments I too feel like America is no big deal, nothing to sneeze at. But in my more idealistic moments I see that there are things to be proud of and to preserve in the American founding…including the constitution. I mean, something has to be said for a document that’s lasted 250 years, as opposed to the political instability in Latin American constitutions (the President of Honduras was flown into exile just a year ago over fears he would change the constitution for his own ends).

As I get older, I am more and more searching for something “to get excited about” about my native land, the United States. I’m not sure what it is, but to have a country is something important, I think. Just look at how much pride Latin Americans take in being from a particular country…but maybe Latin American patriotism is born out of the same ideology of American patriotism (for good and for bad).

7 01 2011
Leah

Sinclair Lewis also wrote a novel on this topic, entitled “It Can’t Happen Here,” detailing the rise of a fascist-populist group with the great name of “Jus’ Folks.” I read the book about ten years ago, so I can’t be specific about the details, but it’s interesting to read.

With regard to why the left doesn’t cry “theocracy” when black churches are politically involved, I have a theory about this. Although church-going blacks can be just as conservative and nutty as their white counterparts, they have different expectations for American culture and politics. With white social conservatives, we hear the constant cry of “getting our country back” and “winning America’s soul.” In comparison, many black don’t feel like America was theirs to begin with, due to slavery, disenfranchisement, and Jim Crow. Consequently, they don’t expect the broader political or cultural environment to reflect their tastes or interests. Black churches, tend to be more interested in addressing practical issues like after school programs, jail ministry, and mentoring young men from fatherless homes than cultural issues like homosexuality and abortion. However, as I mentioned before, many black churches view these topics as being things that “white people do,” which is also not a good attitude either. There was an interesting quote from from a lesbian gospel singer in The Atlantic last year that said that the black sanctified churches are full of homosexuals, all of whom think that they are the only ones who will be saved.

6 01 2011
Turmarion

I checked-the quote is (apparently erroneously) attributed to Sinclair Lewis. Here and also here are a couple of discussions on the source. In any case, it seems to significantly predate the type of “liberal fear-mongering” of which (I assume) you speak.

“Involvement” in politics is open to wide interpretations. Everyone has the right to, and should, bring his faith and beliefs to his political decisions; and any religious organization has the right to advocate for what it considers to be good policies. I’d draw the line like this: if you can make a secular argument for what you support based on your religious values; and if your policies and implementation don’t favor particular religions or religious organizations.

E.g.: Black churches may have supported civil rights on religious grounds, but the argued on the grounds that discrimination based on race is morally wrong, not on the grounds that it’s displeasing to God (though I believe it certainly is). Mainstream liberal Protestant churches have advocated for various positions on the basis of social justice, not on specifically Christian grounds. And Evangelicals and Catholics have generally argued against abortion on the grounds that it is killing innocent life, which is not a religious-specific argument.

On the other hand, advocating for prayer in schools, assertions that the U.S. is a specifically Christian nation, statements such as the one profiled here that non-Christians can’t be good officeholders, or the ones here by recent prominent candidates for office that there is no such thing as separation of church and state–all this kind of stuff crosses the line, and 99.9% of it comes from Evangelicals. When black churches and mainline Protestant churches start doing this in anywhere near equal measure, I’ll criticize them just as roundly.

As to our fate, collapse often leads, if not to Fascism narrowly defined, then to authoritarian government, among many other nasty things. With or without the latter, let’s fervently hope the former doesn’t occur.

6 01 2011
Leah

To me it seems like the black church (both historically black denominations and majority black churches in white denominations) stand outside of the culture wars dynamic. Based on my experiences, abortion isn’t really seen as a big issue because 1. it’s seen as a thing “white people do” 2. pro-life people are viewed as being uncaring towards other issues that affects blacks. There is also a reluctance to discuss homosexuality, even though it’s a given that the organist in a black church is almost always gay.

The only way for a truly populist agenda to really get anywhere would be for a multi-racial working class coalition to form. I doubt this would happen, as whites fear cultural erosion from non-whites, blacks write the whites off as rednecks, and both blacks and whites feel like their precarious economic and political positions are being threatened by Hispanics. If simply being pro-working class and pro-“traditional values” was enough, all of these groups could probably find common ground to challenge the status quo, but racial and cultural differences are such to prevent such a union from occurring.

Interesting how during the big Constitution read-aloud this morning, some parts were skipped, including the section about slaves being 3/5 of a person. So much for reading the Constitution with the intentions of the founders.

6 01 2011
Anonymous

Tumarion,

The idea “that if fascism ever came to this country it wouldn’t be goose-stepping Nazism, but it’d be wrapped in the flag, religion, and “traditional” values” strikes me as liberal fear-mongering about “theocracy,” which is one of the boogeymen the left like to trot out from time to time, though oddly enough “theocracy” only applies against white Evangelicals and not against the involvement of African-American churches or mainline Protestant ones in politics.

At any rate, I don’t fear fascism coming to this country, but I could see the United States collapsing in the next 20-30 years in a similar way that the Soviet Union did. Between the gutting of America’s industrial base, the rise of China as an economic powerhouse, an obscenely expensive and unnecessary empire, and a refusal to make reforms to Medicare and Social Security that will keep them solvent, I could easily see serious economic decline and federal government bankruptcy that might break the country apart. But who knows? It’s possible that we could avoid such a fate as well.

6 01 2011
Turmarion

I had missed these posts–thanks! I second Ochlophobist in his comment on the second of these links, that by the time I came around much of that stuff (except way back in the hollers) was dying out and being replaced by “late modern neo-pagan and occult nonsense”. However, even as a child of the 70’s I have heard of relatives who were “water witches” (dowsers), of women who could take off warts by “witching”, and of “planting in the houses” (using astrology to time planting and harvest}, etc.

As I grew up, I fled Appalachia, “white trash” culture, and Protestantism, for good and for ill. Still, I must say that I’d take snake handling, foot washing, water witching, and speaking in tongues over flag-worship, NASCAR, and GOP Caesaropapism any day of the week.

6 01 2011
6 01 2011
john burnett

Turmarion,

“Growing up in the 70′s in Appalachia deep in what we’d now call a very red state, I didn’t observe this sort of identity politics or reverse snobbery or whatever you want to call it nearly as much. Sure, the basic mode was there, but I don’t remember seeing nearly as many flags (U.S. or Confederate, the latter being nearly as common as the former these days) on lawns; and after about the third grade, I don’t recall that any of my classes did the Pledge of the Allegiance all the way through high school. People hunted and fished and went shooting, and there were plenty of rednecks; but I distinctly remember that no one wanted to be called a redneck even if he was one. Certainly there was none of the proud, in-your-face redneckery we see today.”

—You’re right, and this made me ask when, exactly, *did* we start seeing all that ‘proud to be american’ garbage? Surely it was during Vietnam, and the hippie rebellion, or just after and in response to it. Wasn’t the anthem in those days Conway Twitty’s “Okie from Muskogee”?—

We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee
and we don’t take our trips on LSD.
We don’t burn our draft cards down on main street
cause we like living right and being free.
We don’t make a party out of lovin’…

That song certainly caught the imagination of all the red necks i worked with at the time, and i think the expression “red neck” itself came from that era, no?

We have never gotten over Vietnam. Remember how even as late as 2003, Bush declared the “Vietnam Syndrome” finally “dead” from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of Iraq? Noam Chomsky commented that the right wing elite had been seething with anger over their continuing inability to gun down whoever they didn’t like, once the opposition had brought the Vietnam War to an end. Finally, 30 years later, American could “stand tall” once again!

It’s impressive how much of this was manipulated— the elite carefully watched the inchoate cultural and social expressions of discontent, and massively manufactured propaganda to shape it and capitalize on it and push it in the direction they want— more war and imperialism abroad, and at home, the huge development of the security and surveillance state, and the utter destruction of real wages and social programs.

We have to resist. For as the great Russian Archbishop Anthony Bloom once said, “Idols always demand a blood sacrifice, and ultimately the blood has to be human blood.” That’s the real tragedy of “the void where the sacred used to be”. I suspect the real split within the churches, which we have not seen yet, is not going to be about gays and abortion, but the one that appeared in Germany in the Hitler era— between the confessing church and the church that just went along with it.

6 01 2011
Turmarion

I agree with all your points here. It’s a crying shame that the Democrats, once the party of working people, have bailed out on them for identity politics and (since Clinton) big business; and it is unconscionable that the GOP not only does nothing for them but demagogues to whip up just the types of fears and resentments in order to distract the white working class from the real problems. Also, like you, I’d rather live here than anywhere else.

I do find stuff like this worrisome, though. Under the right circumstances, some pretty awful stuff could happen here. Someone once said that if fascism ever came to this country it wouldn’t be goose-stepping Nazism, but it’d be wrapped in the flag, religion, and “traditional” values. We’re aways off yet, but unlike thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago, it’s not totally incomprehensible. Lord have mercy on us all.

6 01 2011
rr

Tumarion,

I agree with much of what you said. However, you forgot to talk about the economic problems that working class people, including of course white working class people, have faced in America since the 1970s. America has been shedding industry for decades now. This means that it is much more difficult to find a decent paying blue collar job today that it was say in the 1960s. Politically, the Democratic party has done little to stop this and often seems more interested promoting social liberalism (gay rights, abortion, etc.) that don’t sit well with many working class whites. Not that the Republicans have done much for them either, but there is little wonder that working class whites have turned away from the Democratic party and are attracted to figures such as Palin. Not that I care for her, but I don’t face the same anxieties that they do.

Otherwise, as Aurturo alluded to, American exceptionalism is certainly a myth. Still, I could think of a lot worse countries to live in today than the United States.

6 01 2011
sortacatholic

Thanks for reminding me about Tommy Douglas. He was also a founder of a predecessor party to the current New Democratic Party (NDP). Today’s NDP has an informal union with liberal Canadian Christianity. The NDP is quite popular with the denomination of most Canadian Protestants, the progressive United Church. The NDP’s (and United Church’s) strong support for abortion and same-sex marriage has placed it squarely against the Roman Church and many evangelicals. However, the Canadian Catholic bishops’ rather agnostic political position so far has inhibited a alliance with the Tories similar to the GOP-USCCB pact. Perhaps the United Church’s nominal numbers and tacit NDP backing insulates its adherents from the inroads of smaller, more conservative evangelical Christian churches.

I would agree with Singular Observer that the historical trend in Canadian evangelical Protestantism is towards social justice and not dominionism. However, the pull of American conservative evangelical-fundamentalist political Christianity is inevitable if Canada opts for self-determined nationalism. The canary test for the intersection of new republicanism and evangelical Christian conservatism might occur if Australia secedes from the Crown at the death of Elizabeth II. The relatively strong possibility of an Australian republic will provide a cautious Canada and the world with another live-action object lesson in the nationalistic void at the end of constitutional monarchy. Will the cultural dynamics of an Australian or Canadian republic resemble aspects of the Partition and the ongoing socio-religious and ideological-political strife in India?

5 01 2011
Turmarion

As an Anglo-Saxon raised in a general Protestant background (whence I thankfully defected) in Appalachia, I can testify that the Salon article is dead-on. There are a couple points that occur to me in considering this.

One, it seems that there is a certain conflation of this phenomenon with a sort of self-consciously in-your-face redneck ethos. That is, the same cohort that tends towards the “American creed” and “Legislator-worship”, as the article puts it, also tends towards a view of the “real” America as being embodied in blue-collar, rural (especially rural Southern), Evangelical, non-college educated people. To put it crudely, the idea is that (à la Sarah Palin & co.) salt-of-the-earth plain folks who love huntin’ and fishin’, who work hard and play harder, who go to church and keep their guns nearby, who teach their young’uns to respect the Flag, and don’t go for no highfalutin stuff like them East Coast folks do, and who don’t need no fancy learnin’ like them tricky scientists who’re always disagreein’ with each other–only such folks as these are real A-mur-icans.

Growing up in the 70’s in Appalachia deep in what we’d now call a very red state, I didn’t observe this sort of identity politics or reverse snobbery or whatever you want to call it nearly as much. Sure, the basic mode was there, but I don’t remember seeing nearly as many flags (U.S. or Confederate, the latter being nearly as common as the former these days) on lawns; and after about the third grade, I don’t recall that any of my classes did the Pledge of the Allegiance all the way through high school. People hunted and fished and went shooting, and there were plenty of rednecks; but I distinctly remember that no one wanted to be called a redneck even if he was one. Certainly there was none of the proud, in-your-face redneckery we see today.

By the way, I’m not dumping on farmers, factory workers, Appalachians, etc. I am an Appalachian and the grandson of people who worked in or around mines. The point is there’s a difference between being poor or working class, and making a whole lifestyle of being loudly, rudely anti-elite, anti-intellectual, anti-education, etc.

Anyway, all this made me thing about this excellent and fascinating article from the Atlantic. The basic premise is that as America becomes more multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, and as non-Hispanic whites become a minority, there is an uneasiness among the formerly dominant group, which is expressed with a new form of identity politics. Money quote:

As with the unexpected success of the apocalyptic Left Behind novels, or the Jeff Foxworthy–organized Blue Collar Comedy Tour, the rise of country music and auto racing took place well off the American elite’s radar screen….. These phenomena reflected a growing sense of cultural solidarity among lower-middle-class whites—a solidarity defined by a yearning for American “authenticity,” a folksy realness that rejects the global, the urban, and the effete in favor of nostalgia for “the way things used to be.”

Like other forms of identity politics, white solidarity comes complete with its own folk heroes, conspiracy theories (Barack Obama is a secret Muslim! The U.S. is going to merge with Canada and Mexico!), and laundry lists of injustices. The targets and scapegoats vary—from multiculturalism and affirmative action to a loss of moral values, from immigration to an economy that no longer guarantees the American worker a fair chance—and so do the political programs they inspire. (Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan both tapped into this white identity politics in the 1990s; today, its tribunes run the ideological gamut, from Jim Webb to Ron Paul to Mike Huckabee to Sarah Palin.) But the core grievance, in each case, has to do with cultural and socioeconomic dislocation—the sense that the system that used to guarantee the white working class some stability has gone off-kilter.

The final point (sorry about the long post!) is this: Evangelical Christianity, when you get right down to it, is rather thin doctrinally and in practice. You got a “personal relationship with Jeezus” and that’s about it (to parody a little). There is, then, a religious “void” which must somehow be filled. Thus, I wonder if this Constitution/flag/Founders worship, coupled with the “white trash” identity politics, is the manifestation in the white, Evangelical cultural context, of the same type of folk religion that Arturo speaks about regarding Santa Muerte, Jesús Malverde, posession by Vikings, and so on. I mean isn’t the much-commented-on and (rightly) much-maligned image here really a conservative white Evangelical version of the same folk-saint phenomenon? In short, just as folk Catholicism fills the needs the institutional Church can’t meet, does this civic religion/redneck identity politics fill the needs that Evangelicalism leave lacking?

Now, as a rather left-of-center Catholic, it’s not my cup of tea (multiple-layered pun intended); but sociologically, isn’t it much the same thing in a sort of mirror image?

5 01 2011
JS Bangs

When I was a Marxist, I would never do the flag salute or stand for the national anthem. Now I do it merely out of courtesy.

You’ve often defended the role of social custom of coercion in maintaining Catholic religion and culture, and insisted that “nominal” Catholics are true Catholics. I smile now at the irony that these same forces have turned you into a true American patriot.

5 01 2011
The Singular Observer

Sortacatholic – as a SA immigrant to Canada, your observations are quite true – except, though, to note that the origin of Canadian “socialism”, such as governemnt funded medical care, has it’s origins in Christian Social Movements that were non-fundamentalistic in origin. The Premier of Saskatchewan who brought in the first Medicare in the country back in the 60’s, Tommy Douglas, was a Baptist Minister. It has also lately emerged that the Security Agencies of the time kept a file on him, and kept him under surveillance, as a “possible Communist”, due to his perceived Socialism. And you don’t get much more Prairie than SK.

5 01 2011
TomC

I would suggest that the sacrelizing tendencies identified in the article are just as much a phenonmenon of the American left as of the right, although they take a different form. While the right often treats the text of the constitution as holy writ, the left invokes the “spirit” of the constitution as an ersatz source of natural law. The spirit of the document is holy, providing an objective touchstone by which all state and federal laws must be judged. That a law enacted by Congress could be both bad (i.e., inconsistent with “progressive” policy) and constitutional at the same time is a foreign concept to the American left. The ACLU and NARAL are just as likely to wrap themselves in the Constitution as the NRA. In other words, we are dealing with an American phenomenon, broadly.

5 01 2011
Sam Urfer

“Chesterton says that America is ‘the only nation in the world founded on a creed.’ He goes on to write about the questions he was asked when he entered the country and how they were a kind of test of that creed. In regards to these tests, he writes: ‘Now I am very far from intending to imply that these American tests are good tests or that there is no danger of tyranny becoming the temptation of America. I shall have something to say later on about that temptation or tendency. Nor do I say that they apply consistently this conception of a nation with the soul of a church, protected by religious and not racial selection. If they did apply that principle consistently, they would have to exclude pessimists and rich cynics who deny the democratic ideal; an excellent thing but a rather improbable one. What I say is that when we realize that this principle exists at all, we see the whole position in a totally different perspective. We say that the Americans are doing something heroic or doing something insane, or doing it in an unworkable or unworthy fashion, instead of simply wondering what the devil they are doing.'”

I grew up in a fairly devout American household. Said the Pledge every day in front of the Flag, and all that jazz. The more I reflect on it, the more morbid it seems.

5 01 2011
sortacatholic

As an American in exile in Canada, I’ve noticed that the Anglo-Canadian reluctance to divorce the country from the House of Windsor derives directly from a queasiness about the American idolatry of the flag and Constitution. For many “Anglos” the Queen represents little more than a barrier against the conflation of evangelical fundamentalism and nationalism previously mentioned. For many, a Canadian republic might result in an ideological vacuum occupied by political and religious ideological extremes. The province of Alberta has of late sprouted popular evangelical-fundamentalist political parties and social movements. I am convinced that the inability of “prairie fundamentalism” to take root and spread stems not only from Canada’s relatively liberal secularism but also an inability to ideologically manipulate the living constitutional monarchy (and its representatives) to their ends. Governors-General are generally moderate to liberal politically and tend to moderate leftist or rightist extremes in Ottawa through their (albeit attenuated) ability to refuse royal assent in cases of severe political polarization.

Quebec is merging towards a flag-nationalism that curiously rests on socialistic secularism rather than evangelical fundamentalism. I often tell Americans that Quebec is one of the most secular regions on earth, with Sunday Mass attendance in the low single digits in many places. Although the Quebecois are tied to the monarchy through political union with English Canada, the de facto replacement of the Queen with the fleur-de-lys and a reified Quebecois French borders fosters an intransigent stance that mirrors religious fervor with the notion that linguistic uniformity can solidify a nation. The defiant refusal of some Quebecois to fly the Canadian maple leaf symbolizes Quebec’s nationalistic affinity with the United States.

It’s fascinating that a country without separation of church and state is actually

5 01 2011
john burnett

How very true.

By the way, the op-ed page of the Desert News, one of Salt Lake City’s two dailies— and effectively the official organ of the Mormon Church— says (or at least used to say; i haven’t seen it for some time), “We believe the Constitution of the United States to be Divinely Inspired.” Salt Lake City and the Mormon Church— which also gave us W. Cleon Skousen, several secretaries of education (!), Karl Rove, and a number of other noteworthies; capital of the nations ‘reddest’ state.

Interesting how right-wing fundamentalism begins in delusion and slides so readily into absolute, power-mad corruption in both church and state.

You keep talking about your marxist days. What made you ‘change’? Because it still seems to me that Marxism makes more sense than the other options available. I notice another Orthodox reader (hi, mr Ochlo!) seems to agree, and it sure doesn’t look like you’ve strayed to far from the true faith, either in religion or politics!

5 01 2011
ochlophobist

Have you ever read Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag –

http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Sacrifice-Nation-American-Cambridge/dp/0521626099

A bit coy, but good stuff. You could always come back to your Marxist refusals, comrade.

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