Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part III
Mahanoy printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Oct 11, 2007 at 01:42:24 PM EST
What is at stake here are two very different understandings of the Bible, American history, and Christianity itself, specifically what it means to be a Christian in a cosmopolitan society.  The Dominionists claim absolute validity and exclusivity for Christians, relegating adherents of any other religion to second-class status (or worse), they place the blame for America's failings and problems squarely at the feet of the political and social left, whom they regard as dangerous anti-Christian radicals.  The vast majority of American Christians, including progressive, moderate, and even many conservative Christians, celebrate the diversity of the world's religions while affirming our own commitment to the Christian tradition, we value and affirm the religious experience of our fellow Americans as well as their right to worship (or not worship) according to their own conscience, and we reaffirm our commitment to the principles of the Enlightenment and of the Founders - reason, tolerance, respect for science, personal liberty, and religious freedom.

Welcome to this third installment of my critical review of the booklet America, Return to God, edited by Thomas Wang.

Join me after the flip for more...

In this short installment we will explore an essay by the editor, Thomas Wang (dubbed "The Chinese Billy Graham"), entitled "The Neo-Pagan Drift."

Unfortunately, Wang never defines what he means by "neo-paganism," preferring to allow the term to speak for itself.  As we work through this short essay, we will soon see, however, that by "neo-paganism" Wang simply means any philosophy or ideology that is not explicitly rooted in his narrow interpretation of conservative Protestant Christianity:

In America today, a gigantic force is advancing swiftly and cunningly among every walk of life (including some Christian churches).  We call this devastating impetus the Neo-Pagan Drift.

If there be a day that America should decline and fall, it would not be due to enemy missiles or nuclear attack from the outside, but because of this neo-pagan drift from within America herself!

This "neo-pagan drift" is the reason for all of America's ills, as Wang repeatedly laments that America could again be great if only it would

go through a nation-wide self-examination, under the search light of the Spirit of God on her national purpose, integrity and allegiance to Jesus Christ.

It has been said here many times, and, sadly, it must be said again: America IS NOT and NEVER HAS BEEN a Christian nation. The fact that a majority of Americans may self-identify as Christian does not make America a Christian nation.  Any such claim is expressly forbidden by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  America owes no allegiance to Jesus Christ.  America owes allegiance only to its own Constitution, to the rule of law, and to the protection of the right of every citizen to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  

Wang suggests that America's fate lies in the religious conviction of its leaders.  He suggests that the President, Vice President, members of Congress, and Supreme Court Justices need only spend 15 minutes a day in prayer, and America will be healed:

Leaders of the United States must come back to God!  That old-time religion has to be once again accepted, honored, and practiced in the United States Capitol and by her people.  This is the thing that will surely save America!

To repeat: America is not a Christian nation.  It has never been a Christian nation.  At no time in the nation's history has the government of the United States sworn "allegiance to Jesus Christ."  At no time in the nation's history has any chief executive demanded faith in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the nation.  Wang's call for America's return to Christ is based on a myth, a misreading of American history, and a Dominionist ideology.  

What is most alarming in this collection of truly alarming statements by Wang is his claim that the Constitution must be subordinated to what he calls the "Constitution of God which governs the whole universe."  (I can only surmise that he means the Bible here - I've been studying theology for more than a decade and I've never heard of "God's Constitution.")

Let us be reminded that high above the Constitution of the United States is the CONSTITUTION of God which governs the whole universe!  Dare we tamper with it!  If prayer and Bible reading in our public schools are "unconstitutional," then our Constitution is unconstitutional under the Sovereign God!

Here we arrive at the true agenda of the Dominionists.  First they attempt to demonstrate a relationship between what they consider to be an unprecedented decline in American morality and the "de-Christianization" of America.  Next, they attempt to rewrite the history of the United States to emphasize its "Christian" character and issue a call for renewal.  Finally, they call for theocracy.  If the Constitution is shown to be "unbiblical" and incompatible with extreme conservative Protestant Christianity, then American constitutional democracy must be abolished and replaced with biblical law.  



Wang finally turns to public education as the prime example of America's decline:

Higher education today serves only to build up an apology for atheism.  Christian young people today continually confront human theories against the Bible; Darwin's Evolution or God's Creation?  We are not leading our young people to God through our current educational system.

[Snip]

Our education system should be operated on a God-honoring basis.  The knowledge and faith in God should be taught to our students starting from kindergarten.

This is the true intention of the Dominionists: replace the secular with the religious in every sphere of public life, including public education.  If the Establishment Clause forbids "leading our young people to God" through the public school curriculum, then the Establishment Clause should be overturned.  

The Dominionists are not content to limit religious education to the home and the church; it must be the priority of the public schools as well.  Never mind that there are adherents of other religious traditions also attending public schools.  If they do not confess Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior, they must be converted.  Never mind that the purpose of public education is to prepare citizens for life in the secular democracy that is the United States.

Again, these Dominionist positions are rooted in the claim for Christian absolutism and exclusivity.  (I hasten to add here that not all Christian absolutists are Dominionists.  But all Dominionists are Christian absolutists.)  According to this way of thinking, Christianity is the sole true religion, and therefore all other religions are false and, by extension, manifestations of evil or, as Wang puts it, "neo-paganism."  Dominionists are not interested in religious pluralism of any type, nor are they interested in dialogue with other religious traditions or peaceful cohabitation.  They are interested in conversion and in a Christian government with free license to evangelize its citizens with public funds and public means.  



Progressive Christians and even many conservative Christians, unlike the Dominionists, tend to be religious pluralists, celebrating the diversity of human religious experience and the rich treasure of the world's religious traditions.  To Wang, anyone claiming to be a Christian while refusing to profess a Dominionist ideology is not a Christian at all.  They are the worst sort of impostor: neo-pagans in Christian disguise.  Christians who do not share the Dominionist ideology and agenda are every bit as Christian as the Dominionists (and many would argue are certainly more in line with the rich heritage of Christianity than the Dominionists ever will be).  We are Christians for a reason: we find truth in the gospel and our experience of The Divine is most effectively understood by means of the Christian tradition.  We do not require or assume that others will share this experience or understand their own religious experience in Christian terms.  We do not expect others to subscribe to our worldview before valuing them as human beings, before happily calling them fellow Americans, before working together with them for a better world.  We acknowledge with humility that our knowledge of God is limited by our finitude, by the limits of our reason, and by the conditions of history.  We do not denigrate science as anti-Christian; rather, we engage in earnest conversation with science in hopes of learning all we can about the physical universe and our place in it.  We do not feel threatened by a strict separation of church and state.  We honor the Constitution of the United States and the democratic ideals of our secular Republic.  We affirm the dignity of every human being, regardless of sex, race, class, religious belief or unbelief, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, or national or ethnic identity.  Finally, it is our duty and delight to work tirelessly for peace, for justice, and for the equality of all people.

Which position looks more like the America we know and love?




Display:
Sorry for the unexplained absence last week. Computer issues know no schedule!

Thanks for dropping by.

by Mahanoy on Thu Oct 11, 2007 at 01:43:24 PM EST


Some of the Christian denominations I've had experience with, attending services regularly and occasionally: United Methodist Church, Southern Baptists, Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), Church of Christ, Church of the Nazarene, Gospel Outreach (non-denominational), Four-Square Gospel, United Pentecostal, Apostolic Faith, Seventh-Day Adventist, and others whose particular names I can't remember but distintincly recall being involved with. And most of those were during the time that I was between sixteen and twenty-two years of age. I'm fifty-two now. Around age twenty-three I did a close self-examination with this question in mind: with all that experience among such a diversified gamut of Christ-based religious faith and doctrine, could I find any reason, however tenuous, to believe that any of them were closer to the truth than any other? Additionally, was there any reason to believe in even their common foundation, the divinity of Jesus Christ? For that matter, and finally, was there any reason to believe that any such thing as a deity, however named, existed in fact? The answers I came up with: No, No, and No. Therefore, in all intellectual and personal integrity, I was compelled to shed any identity whatsoever as "Christian". I didn't call myself atheist at the time, but for many years now I have. At the same time, I have continued to study and follow religious issues and topics to a fair degree, so I consider myself informed on the subject. What's this got to do with Christian Dominionists? Just this: I understand where they're coming from, where they intend to go, how they intend to get there, and just how dangerous to society they are. In a way, at one time in my life I was a Dominionist. I sincerely believed that my role in life was to convert every single person I knew and met to my very narrow way of thinking, i.e. to fundamentalist Christianity. Furthermore it would be incumbent, upon every single convert that I made, to carry out this very same mission. That meant that eventually every single person in America would become a "Christian" also, in my very narrow definition of the term. Thus, America would finally be "won back for Jesus", and every sphere of American life political, educational, recreational, public, private, and spiritual, would finally be aligned with God's Plan. Fortunately, it didn't take me long to see what utter nonsense this all was, and I gave it up along with all religious faith whatsoever. I'm just glad I happen to live in a country where having no religious faith is allowed. So thank you, Mahanoy, for your work in Deconstructing the Dominionists. You do religious liberty and our country, and by extension all humanity at large, a good service with your honesty and compassion. Looking forward to Part IV.

by Forrest Prince on Thu Oct 11, 2007 at 03:06:38 PM EST
I think it's a fairly common one, too. It seems that all of the traditions you mention are on the conservative end of the spectrum, with the possible exception of the UMC (although some congregations in the UMC can be quite conservative). The good news is that there are Christian denominations out there who do not espouse anything even close to this type of ideology.

I appreciate the fact that you went through a period of sincere self-examination and came to the conclusions you did with a clear conscience. I went through a similar period during college, and I was able to work through that doubt with the help of a few theologians who raised the same questions that you did and gave answers based on the Christian tradition - and that kept me in the church. All that is to say that we each have our own story, and I thank you for sharing yours.

by Mahanoy on Thu Oct 11, 2007 at 03:28:16 PM EST
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