Jonathan Fitzgerald at Patrol declares that the Restoring Honor rally heralded the birth of a new national religion. David Sessions at the same magazine writes that “evangelicals…don’t really get” that they should be “far more worried about their own America-worship than they are about Glenn Beck’s theological errors.” Similar claims are easy to find at the Huffington Post or any number of other sites and blogs.
Yet I am seeing terms thrown around rather brazenly, terms like Christianism, Americolatry, theocracy and so forth. Even “civil religion” seems to be employed by some of these writers as a synonym (which it is not) for idolatry. Many of these writers believe that the Religious Right deeply wounded the Christian cause in America, so their concern is understandable. They warn of a dangerous admixture of politics and religion. Yet many (perhaps all) would defend other ways of intermixing politics and religion, such as the abolition and Civil Rights movements or contemporary social justice movements.
So in a spirit of charity and dialogue, I want to pose a set of questions:
- When does patriotism pass over into idolatry? How are you defining these terms: Americolatry, Christianism, civil religion or America-worship? What is the difference between loving, honoring, venerating, and worshiping America? We need more finely drawn categories before we can measure whether these claims are true.
- What are the healthy (if there are any) and unhealthy ways of mixing politics and religion?
- Finally, what is your evidence that conservative evangelicals have fallen into any of these things? Sessions, for one, accuses Beck of dealing in hysteria, caricature and shadowy innuendo. Perhaps he is right about Beck; I have not watched him enough to know. Lest these writers engage in the same thing, however, they need to be very clear about their accusations and they need to produce the evidence. They owe it to the accused, and they owe it to their readers.
We need to get clear on these matters, and we need to be cautious. It is all too easy – for the Right as well as the Left – for political animosity to masquerade as Christian concern or theological critique. But enmity and scorn and political rhetoric-as-usual should have no place here. This is too important. Presumably some are guilty of America-worship, but is this a fair indictment of the broader movement?
Abandoning the worship of God for the worship of America is a serious and substantial charge. Presumably the people making it have equally serious and substantial evidence. Let’s see them define their terms and make their case.