We celebrated our independence. Well, that was the idea anyway. I think most of us celebrated a day off, fireworks, watermelon, hamburgers, ice cream, soothing adult beverages, and the gathering of families and friends. Whether or not most connected their revelries with our revolution against England and declaration of independence, is another matter.
This celebration and other instances of national ritual, habit, or liturgy if you will, brings to mind the founding myths of this republic. One of those myths is the idea that America is a new Israel, a new founding of the people of God, which implies a special relationship and privilege. It carries the idea of a new “chosen” people.
In this essay we read:
“Many of the radical Calvinists who resolved to leave England to establish colonies in the newly discovered continent of North America believed themselves to be reenacting the exodus of the Hebrews from bondage in ancient Egypt. Having freely joined in a covenant with God and resolved to build a purified church and holy city in the New World…’”
And further on we read:
“…the idea that the original colonists had come, with God’s aid and assistance, to establish a new Israel on American shores managed to persist…Minister Thomas Thacher of Boston’s Old South Church concurred with the judgment, boldly asserting that ‘we are the people that do succeed Israel.’”
Many Christians, and, indeed, even nominally religious people, over the many decades since those first Puritans and Pilgrims, still embrace this myth, if even unconsciously and loosely. However, many Christians fundamentalists and some evangelicals, explicitly, believe it to be true. It is from this founding myth, along with the idea that our founding fathers were mostly “evangelical” Christians, that we get the connection made by many Christians that America is a “Christian” nation.
It was probably this founding myth, this idea of being chosen, of being special to God that allowed so many Christians to overlook the two blood red stains that are also a part of our founding and history: the genocide of the original inhabitants (they weren’t chosen I guess) and the slavery practiced until ended by further bloodshed and civil war.
This isn’t to say that America and Americans have not also done and accomplished many good things too, but we pass over these two grave national sins at our peril. Every nation is a mixed bag, but a humble nation takes stock of its failures more than its successes. Regardless, it should give one pause, to assume a “national” special relationship to God.
There is, however, another significant nation/city in the Bible though–one we should also take notice of before we assume our nation is a type of, or heir to, the “chosen” nation—Israel. That nation/city is Babylon.
If the Church, those who worship the Holy Trinity are a, “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…” (I Peter), then there is no longer an ethnic race, tied to blood, soil or history, that can be designated as a new Israel or Jerusalem. This “holy nation” is now spread throughout the world and is mixed with and a part of every nation on earth.
Here we read:
“Babylon is a figure of the city, of the human urge to plant, build, trade, protect oneself against the elements and against outside threats…” (Pg. 194)
Seems rather harmless, but the inherent tendency is for this counter-community to try and do this as an alternative route, as a way around the selflessness and self-giving inherent in God’s economy. As noted by the tower building of Babel, it becomes an attempt to rival God and master the world by violence.
It then becomes a manifestation of the principalities and powers (Eph 6:12). And we should not assume that Babylon represents a purely secular or anti-religious empire. As to Babylon’s characterization in Revelation, here we read:
“…Therefore Babylon is a symbol of these two enemies [the sociopolitical and religious] in their most deadly form: when the harlot sits on the beast, that is, when the false religious entities, and in particular apostate Christianity, attempt to use or work with the existing political and social powers to destroy the church of Christ...” (Pg. 383)
Of particular interest, in light of the Religious Right and their alliance with the Republican Party, is the reason for Babylon’s destruction and judgment. From the same source we read:
“…[the reason] is because ‘from the wine of the rage of her immorality all the nations have drunk, and the kings of the earth committed sexual immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth became wealthy by the power of her luxurious sensuality…’” (Pg. 466)
We might interpret this to mean, the religious aspect of Babylon was in bed with the kings, with the political powers. They were sleeping together. While the merchants were made rich, these two shared the same bed and we hear nothing of their concern for the weak, the poor, or the outcast. After all, part of the merchant’s commerce included, “slaves—and human lives” (Rev. 18:13).
I think every great nation, power, or city/state, now and in all of history has been tempted to be Babylon. Perhaps there is no clear answer to whether or not America is more like an Israel or a Babylon, other than, it is always a possibility to act as either. I leave that to the reader. In my personal opinion, as she is currently situated, to me, she looks more like Babylon than Israel.