America’s god

America’s god December 29, 2011

In War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity , Hauerwas offers this sobering assessment of American Protestantism. American churches contributed massively to formation of America, but the God that Americans believe in “turns out to be the American god.” This god doesn’t need a church; in place of a church, he has providentially established a free people, and this establishment is the great historical proof of the existence and wisdom of the American god. Left and Right converge on the “presumption that America is the church.”

But the Protestantism that has taken shape in America undermines itself: “we may be living at a time when we are watching Protestantism, at least the kind of Protestantism we have in America, come to an end. It is dying of its own success. Protestantism became identified with the republican presumption in liberty as an end reinforced by belief in the common sense of the individual. As a result Protestant churches in America lost the ability to maintain the disciplines necessary to sustain a people capable of being an alternative to the world.” The Religious Right seems to stand in opposition to the world, but the appearance is deceiving: To the extent that the Religious Right promotes “faith as a necessary condition for supporting democracy,” to that extent “the faith sustained in not the Christian faith.”

Some will be surprised at Hauerwas’s declaration, “I love America and I love being an American.” But he goes on to say, “I cannot avoid the reality that American Christianity has been less than it should have been just to the extent that the church has failed to distinguish America’s god from the God we worship as Christians.”

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