Wednesday, May 25, 2005

American Civil Religion

Interestingly the late 1940s and 50s saw an upsurge in ‘religion’. At this point over 90 percent of American citizens readily claimed affiliation with some religion or sect. But this was another sign not of God’s blessing but of his curse on our nation. To have a proliferation of churches and not a semblance of repentance or sorrow over sin is a sure sign of a deep blindness.

“Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply religious faith, “ President Eisenhower proclaimed, “—and I don’t care what it is.”

This generic religiosity and faith-talk substituted for real heart felt faith and sincere repentance and obedience. “The Howdy Doody Show” likewise encouraged its young watchers to worship “at the church or synagogue of your choice.” This civil religion really was fairly innocuous simply because they got along so well. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews (the big three in America) all had leading figures who spent most of their time condemning the Great Red Menace, Communism, when immorality and decadence of all stripes and flavors was spilling out of the American family.

And just to make sure, in 1954, Congress added the phrase “under god” to the Pledge of Allegiance because Atheism was the official religion or faith of the Communist party. Of course it is fairly ironic that the aurthor of the pledge was himself an athiestic socialist, but hey, that's how it goes.

It should be fairly clear from what we’ve already seen that this was never meant to be an exclusive reference to the Christian Trinitarian God; no, it has always meant the generic ‘god’ that the masses of Americans believe in with no distinctive claims or demands for anyone. As others have pointed out very clearly, this is the same god that is invoked in the National Cathedral, the god of American Muslims, Jews and far too many Evangelicals.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005


In Genesis 35:8-11 shortly after Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, dies, God appears to Jacob, changes his name to Israel, and gives himself the name God Almighty. What I noticed recently was the fact that God's name God Almighty is El Shadai. In the context of the previous couple of verses it seems likely that a pun may be intended. Deborah was Rebekah's nurse, literaly "Rebekah's one who gave suck". "Shod" is the word in Hebrew for breast, and maybe this is a stretch, but God is also our 'nurse' in some sense. Israel literally means 'God preserves or perseveres', and there is a very real sense in which a nurse does the same thing. Just after Rebekah's nurse has died, God reveals himself as El Shadai, and shadai has the same root letters with an extra suffix. I'm not necessarily arguing against the translation 'almighty', I just think there's more going on than the English can reveal. Neat indeed.


Saturday, May 21, 2005

Jacob and the Angels

In Genesis 32, just after Laban and Jacob have made their peace, the angels of God meet Jacob as he is going on his way. Jacob recognizes that he is surrounded by the presence of God and names the place 'The Camp of God' (32:1-2). However in the next verse, most tranlsations read, "Then Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother..." But the word for messengers is the exact same word as angels. It seems incredibly odd to assume a change of characters here. It seems rather that Jacob sent the angels of God ahead of him to Esau, and these same angels returned to him in verse 6 to advise him of Esau's approach with four hundred men.

Jacob's stature is furthmore impressed at the end of chapter 32 when he wrestles with God. The man that wrestles with God is surely suited to command angels. Jacob is an ancient picture of the status of Christians, placed over all things, even judging the angels in Christ (1 Cor. 6:3).