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December 8, 2005
By Auntie Pinko

Dear Auntie Pinko,

The right-wing fundies tell us that America's liberals have "declared war on Christmas," and that anything bad that happens to Dover, PA, is deserved because of their godless rejection of school board candidates who endorse non-scientific "Intelligent Design" as an "alternative" to science in schools. I realize that some of these are extreme positions taken by people considered nutjobs even among other fundy Christians, but the whole thing makes me wonder.

If America's fundy Christians believe that America is supposed to be a "Christian nation," what exactly does that imply? Does a Christian nation declare unprovoked war on nasty third-world dictators and kill and maim thousands of civilians in the process of "bringing democracy" to people who don't seem to want it anyway? Is democracy even Christian? The logical end to many of their assertions seems to be some kind of theocratic, top-down hierarchy without much room for dissent on anything except recipes for the church supper.

What do you think a real "Christian nation" would look like?

Sharlyn
Knoxville, TN


Dear Sharlyn,

There are as many interpretations of what is really "Christian" as there are followers of Christ. Auntie's version of a "Christian nation" would doubtless shock and outrage Mr. Robertson as much as some of his notions shock and outrage me. Just for a start, I'm not sure that the idea of a "Christian nation" is very, well, Christian. Jesus preached personal, individual transformation. He had very little to say about politics, political principals, political organization, or public policy in general, other than to identify the behavior of various contemporary political leaders as Awful Warnings.

The message of Jesus and his disciples (as I read it) is for each individual to strive to make their own actions Christlike. Some of the disciples also give advice on how the churches of their day could deal effectively with various internal questions and controversies (advice still useful for modern church administrators in dealing with internal church matters). The New Testament is silent on issues of political organization for nations and states, although it does provide some advice for Christians who experience problems in reconciling their transformed Christian life with the sometimes-uncongenial demands of their rulers.

On that basis alone, I'd have to say that my idea of a "Christian nation" would be any nation whose citizens, regardless of its laws, constitution, civic organization, public policies, etc., practiced the principles of love and compassion that Jesus preached. It is not the constitution, the laws, or the policies of a state that make it "Christian," but the actions of its citizens, as individuals, who behave in a Christlike manner.

What is a Christlike manner? A little study of the New Testament gives clear guidance - the parable of the Good Samaritan, the criticism of the Pharisees and others who reveled in public displays of piety and charity, the blessing of the widow's mite, the admonitions about the importance of the welfare of children, the exhortations to charity, the refusal to condemn the woman taken in adultery, "you visited me in prison, you eased my sickness, clothed my nakedness, fed me when I was hungry," and much other real, practical advice is the heart of the Gospels.

A nation whose citizens acted thus from their own desire to be like Jesus would be a "Christian nation," but it would also be quite impractical (if not impossible!) and Jesus didn't ask His followers to create such a nation or nations. He merely asked them to transform themselves, and to be a living example to lead others. I can't recall anything about compelling non-believers to follow that example, through laws or other forms of coercion.

But let's speculate, for a moment, about what a nation organized on the basis of Jesus' teachings might look like. For starters, it would have a strongly pacifist foreign policy, since Jesus didn't go in for violence. To survive at all in a violent world, the Christian Nation would probably have to have some kind of defense forces, but there would always be a deep reluctance to deploy them for any reasons other than to counter the most explicit and immediate hostilities, or perhaps to act as peacekeepers to deter genocide.

Such a nation wouldn't have a death penalty, of course. And its justice system would be oriented towards rehabilitation, reconciliation, and forgiveness, rather than punishment. While theft would certainly not be condoned and private property would likely be protected, it's likely that the Christian Nation's economy would be organized along lines that emphasized and encouraged collective enterprise, community and/or employee ownership of capital resources. Thus, although there wouldn't be much concentration of extreme wealth, there wouldn't be much extreme poverty, either.

A nation organized around Christian principles would structure its economy to reward those who improve the well-being of their fellow-citizens, especially those suffering from illness, poverty, etc. Since the state would be trying to emulate Christ and obey his admonitions to assist the helpless and unfortunate, there would probably be lots of programs to help families look after elderly or sick relatives, and provide community support for those who lacked family support. That's expensive - taxes might be pretty high in the Christian Nation.

Since Christ wanted His followers to convince others of the value of Christian living by the example of their own lives, rather than by forcing those others to emulate them, the Christian Nation would probably not have any laws forcing its citizens to go to church, give to charity (other than paying taxes!), etc. I imagine there would be a constant debate about whether the law should try to make it easier for Christians to live according to Christian principles. Some theological discussion would doubtless focus on the salutary effects of overcoming temptation - and thus the state should not attempt to outlaw all temptation. But it would be an ongoing, lively debate about to what extent the innocent and weak-willed should be protected from the opportunity and/or inducement to sin.

Frankly, although the Christian Nation has much to recommend it and many aspects I like, I don't think I'd want to live there! And I'm betting that not many Christians would, either - especially those Christians who regard their religion as a narrowly-prescriptive, rigid set of dicta to be imposed on everyone in the interests of promoting faith and virtue. But it's an interesting mental exercise, Sharlyn, and thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!


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