A long time ago, in a galaxy unfortunately not far, far away, Augustine of Hippo sat down to write a book. He called it, “The City of God.”
For his efforts in furthering the cause of religious intolerance and “just war” theory, Augustine was made a Saint. His book, the full title of which is an exclusionary masterpiece, “The City of God Against the Pagans” was a re-invention of history, a more amenable and useful history than the history of what had actually happened.
Being a man of many talents, Augustine provided, along with intolerance and just war theory, the idea that the Kingdom of God was to be equated with the establishment of the Church. And that really, this kingdom of God was for Christians only. God wanted the unbelievers destroyed, their false idols smashed.
If this all sounds familiar to you, it should. Today’s conservative Christians, who now dominate GOP ranks, are telling us the same thing of the United States, that our nation is the successor to Rome, a new Rome of god’s design. A new City of God.
Apparently, when Jesus said (Matthew 5:14), “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden,” he was talking to Americans because this version of the City of God was also meant only for Christians.
If this does not seem obvious to you, consider that it is God who chooses our presidents (and you thought we had elections). George W. Bush said that God chose him to lead our nation (actually it was the Supreme Court). General William G. Boykin also said that Bush was appointed by God. And Remember Palin’s promise that God would do the right thing for America on Election Day 2008?
The democratic system apparently has little meaning to people like this. But then, democracy comes to us by way of Pagan Greece, those same Pagans Augustine was railing against. It is a concept alien to the theocratic ideal of Judeo-Christian religion. Take not of this important point: There was no democracy in ancient Israel. Check your Bibles.
Sharron Angle (R-NV) thinks this way. So do former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul, R-TX. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) seems to be of the same mindset. It was the same God who chose Bush, after all, who told her to run for office.
There are a lot of them out there, including nonsensically named groups like “Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ.” Another important note: You can’t reclaim Oklahoma for Christ. The only legitimate “reclamation” possible for Oklahoma is Native American animism.
Of course, this brings up the thorny issue of the “facts” surrounding the creation of the United States, namely that the government was established as a secular government, not one nation under God, not in God we trust but with the shiningly optimistic and very secular motto, “E Pluribus Unum” – “Out of many, one.”
The people were almost entirely Christian – mostly protestant – Jews and Catholics were despised by the WASP electorate – but the nation they birthed was a secular one in which free exercise was enshrined in the Constitution, though Tennessee’s lieutenant governor now says it doesn’t universally apply – go figure, since it didn’t in ancient Israel or the early church either.
The point is that these early Americans did it in self defense, as a protection against the exact thing that is happening now. THAT is the America we should be trying to reclaim because it’s the only America that is possible to reclaim unless we wish to pack up our bags and leave the Continent to the Native Americans, and that is not a very practicable solution.
You’d think that would be all she wrote. But since there is no evidence to support the “City of God” model, conservatives have decided to invent some. They have taken to the task with great relish, willingly abandoning not only our own 200 years of history, but every single year since the 13th century, including the only real bright spots, the very secular Renaissance and Enlightenment periods.
And thus is born the new model “City of God” – complete with an entirely new history that, sadly, has nothing in common with the actual events of the past half-millennium or so.
The problem for Augustine was similar. The facts of the previous four centuries just didn’t match the model he was trying to create. The formation of orthodox Christianity took four centuries and it did not follow a straight chronological line from the crucifixion to Augustine’s desk. So Augustine, how shall we put it? Fudged a bit.
As historian Peter Brown relates,
“It was a prophetic truth that the church should be diffused among all nations…that the gods of the Nations should be uprooted from the face of the Earth, and that what had been sung, centuries before by King David, should now become manifest, as a public command, in the repression of pagans, Jews and heretics throughout the Roman Empire.” (Peter Brown, “St. Augustine’s Attitude to Religious Coercion,” JRS 54 (1964), 110).
Again, this sounds an awful lot like conservative rhetoric today. Just substitute pagans, Muslims and atheists. In fact, one of the complaints uttered against Obama is that he has turned away from God, or that he is not a Christian, that he is not about God’s work. Another very important fact: the president is not elected to be about any god’s work but to be about the Constitution. He swears to obey the Constitution, not the Bible.
Augustine advocated coercion. He even found what one historian calls, “theoretical justification for coercion” in the parable of the dinner party (Luke 14:16-24). We sure never read it that way in Sunday school! Here, as you may recall, the host responds to the guests (who are reluctant) by commanding, “Bring in hither the poor…Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in.” (H.A. Drake, “‘Lambs into Lions’: Explaining Early Christian Intolerance” Past and Present 153 (1996), 3.)
As Hans Dieter Betz writes, the change in system was “not in accord with history, for history had to conform to the system” (Hans Dieter Betz, “The Birth of Christianity as a Hellenistic Religion: Three Theories of Origin” The Journal of Religion 74 (1994), 16-17.
This is the lesson of Augustine’s creation of the City of God – forcing square pegs into round holes with a hammer to re-forge the world (and hammer to smithereens four centuries of conflicting history).
Today’s Christian conservatives have taken the lesson to heart, as demonstrated by some of the rhetoric making the right-wing circuit – notably in Texas. Or by the disinformation published by the Heritage Foundation and posing as history.
Christian conservatives are determined to have their City of God and they have proven that they will go to nearly any length to obtain it. Sadly, they have co-opted a major political party to drive their agenda. Moderates have been forced out. Anyone who disagrees is considered a heretic, or in modern parlance, a “terrorist,” “terrorist-friendly,” or “a friend of Islamofascism.” Their Ten Point Purity Platform even sounds a lot like a modern-day Ten Commandments.
George W. Bush went a step further and brought back the much beloved crusades, and General Boykin said our war was not against any earthly enemy, but against Satan himself. A secular United States can’t fight Satan; only the City of God can. But facts won’t stop the train-wreck.
These conservatives, Republican Party in tow, are going all out to refashion America into a Biblical paradise, which is an oxymoron when half the population is deprived of its rights and choice is considered heresy.
So if you feel badly that you missed the 13th century, don’t. If you wait around awhile, it will be coming to a town near you soon.Unless, that is, you stand up to them, and say no. Because as Edmund Burke said, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” (Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents 1770)