Liberty or Else

Saturday, Jennifer and I decided to get out of the house and find the best Indian food we could afford here in Chicago. That meant an expedition to the far north side of town, to Devon Street.

It was amazing, like stepping back to Dubai and Jeddah. The street was wall-to-wall Indo-Pakistani shops for as far as we could see. The scent of the food was overwhelming, and there were a few street vendors selling ices and corn on the cob. (I did not know Indians ate corn on the cob, but slathered in garlic sauce and covered with salt, some do…) Restaurants, appliance stores, travel agencies, sweet shops, book and video stores, even an international bank or two. And Saturday was the day the local community chose to commemorate Indian Independence Day, so the street was blocked off (but accessible to bicycles) and there was a parade, music, a raffle (we didn’t enter) and crowds of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus enjoying the day and ignoring the rain (it didn’t rain much).

There were a couple of Independent Baptists handing out badly printed pamphlets outlining the causes of tyranny in “Amerika”:

This nation called the United States of America has been historically examines and explained and discovered to be a Judeo-Christian based nation. Every President the United States has ever had has affirmed the importance of the bible in the life of the individual American. What Ethic or Value system do we follow Socially or Culturally? Buddhism, Islam, Humanist, Confuscian or Christian? Find a society that has a religious value system that teaches AND PRACTICES, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Only in a Christian so-called country can you find this practices among the populace in general.

Oh my. A couple of points. First, I have never understood the impulse among some social conservatives and Christian nationalists to try and use the state to legitimize scripture. I recall some preachers, pastors and believers who say the Bible is the word of God and we know in part because Congress said so in 1911 (or somesuch). As if somehow the Caesar “seal of approval” makes the Bible more valid. Here, the author of the pamphlet (a certain Brother Fort) stresses his point that Biblical values are important collectively to America because every president has said so. But is that true? And would it matter if it weren’t? And does the way presidents actually live matter as much as what they allegedly have said? Why does what the president says on an issue of faith matter anyway? I won’y pay for his sins, nor will he pay for mine.

Second, I cannot think of a human society that doesn’t practice some version or other of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In her book THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION, Karen Armstrong says that the four major civilizations of the ancient world — China, India, Hebrew and Greek — all, in the midst of the violence and chaos that is human life, created some version of “do unto others.” The Muslim forumla — a true Muslim wants for brother what he wants for himself — is actually a little more striking than the Jewish/Christian version.

Finally, I don’t see “do unto others” practiced more thoroughly and effectively here in the United States than I saw elsewhere — Saudi Arabia, Panama, secular Europe. True, honest compassion for humanity and for the wants, needs, joy and suffering of others knows no doctrinal bounds.

But let’s continue with Brother Fort’s badly written pamphlet:

The oppressed from other nations, unless willing to melt into this society and this culture .. WILL bring their oppression to these sacred shores through their religious practices and governments and cultures and thought patterns. Prove me wrong. Show me a country anywhere in the world. I challenge you. Japan is a repressive country where police can enter any home at any time.

Again, where do you start with this? It is hardly “doing unto others” to expect people to “melt.” I’m assuming that Brother Fort, if wandering around India in the hopes of finding converts, would not “melt” into its culture and society.

What the pamphlet is saying is, effectively, that immigrants refusing to become good Christians (and Baptists Christians at that) are why the country is losing its freedom. It’s a stretch to think that non-Christian migrants are somehow lessening the national freedom, given that so many alleged conservative Christians have run the country. Especially now. Are Hindus living on the north side of Chicago the real cause of warrantless wiretaps, the rail jailers at Guanatamo Bay, and the real culprits behind the Bush Administration’s grab for executive power?

And I’m sorry, even in 2001 — when the first edition of this pamphlet supposedly appeared — police in any US jurisdiction could “enter any home at any time,” warrant or not.

A little ways up on the last page, Brother Fort confidently says that Communists “cannot stand Christianity” and have tried to “eradicate Christianity from among their populaces.” He also says that “Humanists do not want a God restricting the godless actions and lusts and thus are anti-Christian.” But let’s follow the pamphlet all the way home:

The Communists will tell you that Christianity is the greatest enemy of Communism. WHY? The bible speaks of Private ownership of Land, Being free, Capitalism, Being the best you can be & Most of all being free from the bondage of this world. If Jesus makes you free, You’re free indeed.

Communists, oh my. I wan’t aware that communists still were worth fearing in 2001.

My biggest criticism with this — as with all who harp on god’s law — is the statement about God’s rules restricting the actions of the alleged godless. One conclusion I came to long ago, and one reason I am no longer Muslim, was the continuous emphasis on implementing the divine law instead of man’s law. Only then would the world be guided by justice. That, however, has a couple of logical problems for me. First, you cannot prove that what you have is really, truly God’s law. You can only assert that — it is an act of faith to believe that the Sharia’ or Deuteronomy contain the “Law of God.” Neither is provable as revelation. Second, even if you did have God’s really and for truly law, you don’t have God interpreting and enforcing it, you only crummy old sinful men doing that work. Men are no better at ruling justly by God’s law as their are the laws they make, interpret and enforce with their own minds.

To borrow Martin Luther’s sentiments on the subject, God’s Law doesn’t restrain us because it can’t. It convicts us of our sin and makes us understand the need for Grace. The 10 commandments are effectively unenforceable in a religious sense, since we are all sinners to begin with. Of course some human societies base their legal systems on what they believe to be God’s law. But “God’s Law” doesn’t restrain much of anyone.

This miserable pamphlet is just more American nationalism and collectivism, the kind of caesaropapism, state worship and country worship (“sacred soil?” who is Brother Fort kidding?) that too many alleged American Christians have become far too comfortable with. It’s idolatry, as Luther described it in the Long Catechism on the first commandment, this worship of nation and government. God-n-Country Christianity is a false religion that has misled many.