The United States of America is a Christian Nation.
But how did we get this way, and what does it mean to be Christian anyway?
The following is this author’s impressions of the evolution of Christianity, based on an admittedly unscholarly understanding of the history of the religion.
Christ wasn’t very popular when he died. Sure, of the prophets of his time, he’d been gaining in popularity, culminating in his arrival at the seat of his religion, Jerusalem. But within a week he’d upset the status quo, turning over the tables of the profit-center of the priesthood. The reaction from the authorities was swift and the son of a carpenter was executed.
But there was something about what he said, or what others said he said, that would not die. He said love one another, even love your enemies. Give away your possessions so that you are not controlled by them. Care for the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the foreigner.
This message grew as little communes formed across the Roman Empire. And it challenged the power of the State. Governments, by far and large, stay in power by controlling the governed. And one of the best ways of controlling the governed is to keep them divided amongst themselves. Sew distrust, hate, fear and scapegoating and you keep the populace’s attention focused on each other, while those at the top of the economic structure continue to hoard more and more of the country’s resources.
But a religion that espouses loving and accepting is antithetical to a government that rules through divisiveness. A religion that teaches its followers to share all they have with each other (the essence of communism) threatens a hierarchy dependent on concentrating wealth into the hands of the few.
But contemporary Christianity, at least that espoused by a vocal and politically powerful ‘evangelical’ sect, now teaches division amongst the masses and not only condones, but praises the concentration of wealth into the hands of the few. How did that happen?
Well, several hundred years ago, the Roman Empire made Christianity the State Religion. Perhaps it was a matter of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. But it became ‘us against them’. Christians versus Muslims. Christians versus Jews. If you were Christian, you belonged to a group that was saved by God. If you weren’t a Christian, you were influenced by Satan. Christians versus non-Christians.
And Satan, being the devil, was to be hated, as were his followers, i.e. all non-Christians. Thus the religion of love became one of hate. Evangelical Christianity has little to do with the teachings of the son of a carpenter. It has everything to do with forgiving their own while condemning all others. And, in this sense, the United States of America is a Christian Nation. We have elected a President who calls everyone that does not support him his enemies and brands them as losers. He is embraced by Evangelical Christians who forgive him his sins and cheer his calls for violence against those who do not support him.
The son of a carpenter would tell us to repay hate with love, to love Trump and his supporters, to love the enemy, no matter what. But, then again, sometimes it is necessary to overturn the tables of the money changers and drive them out with a whip.