11/22/2006

America: God’s Providential Blessing or a Humanist Political Experiment?

--that is the question that is often raised in our discourse about American politics today.

Some will say that there is no doubt that God’s hand has been on America from the beginning, guiding this great country to be a light of freedom in a dark world. Some go so far as to perpetuate the myth that America was founded by Christians to be a Christian nation, but that secularists have taken over (therefore we Christians need to “take America back for God”). Others tread closely to believing that since God has ordained our nation to be the Christian light in the world, whatever we do in our foreign policy has God’s stamp of approval on it.

Others will say that America is a humanist political experiment in liberalism. Some go so far to say that religious belief is, in fact, dangerous to American politics. Others tread closely to being anti-American in their critiques of our country, echoing the sentiments of those who most vehemently oppose American policies in other nations.

This is a tension. But, like so many of the issues that face us, can we not just say it’s “either/or,” but rather say that it’s “both/and”?

As a Christian, I can affirm that America has been providentially positioned to be a light for good in the world. There is an analogy to the nation of Israel: America has been positioned by God to be a blessing to the other nations. But I can also say, in the same breath, that this does not mean that God has chosen America as his special nation as he did with Israel. God has made no special covenant with America; the New Covenant is made with His Church, not with our nation, or with any other nation.

I can also say that the analogy to Israel also goes this way: Like the nation of Israel, we need prophets that will rise up and point out the injustices of our political system, our domestic policies of taxation and spending, and our foreign policies that force our will on other nations.

So, I contend that it's a “both/and” thing: God is sovereign over all nations, including ours. He has placed America in a leadership position in the world to be a light of goodness to the rest of the nations.

But we had better be careful not to be too confident that we are on God’s side in our policy decisions; we had better humbly remember that our nation’s leaders are mere fallen men and women. As Abraham Lincoln said, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.”

We had better also remember that our nation was founded on concepts from John Locke’s political theories as they were practically implemented by the American founding fathers (who were mostly Deists).

It is both “God has providentially placed America in its position of power and influence” and “We Americans are given the responsibilty to govern justly and to make policy decisions based on reasoned deliberation and democratic pluralistic consent.”

17 comments:

General Cabbage said...

Bob,
It seems dangerous to "affirm that America has been providentially positioned to be a light for good in the world" unless you want to say the same about every ascendant nation in history past and future. In 25 years when India, China, and Brazil are the world leaders will it be Providence? If so, it seems the term becomes meaningless.

Bob Robinson said...

General Cabbage,

I understand what you're saying. And I do not deny that God may allow for those nations to ascend to global dominance.

What I'm saying is probably more in line with what Toqueville and Kuyper observed when they came here - that this has been a unique political experiment that seems providentially led by the hand of God (while at the same time being a humanist democratic endeavor).

There is no contradiction in this - perhaps God's purpose for the USA is done (maybe either the fall of Nazi Germany or the fall of the USSR was the final good that America was meant to do). Maybe God will raise up another nation (or nations) to do more of his will. The southern hemisphere seems to be the happening spot for that now.

From my Christian worldview, I see that if America were to continue on the path it has been taking (and, by this I mean something different than James Dobson's gay marriage agenda. I mean things like our recent imperialistic foriegn policy, our inability to seek justice in places like Darfur, and our domestic policies that continue to keep the poor oppressed and the rich happy), then we may well be cast out of the role we have graciously been given as a force for good in the world.

RonMcK said...

Why are those who say that America is raised up to bless the world mostly Americans? And New Zealanders who believe that New Zealand has been raised to bless the world?

Why do you assume that God needs a large powerful nation to bless the world? I thought he had a kingdom of his own for blessing the world.
Blessings
Ron

Ted Gossard said...

Bob,

I agree. It's not a case of either/or, but and/both here, properly understood.

Recently I wrote a post, and the program I link to on it, about the religious roots of American democracy, I found interestsing. It helped me to see the good in the founders of our nation, in the virtues they held from Christianity. And how it contrasts, being better in some important ways, as I remember it, than our own way of thinking, as evangelicals today.

http://communityofjesus.blogspot.com/2006/10/religious-roots-of-american-democracy.html

Thanks, and have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Bob Robinson said...

Ron,

I certainly can see how you might read my post as saying that I "assume that God needs a large powerful nation to bless the world."

That is not the case, however.

I am simply saying that if God is sovereign over all things, he is certainly sovereign over nations. Just as he can use individual people toward his ultimate ends, he can use nations of people toward his ends as well.

This does not say that America is "God's Chosen Nation," for there was only one of those (Israel), and that has been fulfilled through Christ's Church - the Kingdom of God is among us as Christians.

God uses Christians and non-Christians for his purposes, and God allows Christians and non-Christians to sin terribly.

But this does not contradict God's sovereignty, for he is still able to bring about his purposes through all these people. General Cabbage wonders, If people or nations can be evil then how can God be sovereign?

But the record shows that God uses evil people and nations just as much as good people and nations toward his ultimate purposes. God is King, soveriegn over all things, whether people and nations bow to him or not.

Bob Robinson said...

Ted,

Thanks for the link to that post. I must have missed it last month. Very good stuff.

Yes, a balanced position is needed. I really like Jon Meacham's understanding of the founding fathers - how truly getting back to their original intentions (contra the Religious Right) could help the nation significantly.

Ted Gossard said...

Bob,

What I've picked up from the book you mention, I too think is very good. Thanks.

General Cabbage said...

I am not comfortable saying as you Bob that "the record shows that God uses evil people and nations just as much as good people and nations toward his ultimate purposes." If this is the case, then it does not matter to Providence what happens in the course of nations. If "God is King, sovereign over all things, whether people and nations bow to him or not" then no one should claim Providence has picked their nation as special (whether done by Americans, New Zealanders, or Iranians).

General Cabbage said...

I will say, however/additionally, that the Political experience is unique and remarkable. It does a disservice to America and Providence to say that the american political experiment is "providentially led by the hand of God" (any more or less than the Taliban, Baathists, or New Zealanders are under God's sovereignty).

What makes the American political experiment exceptional is a mix of geographical and historical circumstances that allowed the democracy to flourish. Tocqueville was interested in why the American democracy was different than the French. Since both the France and the U.S. share cultural, ethical, religious, political, economic, philosophical roots Tocqueville was concluded that democracy in America works because of our many associations that breed tolerance and community. J.S. Mill, a great American thinker and close reader of Tocqueville argues that the exceptional American democracy flourishes because we do not allow religion to dictate our politics. Whenever religion thinks it is Right and seeks to impose its idea of Right on the rest of the nation, democracy suffers.

Bob Robinson said...

General Cabbage,

1. About my statement that "the record shows that God uses evil people and nations just as much as good people and nations toward his ultimate purposes":
The "record" I refer to is Scripture, which, as a Christian, I by faith beleive to tell an accurate account of God's dealings in history. The record there shows that God is soveriegn over all nations, and that when God's "chosen nation," Israel, failed to live up to the stipulations of the covenant, then God guided evil nations to take Israel down. The Assyrian and Babylonian captivities were by the hand of God - using even the evil intentions of these nations to judge the nation that God had chosen to be a blessing to those nations.

My modified point, taking into account your input: We cannot assume we are always on God's side, even when we seem to be "successful." You are right to point out that that would be presumptuous. Maybe we are just being used by God to do something that he deems must be done, but that does not indicate his "hand of blessing" on us.

Bob Robinson said...

General Cabbage,

2. Your point about Tocqueville should be heard loud and clear by us: "Democracy in America works because of our many associations that breed tolerance and community."

This, by the way, was the Christian political theory of Abraham Kuyper, who beleived whole-heartedly in a pluralistic society, with each "sphere" in society having their own soveriegnty, and interacting in common grace with the others.

General Cabbage said...

However, there are important axiomatic differences between Tocqueville and Kuyper. For instance, Tocqueville comes to his communitarian conclusions based on the (liberal enlightenment) assumption that we are equal and free individuals and because society is fragile we must find ways to construct political obligations as a way to preserve our liberty. Much in the spirit of Rousseau's ideas on popular sovereignty and moral liberty.

Kuyper's "sphere sovereignty" does a good job of separating chruch and state (and religion from other spheres). But sphere sovereignty still wants to maintain/promote hierarchy in society and is quite prescriptive. Sphere Sovereignty seems tolerant so long as one is behaving in the correct way for your sphere.

At any rate, whatever its virtues, the American Democracy is explicitly not sphere-oriented in its construction or practice. The (American) separation of church and state is not inconsistent with sphere sovereignty, but they spring from different intellectual assumptions.

I know you are looking for common and I applaud that effort. :-)

Bob Robinson said...

Yes,
I've become quite intrigued with the political ideas of Kuyper. I'm studying his theories at present. He has had some influence in the 20th Century in Christian political involvement, and I seek to understand his views.

Also, I'm studying Leo XIII's ideas about Subsidiarty. I hope to understand that as well. I'll appreciate any help from those here in the Vanguard!

General Cabbage said...

In John Locke's First Treatise on Government (the 2nd Treatise has most of the familiar Lockean political ideas), he offers a comprehensive refutation of Filmer's "Patrachia" and the Tories. I am not certain of the direct connections between the Dutch anti-liberals like Kuyper and the Filmerians, but there are at least intellectual similarities. It is extremely helpful to look at Locke's First Treatise to understand the philosophical roots of American Democracy. Locke argues in no uncertain terms against the Patriarchal tradition and those who use Scripture to advance hierarchy in scociety (i.e., between, men-women, parent-child, old-young, king-subject). Because God is sovereign over all, Locke says we are all equal and free as individuals.

Separate Spheres does not allow for individual equality or freedom. Instead, it emphasizes separation between spheres. This most famously is the idea behind women staying in the private sphere and men acting in the public sphere.

DLW said...

I have no problems with viewing the US as a country impacted by Christianity and that served to buttress Christian belief against the harmful effects of the 30 years war and its aftermath, including the Enlightenment attack on Christianity.

I think much of the diffs between Bob and I are in semantic differences.

Though, I would say that, in the past 30 some years, the faith-based political activism has harmed our democracy, but not because it is faith-based. Rather the problem are the relatively shallow habits of political deliberation and how that has contributed to group-think that has been too successful in crowding too many issues off the table of our elections.

I think it is Christian to view our blessings in the US as ultimately coming from God and the impact that God has had on us and that this is meant to be the source of blessings for others(like the Ukrainians), not a source of nat'l pride to be guarded at all cost.

dlw

Bob Robinson said...

General,
I must, I see, study Locke. SHEEESH! Have I got a lot to read.

dlw,
Very well said.

caucazhin said...

Well I think one thing is for certian that when a people turn away from God HE turns away from them and finds someone else to pour HIS spirit upon.Israel is the perfect example.Their rejection of the Messiah became a blessing to all the gentiles.
We can go back and forth all day about Americas "Christian" heritage,our Founders deism, secularism,politics, foriegn policy,the nEW woRLD oDOR and so forth but at the end of the day it is obvious to me that
America today in 2006 is slowly being absorbed into a body politic much larger than itself through globalization and Global corporatism.
I think Americas new religious faith is Consumerism with a capital C and it is spreading fast across the globe.
America is really now nothing more than an idea whos time has come and gone and has given birth to the even larger idea of the GLOBAL Corporate Trans National super state where national sovereignty is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
Will this rising Global superstate have a vested interest in the things of our Lord God?? Did Rome??
Perhaps when it is to its politcal advantage to do so but as Greg Boyd points out so well in his book Gods Kingdom is not of this world nor will it ever be.
I think its interesting that the parking lot at Cosco where I live is always jampacked full every hour of the day even on Sunday morning.That should tell us all something about where we're headed.