Monday, March 06, 2006

The City of God

By Michael P. Jensen
Guest Blogger

Disasters and political problems have led to some very dumb statements by some very thoughtless people.

• Televangelist Pat Robertson blames the debut of homosexual comedian/actor Ellen Degeneres’s television talk show for the insurgency in Iraq.
• This knucklehead also claims that Ariel Sharon had his stroke because he gave up parts of the West Bank in a negotiated peace deal.
• Former Nixon hatchet-man Charles Colson claims Hurricane Katrina is God’s way of saying we need to do a better job of protecting America against terrorists.
• New Orleans Mayor and closet bigot Ray Nagin said that Katrina was God’s punishment for going into Iraq under false pretenses, though he recanted that the next day.

Anyone with a bit of sense would realize that if God operated this way, he would have punished Ellen Degereres directly when she had her first homosexual experience, making sure she would never do it again. God would have hit Sharon when the deal was made, or if he is really that interventionist, stopped the deal from being made. Katrina can not tell us about terrorists. Only terrorists tell us about terrorists. And what kind of jerk would unleash his fury against people in Louisiana and Mississippi instead of the culprits in Washington D. C.?

If these men are right, one has to conclude that God is a real ass hole with lousy aim. Of course, blaming God for the world’s ills is a bad idea. It is also an old idea.

The earliest incident I know from several perspectives occurred in Rome on 410 A. D. The Goths invaded the city, the first time in 800 years that Roman citizens had been in danger from invaders. There was great wailing and gnashing of teeth, with some religious people saying this was the wrath of the gods.

That’s right, plural. They believed that since Christianity had become the state religion under Constantine, and many people had turned from the pagan gods, those gods sent the Goth invaders as punishment. How the sandal is on the other foot!

The man who argued against this silly idea was one of the most influential Christian thinkers of all time. Augustine wrote a very long book that in English is titled The City of God (come on, read it—its only 1000 pages). Augustine’s reason for writing is bigger than this one claim, but he carefully debunks it, then goes on from there.

Augustine’s point is that no society will ever be Christian enough to please God, and in an early version of the separation of church and state (though Augustine would not have recognized it as such), argues that no society will last, and no society will ever deserve our unwavering commitment, for even the best communities will be somewhat at odds with God, and will drift from God in time. The problems come when people think otherwise, and are too loyal to the state.

Pat Robertson, Charles Colson, Ray Nagin, and millions of others representing all religious movements believe otherwise. They may not be smart enough to learn the lesson that Augustine taught, but even an agnostic like myself can benefit from understanding his perspective, and from knowing there is pagan precedent for this idea.

I submit this is one of the problems with the United States today. The confusion of patriotism with fundamentalist Christianity is too well documented to need a more than a nod here. The same goes for the treatment of George W. Bush as God’s governmental spokesman. The inability of millions of people to differentiate between the will of God and the will of Bush, or to differentiate between God’s agenda and the agendas of the imperial neo-conservative movement has contributed to the current problems in the Middle East, over a million American’s slipping below the poverty line, and the loss of America’s place of influence in the free world. We need to be smarter then Pat Robertson, Charles Colson, Ray Nagin, and, yes, the Bushbaby and his cronies to turn things around. The next time some religious or political leader credits God with something that would have happened anyway, think about Augustine and be better than that.

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