Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Dawn's Early Light

Every nation has its own creation myth. In ancient history, the story would go like this: The god of such and such a people engaged in a violent, bloody, cosmic battle with an adversary, the adversary was killed, and the new nation was born. This creation event served as both justification and inspiration for that nation's future military activities.

While not as obvious in our scientifically "enlightened" modern times, the deeply religious nature of our own civil cult has similar manifestations. Pagan sacrifice is alive and well as men and women are glorified for giving their lives in military service, in an endless crusade to preserve the nation's very existence. Their sacrifice is surrounded by symbols which are invoked in reverent piety by vestment and gesture. Uniforms of rank and authority demand homage in the form of salute and stature as grand ceremonies surround the deaths of the sacrificed victims. The national anthem is also played with proper, pious pose, reminding all of the unconquerable symbol of our sacred, blood drenched origin.

While it is heroic and noble for individuals to give their lives to save others, another, deeper story is being told here, one that preaches that abundant life (or freedom, as some like to call it) is not possible without the perpetual shedding of blood, without perpetual sacrifice and perpetual violence. It is a constant cycle of creation, death and regeneration, as the undying spirit of "we the people" defeat the unending challenges to perceived rights. Friends, this is a salvation story if ever there was one.

God's story, however, is different. There was no struggle, no violence. God simply spoke and it came to be. (There is good scholarship showing that the Genesis account was written primarily to subvert the Mesopotamian creation story, a culture that constantly tempted Israel with its idolatrous practices.)

Calling things into being which were not. Calling a people his own people, which were not a people. And redeeming them with a sacrifice offered once and for all, through the free gift of his only begotten son. He offers abundant life, true freedom, now, to all of us. This is not just some hope for a distant, future utopia. This is how we are called to live now, in the midst of these other competing salvation stories and demands for allegiance.


Stephen said...

But there is something of Israel's past you left out. After getting them out of Egypt God didn't just give them the Promised Land: He made them fight for it, and it's needless to say much blood was spilled in the countless battles fought to maintain their nation, so can't say there was no struggle and no violence there. And I still just don't see where the connection is between creation myths and America; it may seem a valid illustration, but I see no more than mere opinions linking them; you can call me blind, but I'm only being honest. I may have no religious or affectionate feelings for this country, and they may have made bad choices and caused needless war countless times in the past, but I'm not ready to damn America, or any earthly kingdom for that matter, to fire and brimstone (sorry if I come across a little too fierce). There may be truth in what you're saying, but I am just not ready to accept this way of looking at things, for I don't believe worldly citizenship can even hope to contend with our citizenship in Christ. But I will continue pondering and praying.

Sara said...

Funny that you mentioned Israel's past, because I did not mention it. I was pointing to the lack of struggle in the Genesis account of creation. But in referencing Israel you reveal a deep seated trend to compare Old Testament Israel to modern nations, particularly America. America is seen as the vehicle through which God is providentially creating a world friendly to the rule of the gospel, thus justifying its wars. If you don't see this just look on the back of a dollar bill. Do you know what those symbols mean? Here is a quote from Wikipedia about the Great Seal. "The Great Seal, originally designed in 1782 and added to the dollar bill's design in 1935, is surrounded by an elaborate floral design. The renderings used were the typical official government versions used since the 1880s.

The reverse of the seal on the left features a barren landscape dominated by an unfinished pyramid of 13 steps, topped by the Eye of Providence within a triangle. At the base of the pyramid are engraved the Roman numerals MDCCLXXVI (1776), the date of American independence from Britain. At the top of the seal stands a Latin phrase , "ANNUIT COEPTIS," meaning "He (God) favors our undertaking." At the bottom of the seal is a semicircular banner proclaiming "NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM" meaning "New Order of the Ages," which is a reference to the new American era. To the left of this seal, a string of 13 pearls extends toward the edge of the bill.

The obverse of the seal on the right features a bald eagle, the national bird and symbol of the United States. Above the eagle is a radiant cluster of 13 stars arranged in a six-pointed star. The eagle's breast is covered by a heraldic shield with 13 stripes that resemble those on the American flag. As on the first US flag, the stars and stripes stand for the 13 original states of the union. The eagle holds a ribbon in its beak reading "E PLURIBUS UNUM", a Latin phrase meaning "Out of many, one," a de facto motto of the United States (and only one until 1956). In its left talons the eagle holds 13 arrows, and in its right talons it holds an olive branch with 13 leaves and 13 olives, representing the power of war and peace. To the right of this seal, a string of 13 pearls extends toward the edge of the bill." The founders of America, as well as the Puritans before them, saw themselves as a new Israel, a great new thing that God was doing in the world. The fact that Old Testament Israel and the Law were the paradigm for the new nation of America is symptomatic of the great failure to understand that the church is the true Israel of God, and the way of the cross is the means by which God is providentially advancing his kingdom. Anything more than this is another gospel.

Sara said...

Here is a more detailed account of the beliefs leading to the modern way of thinking that saw America first as a new Israel and then as a secular force of bringing a messianic like freedom to the world, by William Cavanaugh.

Sara said...

This is an easier to understand and better illustrated article about the messianism in American policy by the late John Robbins. I am still scratching my head over how Cavanaugh, a Catholic, and Robbins, a rabid opponent to the new perspective on justification, wrote essentially the same thing?????