Monday, September 17, 2012

If This is "Christian Patriotism"....




 Bob Revere is the Mayor of Mount Columbus, a one-stoplight town in the Rocky Mountains. As a young man, Bob fought in the Vietnam War. He was proud to see his only son, Tom, enlist in the Army, but ambivalent when the 20-year-old was sent to fight overseas. Those misgivings were amplified by the fact that Tom was newly married, and his wife Kari was expecting the couple’s first child.
Just weeks before Tom’s first combat tour was to end, the Revere family (which by that time included Kari and the newborn grandchild, Christian) was visited by a U.S. Army Notification Team. This is how Kari learned that she was a widow. Driven by grief from her hometown, Kari relocates to California to raise Christian as a single mother.
Fourteen years later, Kari and Christian return to Mount Columbus.  The young man is understandably determined to learn why he had never known his father.
“What did my Dad die for, Bob?” Christian asks his grandfather.
“That’s what happens in war,” is Bob’s quietly evasive reply.
“No – I mean why did he die?” Christian persists.
That question leads Bob Revere to ponder the perverse inversion of nature described by Herodotus: “In peace, sons bury their fathers; in war, fathers bury their sons.”  Why is it, as he comments to a friend, that young men and women are dying overseas, yet “our rights are being taken away, one by one”? He concludes that the country he loves is descending into tyranny because “we’re letting it happen.”
This epiphany motivates Bob to take an inventory of his convictions. He had often pondered the irony that the freedoms he once enjoyed are evaporating despite “the sacrifices of those who fight for our country.” Now he understands why James Madison described war as the most dreadful of all enemies of liberty, and warned that “no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
Most importantly to him, Bob suddenly understands that the reflexive jingoism of many American Christians brings disrepute to the faith they profess, and the Name of the Lord they revere.
“Have you ever noticed that the mere mention of ‘Jesus’ nowadays seems to rub people the wrong way?” Bob muses to a friend. “Well, I’m very tired of not standing up for what I believe in.”

“I had been a coward – passive, and even selfish,” Bob reflects. “I had kept thinking about my son. Now is the time to honor his sacrifice.”

The most appropriate way to honor Tom, Bob decides, is to become a peacemaker. He commits to living the Golden Rule both as a private individual and, as Mayor of Mount Columbus, in his public capacity. Those who follow Jesus of Nazareth cannot commit or condone aggressive violence. 

For the first time, Bob understands that it is obscene for American Christians to send their sons overseas to kill people who have never harmed or threatened us in any way. He begins to speak out in opposition to Washington’s wars abroad and its escalating assault on what remains of liberty at home. 

Invoking the ancient Christian principle of sanctuary, and the Jeffersonian principle of interposition, Bob announces that Mount Columbus will be a refuge for members of the U.S. military who, for reasons of conscience, refuse to participate in criminal aggression overseas. He also makes it clear that his municipal government – including its police department -- will not cooperate with the enforcement of the USA PATRIOT Act, the “indefinite detention” provisions of the NDAA, or any of the myriad enactments through which the regime in Washington is making war on the American people. 

Predictably, this attracts the attention of the media, and provokes severe official reprisals. Bob is fired by the City Council. The charity mission his family runs is shut down by the health department for contrived and patently bogus reasons. After making an impassioned public speech from the roof of his shuttered mission, Tom is led away in handcuffs and spends Christmas in jail. 
Bob Revere is the central character in the new film “Last Ounce of Courage.

 The foregoing quotes attributed to Bob were taken directly from the film, in which the character takes what we’re told is a heroic stand against the secularization of Christmas. 

Although the character did end up in jail, it was for actions quite different than those described in the narrative above. Rather than repudiating the Warfare State, the character of Bob Revere unabashedly embraced it -- while promoting facile acts of public piety that did nothing to advance the substance of the Christian faith.

We’re invited to believe that a small-town mayor who sets up a huge Christmas tree in the town square, and puts a large cross inscribed with the phrase “Jesus Saves” on a rescue mission that he owns, would provoke a national scandal and wind up disgraced, thrown out of office, and behind bars. 

Much of the film is a melodramatic riff on the “War on Christmas” theme promoted by Fox News blatherskite Bill O’Reilly (who has a cameo). It’s true there are people associated with the puritanical Left who would love to use the power of the State to extirpate Christmas celebrations – just as their counterparts on the statist Right would make such observances mandatory

In the universe we inhabit, however, there is no way that a mayor who behaved as Bob Revere did in the film would have the kind of trouble he experienced. That kind of treatment, however, would quickly befall a mayor who acted on his Christian faith by confronting the Warfare State. In fact, as a recent essay in Small Wars Journal illustrates, the Pentagon is preparing mount a full-spectrum military onslaught against any municipality that rebels against the imperial Capital. A real-life Bob Revere who became a genuine Christian statesman would quickly be designated an “unlawful enemy combatant” and murdered by way of a drone strike. 

If the producers of “Last Ounce of Courage” had been interested in creating an authentic drama, rather than a risible work of militarist agitprop, they could have told the story of Rev. Clarence Waldron, a theologically conservative Christian whose real-life sufferings were at once similar to, and much worse than, those experienced by the fictional Mayor Bob Revere. 

In October 1917, the execrable Woodrow Wilson, had managed to maneuver the U.S. into World War I, commanded churches across the nation to commemorate an event called “Liberty Loan Sunday,” during which collection plates would be circulated to gather a war offering on behalf of the government.

At the time, Waldron was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Windsor, Vermont. Like many other theologically conservative Protestants, Waldron was devoutly opposed to American involvement in the European war. 

To his eternal credit, Waldron defied Wilson’s demand that he decorate the sanctuary of his church in the imperial colors and sing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Rather than offering a homily on the supposed virtues of state-licensed murder, Waldron preached the Christian gospel. The offering taken in his congregation was used to provide for the ministry and the needs of the poor. 

The consequences for Waldron’s peaceful non-cooperation were swift, predictable, and severe. 

As Vermont historian Mark Bushnell relates, following the service a mob swarmed Waldron in front of the church and forced him to swaddle himself in the flag and sing the National Anthem.

Shortly thereafter, Waldron was evicted from his position as pastor, in large measure because of suspicions regarding his "loyalty" to the "god" revered by adherents of the Social Gospel -- the American State.

In December 1917, Waldron – who had never committed a crime against anybody -- was indicted by a federal grand jury for violating the Espionage Act. Passed the previous June, that measure imposed prison terms of up to 20 years for any act or statement perceived as willfully obstructing "the recruiting or enlistment service of the U.S."

The specification against Waldron was that "he had once been heard to say 'to hell with patriotism.'" As Waldron admitted on the stand, he had uttered those words -- in condemnation of Kaiser Wilhelm's regime in Germany.

"If this is patriotism," a disgusted Waldron had told his acquaintances after describing Wilhelmine Germany, "to hell with patriotism."

Waldron was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison, eventually serving a little more than a year behind bars. Of the roughly 1,000 Americans convicted under the World War I Espionage and Sedition Acts, Waldron was the first to be imprisoned exclusively for his religious beliefs.

Veritas Entertainment Company, which produced “Last Ounce of Courage,” describes itself as committed to the promotion of “Family, Faith, and Freedom.” Wouldn’t a production company claiming that high and noble calling be interested in dramatizing the official persecution of Rev. Waldron? Probably not, given that Veritas – like the Megachurch-centered variant of Protestantism that produced it – is devoted to evangelizing on behalf of the Warfare State. 

In the April 26, 1917 issue of Christian Century – published shortly after war was declared on Germany – contained the following lines composed by William P. Merrill that encapsulate the bellicose nationalism of “Progressive Christianity”: 

The strength of the State we'll lavish on more, than making of wealth and making of war; We are learning at last, though the lesson comes late, That the making of man is the task of the State.

“Last Ounce of Courage” is advertised as a Christian film. In fact, it promotes a variety of pagan nationalism similar to that peddled by Kaiser Wilhelm’s government. To understand this cynical bait-and-switch, it’s useful to examine the film’s final act.

Bob’s grandson, Christian, and several other high school-age students decide to sabotage the secularized Winter Play, a genuinely bizarre opus involving a visitation by space aliens. Without informing their drama teacher – whose elongated sibilants and fey manner make him a stereotype worthy of “The Producers” – the students stage an unauthorized dramatization of the Christmas Story from the Book of Luke.

After the rebellious students recite the familiar Christmas benediction “Peace on earth, good will to men,” Christian strides onto the stage and introduces the last video postcard his father had sent from Iraq, which is projected on a large screen. 

“The people over here can’t even celebrate Christmas,” Tom insists by way of explaining why he had left his wife and son to wage war on the other side of the globe. (No mention is made, naturally, of the role played by the U.S. Government in fomenting the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.) As Tom attests that his mission has been worth the suffering he and his family endured, he is killed on camera by an artillery strike.

After Christian brings out a United States flag, the same audience that had greeted the Nativity play with mild amusement and sedate enthusiasm rose to its feet in tribute to his father’s sacrifice. 

This moment, which plays like a communion service, encapsulates the moral message of the film: The “true” meaning of Christmas is found not in Christ’s promise of redemption from sin, but in the supposedly redemptive violence carried out by the armed emissaries of the Imperial State. Permanent war is our natural condition; killing and dying on behalf of the State is the highest and holiest calling.

“Last Ounce of Courage” is targeted at Republican-aligned Evangelicals who insist that Islam is a doctrine of warfare disguised as a religion. On the evidence of this film one would be led to believe that this description applies to Christianity. The film could be considered a photographic negative of “Joyeux Noel,” the exquisite French film depicting the 1914 Christmas Truce. Its core audience – assuming it finds one – would be the kind of pious, church-going militarists who booed Ron Paul’s invocation of the Golden Rule during last January’s Republican presidential debate in South Carolina

To paraphrase Rev. Waldron: If this is Christian patriotism, to hell with it. 

Note: This is a re-edited and clarified version of the original essay.






Dum spiro, pugno!

20 comments:

JeffS said...

The spread of Christianity is due, almost exclusively, to the warfare state.


I'm surprised to see you use the phrase "puritanical left". I'm really having a hard time reconciling its use by someone who comes across as intelligent and rational. I can only conclude that a discussion of religion changes everything.

James Redford said...

Hi, William N. Grigg. I give extensive analysis of state-worship by ersatz Christianity in pp. 48-49 (with a footnote that continues to p. 50) of Sec. 7.4.3: "Ha'Mashiach" and especially Sec. 8.1.2: "Life with God" of my following article on physicist and mathematician Prof. Frank J. Tipler's Omega Point cosmology:

James Redford, "The Physics of God and the Quantum Gravity Theory of Everything", Social Science Research Network (SSRN), Sept. 10, 2012 (orig. pub. Dec. 19, 2011), 186 pp., http://ssrn.com/abstract=1974708 .

By the way, Mr. Grigg, your description of the characters in the movie Last Ounce of Courage seems to be mixed up in certain parts. Is Tom the one who died in war? Is Kari Revere Tom's wife and Christian their son, with Bob being Christian's grandfather and Tom's father? You seem to have substituted the name Tom in place of Bob in certain passages.

William N. Grigg said...

James -- I did transpose Bob and Tom's name in several places, and I've re-edited the piece. Thanks for your help.

JeffS -- I'm hardly the first to use the phrase "puritanical left." I seem to recall that my first encounter with the expression was in an essay by Sidney Hook, whose worldview can hardly be considered religious, at least in a conventional sense.

One of the essays to which I link points out that the original Puritans adamantly opposed the celebration of Christmas, and did what they could to suppress public displays of Christmas symbols. I've met self-described civil libertarians who display similar zeal in pursuit of very similar objectives.



willb said...

U.S. "Churches" have sold the truth for an IRS tax exemption.
They'll tell you that Jesus died for your sins and then tell
you to die for your country's sins.

As for Christmas, it has been a state feast from the get go:

Revelation 11:10
And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them,
and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because
these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.

willb said...

as for the "puritanical left,"
it now goes by the moniker
"evangelical right."

The witch hunt continues . . .

MoT said...

I almost choked on the names alone. Revere? Christian?... Oh puhleeze! It's so over the top that it makes me want to scream, "Enough already"! And I'm glad that I learned something new about Rev. Waldron. Seems someone back then actually knew what he was talking about and only served to reinforce Mark Twain and his lament through the "War Prayer".

Anonymous said...

Scribner's "Commentator" is an old magazine. I only have a couple, Nov 1941, I Made War Propaganda, by Lillian Gish.

Thanks for the article.

evin said...

Great article Will. I grew up in a non-religious environment and was exposed to, and learned to despise, the kind of Christians in the movie you write about. If it wasn't for your thoughtful writing I probably would still have deep feelings of animosity to what I considered another despicable religion in a world full of them.

But now I find myself in awe of the stories and narratives in the bible and christian theology that I hardly knew existed like the wonderful actions of the venerable Rev. Waldron. I am still not a follower of any religion though I'm not prone to follow much but my own conscience and the pursuit of good will, peace and love; but when I hear a great story of a heroic figure like the reverend doing what is right in the face of such tyranny I find myself deeply respecting the moral nature of the religion he believed. Ironically, I can't help but think that I may be more christian, in the vein of Rev. Waldron, than the great number of fools out there saying they are.

To me one of the most interesting things about the abrahamic faiths is the unknowable nature of god except for what you can surmise through your individual soul and coupled with the humility of never admitting certainty as to the truth of god.

I can't see how these people can honestly behave the way they do towards the military without considering the messiah's own travails with the central authority in Rome. Waldron was certainly acting out in a christ-like fashion. Cajoling your children into joining the the legion because the state embodies the goodness of your religion seems the opposite.

Anyway, you clearly work hard on your blog entries and I always enjoy reading them and learning from them so I thought I would take the time to thank you. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I am very confused by even the re-edited article. Did Bob confront the warfare state or not? At first he does, then he didn't -- I thought you were describing a real character whose motives were distorted by the film about him. Then later he's a completely fictional character.

William N. Grigg said...

The narrative thread in my article got tangled up quite a bit -- which is entirely my fault, of course. Bob is a fictional character; Rev. Waldron is not. Bob embraced the warfare state, but got in trouble because he insisted on public (albeit non-exclusive) celebration of Christmas as a religious holiday.

Phil L. said...

I really want to like this article but I'm really confused. Is the sanctuary status and the outcry against unconstitutional, orwellian doctrines frequently decried by liberty folk really something in the movie that epitomizes Bob's motivation?

So is Bob vilified by his grandson in the end?

Its just not reading right in spite of it being an excellent rebuttal of Christian patriotism/nationalist paganism

William N. Grigg said...

Phil, I've added a transitional paragraph (right next to the photo of Bob Revere on the rooftop) that should clear things up.

Once again, I regret the unintended difficulty I've inflicted on my readers.

Phil L. said...

Don't worry about it William. You articulated your points profoundly so I encourage you to keep it up in this vein of topic and contrast. I found this through Revolution PAC...This makes some points I haven't seen ANYWHERE in 'christian' blogoworld and it really hits home... Keep it up brother.

I think the fix now merits some sharing of the article on my part.

Bilejones said...

"As a young man, Bob fought in the Vietnam War. He was proud to see his only son, Tom, enlist in the Army,"

Generation after generation of morons.

Mark Call said...

An interesting piece, Will, but there is another REALLY big irony that needs to be pointed out here:

"If this is Xmas..."
then it's ultimately just as pagan as the other parts of the story are jingoistic.

Certainly, Yahushua the Savior was NOT born on December 25th (the purported birthday of Sol Invictus Mithras, et al) or indeed anywhere close to it. He was born during the Biblical feast of Sukkot (aka "Tablernacles", or "Booths" - or even "Mangers" in the Olde English) as can be readily shown from Scripture. (As can the converse.)

In fact, Scripture forbids combining the pagan with the set-apart ('holy') and celebrating His feasts in ways that He so clearly says are offensive to Him.

But the irony is that you have a movie here which commits abomination AND distraction:

Glorifying the Warfare State and the Licensed State Church that commits idolatry in His Name. And sadly, "Christians" today are as oblivious to His Word and His "Appointed Times" as they are the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

liberranter said...

I recently, out of the blue, received a phone call from the pastor of the Baptist church that I attended for about six months before leaving after being unable to suffer their incessant state-worship. When he asked why I had left his church, I finally laid it on the line. While not the only motivation for leaving, I told him that his exhortations from the pulpit to take hold of the perverse misreading of Romans 13 were insufferable* and that his 9/11 10th Anniversary Commemoration Service last September, in particular, was the last straw and almost made me get up and walk out of church altogether. He seemed genuinely baffled that such a thing would upset me*, but having learned shortly before leaving his church that he was a Bob Jones "University" (HAH!) graduate does a great deal to explain this cluelessness. (His church's "Bible studies" consisting of reading best-selling books about the Bible rather than the Bible itself was the other key factor in my deciding to look for worship elsewhere. So far, it's been a fruitless search.)

My point is that this sort of blindness on the part of the 501(c)(3) corporations masquerading as churches is institutional and unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. In fact, it will probably get much worse, with churches like those of my ex-pastor turning into nothing other than the Reichsskirchen of the Nazi era in Germany, where pastors' messages are essentially vetted by agents of the State. Any deviation from the warvangelical message will result in sanctions similar to those suffered by Reverend Waldron, probably to be shared by congregation members who echo them.

The silver lining: we just might start seeing a re-emergence of the New Testament church; that is, persecuted groups of individuals who worship the Prince of Peace and the message contained in the Four Gospels rather than the State's superimposed Great National Religion perversion of it.

(*I recommended Laurence Vance's Christianity and War to my former pastor and might just send him a copy - not that he'll read it or be influenced by its message.)

Lemuel Gulliver said...

Hi Liberranter,
Just revisited to see what's going on - seems you are the only one of the old faithfuls still here. Will G. has not lost his touch, I see. As powerful as ever. Sorry to hear of your disillusionment with your last church. Keep looking - you may yet find one that is sincere enough to appeal to you. Sadly, you and evin above are both suffering from the perversion of the transcendent message of the Prince of Peace, which occurred at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. There, the Emperor Constantine demanded that the Christian Churches work out a canon of doctrine that would allow the Emperor to control the Christians in his Empire and bend them to his political will. The resulting "Christian" faith is only a shadow of the glorious and holy message of The Nazarene Jesus. Not to worry too much - be true to your heart and you will be walking in His Light. I hope you can find a community of faith that follows His true teaching, but I for one have never succeeded. I have ended up disappointed in every church I ever attended. I just go my own way - my pigrimage in this life is a matter only between me and God. Jesus Himself said that the only two commandments that matter are to love thy God and love thy neighbor as thyself. (He then gave the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate a good neighbor.) Follow those precepts, and everything else in Christ's message will fall into place.
Be well,
Lemuel Gulliver.

Mark Call said...

Actually, Lemuel...He NEVER put the word "only" in that sentence! What He said is that those two things were (to put it mathematically) -
Necessary, but not Sufficient. They are, in other words, the place to start.

See Matthew 5:17-19!

He also said that - so long as heaven and earth still exist, and they still do! - not "one yod or tittle" - not the smallest part -- of His "instruction" ("torah" in the Hebrew) would pass. And He said, (John 14:15), "IF you love Me, keep My commands."

The "church" has failed so miserably because it tries to teach that He "did away with" His own "law" (torah) -- when He said no such thing.

Tim said...

"Christianity is always spread by warfare" is the same straw man attack that has pervaded this country for the last decade, brought on by people like the ones who made this movie. The fact is that if someone is not acting in faith, hope, and above all else love, then they are not acting in the name of Christianity even if they say they are. The same can be applied to the Muslim extremists that the US created.

Anonymous said...

willb....I will not die for my nations sins because Jesus died for all of our sins on an individual basis.
My heart breaks because our nation sends our young men and women to war. It crushed my heart to see a young bride laying over her husbands flag draped coffin grieving. The grief is beyond explanation.