Is America Free?

fThe spark of this article is a lecture we held at West Loop entitled “Homo-liturgics (Understanding our humanity through the act of worship and the litrugy).” A Liturgy is a sacrament, ritual, a form of public religious worship. Liturgies denote what is valued by the worshiper. We discussed the liturgies of the church, represented by the Christian Calendar such as Easter, Christmas, Pentecost, etc. And then we have the liturgies of the state; if we look at the US calendar we see Valentine’s Day, Super bowl Sunday, Black Friday, Memorial Day, etc. We see the values of capitalism, nationalism and consumerism.

Before we began our lecture we read a chapter from James KA Smith’s book, “Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation.” In the first chapter, “Homo Liturgicus” Smith proposes that first and foremost humans are lovers, not thinkers and believers. There is a huge gap between our knowledge and our actions. Most of our lives are live out of habit, on auto pilot. And our habits are the fulcrums of our love.

Walking down Michigan Avenue, one will see the gods of capitalism and consumerism held in their temples of Gucci, Jimmy Choo and Apple Stores. We discussed the question of whether America is a Christian nation. And even more importantly is there such thing as a Christian nation? We talked about the cross in the US being painted red, white and blue. We discussed the art on the White House. In particular there is the “Progress of Civilization” by Thomas Crawford on display in the pediment over the east entrance to the Senate Wing of the US Capitol http://www.aoc.gov/capitol-hill/other-sculpture/progress-civilization-pediment.

In the center it shows the figure of America an eagle and the sun. On the left, one sees the progress of the white man from a child, to merchant, to soldier, to mechanic. On the right, however, it portrays an Indian chief, mother and child and finally an Indian grave. When you assess the art work of the white house you will see who/what is valued, what race is glorified. Nationalism in any form is inherently racism because it implies that one race deserves the power. Innocent blood is always shed for a nation to be formed; read the history of the US, Turkey, Israel, etc.

One of my pet peeves is a myopic view of US history. It’s as if people think the civil rights movement ended in the 60’s and it’s a topic that need not be opened anymore. Someone yesterday was pestering me with statistics proving the greater likelihood of being shot by a black man as opposed to a white man. As if being black means one is more likely to be trigger happy and jail prone. As if white/asian people would have never succumbed to violence if the tables had been switched historically.

Read a comic about racial privilege here: http://digitalsynopsis.com/inspiration/privileged-kids-on-a-plate-pencilsword-toby-morris/ People forget how slaves were beaten and mutilated for running away. Or the fact that the US is so rich because it was built on the backs of slaves (free labour). Or the fact that buses and restaurants were still segregated in the 50’s and 60’s.

Read more about racism in the US today here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/28/opinion/nicholas-kristof-is-everyone-a-little-bit-racist.html?_r=0.

Of course, I’m not saying that there is no such thing as personal responsibility of sin or that if you’re black you’re automatically innocent of any wrong because of the past injustices in US history. I am not saying all white people are evil or that they never are on the receiving end of injustice.

What I am saying is that “white privilege” is an academic term describing phenomena that does exist empirically. I still remember how my friend told me, when her family were driving a rented car in southern Illinois they were stopped and held at gun point because the police thought they stole the car. When people talk about “white privilege” don’t take it personally and be offended. Racism nowadays exists but it has become internalized. People aren’t even aware of their racist tendencies and that is what makes it all the more threatening. There is no hope for resolution if there is only denial of any wrong doing.

These are the thoughts that have been running though my head especially on the 4th. I am a US citizen and my heart soars whenever I read the preamble to the declaration of independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,  that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But I would add that these rights are not unique to only a certain color or even just to Americans, but to every human, every race, tribe, language, etc. I want to finish this with a quote by Azar Nafisi, an Iranian.

“Have I made it clear enough that people, no matter where they come from, all like to be free? That freedom is not a Western idea? There was one more thing about that myth the myth of America, that I wanted to mention. The way some people talk about so called Muslim societies as if they are sort of trapped by what they call culture and religion, and there is no way that they can change. But this is a double standard, because we should remember that in the West, in the mid-nineteenth century, women did not have the right to vote, that there were many people in the U.S. and Europe who were saying that a woman’s place was in her home, and that the Bible says so. America has a history of slavery until the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the buses and restaurants were segregated and a lot of blood was shed in order for African Americans to gain equality. And the arguments that were used against women and against abolition are the same kind of arguments that are now used against change in relation to women’s rights in Muslim majority countries. Because, if Sharia laws are Muslim culture, then slavery and burning witches in Salem are the culture of this country, not Emerson and Thoreau and Martin Luther King. And the Inquisition is the culture of Europe, not St. Thomas Aquinas or Dante or Cortes. People should understand that we have our Hafez and Rumi and great poets and great philosophers, and that we also have a set of traditions that are regressive and oppressive and need to be changed (Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran, pg 368).”

What is your view of US history? What is your view of “white privilege”?

Additional Resource:

This is a lecture by a Moody Professor Dr. Michael Mcduffee entitled, “White Privelege: A Sacred Legacy of America’s Civil Religion.” The power point presentation is also on the link.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cl_edM2gaeQ

 

 

11 comments

  1. Thank you for bringing this up. Here in Europe we are facing similar discussions now that waves of refugees from Africa and war-torn countries like Syria are flocking to Europe. How Europeans are dealing with them is shameful. Today our German president called the behvior of many Germans towards them disgusting.

    It’s always the same root issue: Not having empathy for fellow human beings, just because they come from another country or have a different skin color.

  2. forestsfailyou
    forestsfailyou

    I think there are far too many things I could mention, some of them I feel I could say a lot about- but I think there is something yet I can say on nationalism. Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it. Before about a year ago I would have said I was proud of America because she was the “best”. That is nationalism, patriotism if you like. They are not real reasons. But within the last year I was given reasons. When I was in the Philippines I had a very old woman who thanked me so much for America, because Americans had saved her from Japanese occupation as a girl. Another Korean man on a plane thanked me for helping South Korea gain freedom so that it didn’t fall to North Korean; a war that I didn’t fight in- but my grandfather before me did. These are things that make me proud to be an American.

    But these events far from excuse the civil rights issues facing America. If they do anything they hold her to a much higher standard. If we can send a generation to die in Vietnam for an ideal of freedom for a people who didn’t quite even understand why communism is bad, why can we not find the death of Americans on its own soil even contemptible? It defies reason.

  3. MJ Peace

    Is interesting that you share the positive responses you received for being an American in Asia. While I was in Turkey, I go the opposite effect, to the point where I told people that I was “Filippino” and not American. Actually, in one Education class there was a presentation about Turkish history and the group presenting blamed a few problems on the Western missionaries who had come to infiltrate Turkey. Learning history from an eastern point of view was very enlightening.

    Not only that, but the US’s presence in Philippines was very controversial. US aid came at a time when the Philippines was starting to become a nation. Instead of learning independence, the Philippines learned dependence on the US. The history of US interaction in the Philippines is not the most pleasant, especially around the military bases. Many women were taken advantaged of and many children were left fatherless. Anyway, I don’t want to bash the US. I just want to say that there are two sides to every issue. And we have to be honest about our issues.

    P.S. Do you guys know where that photo is from? It’s from “American History X.” If you haven’t seen that movie I highly recommend it!

  4. “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” Chinua Achebe, Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, critic and author of Things Fall Apart.

  5. This is a weighty article, MJ with many thoughts. So it has taken me some time to think through some things. Here are my reactions.

    liturgy – I’m glad to hear the exploration of liturgy. I find myself longing for the liturgical Catholic services of my youth. Such a worship style is indeed healthy and good to experience. Pastors would be far less burned out if they put down their sermon-ating for a while and looked into various expressions of liturgical worship.

    humans are lovers, not thinkers and believers – I really like this perspective. I once arrogantly thought I could understand all things with my massive brain. I found out that to feel a thing is far more meaningful than to explain a thing. We simply are emotional beings. When our emotional IQ is low, human relationships will be difficult to enrich or even maintain.

    I see three questions that are worth deeper discussion. But here are my initial thoughts on the first question.

    “Is there such thing as a Christian nation?” – If we take the term nation as it’s normal meaning, then my answer is a resounding no. The term means: a large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory.

    Scripture is rather clear: People of faith are not looking to build a nation or city of their own on earth. They are looking forward to a heavenly dwelling. (see Hebrews 11:13-16)

    The only way to say there is a Christian nation is to redefine “nation”. This of course is what I and nearly all ubfers did in KOPAHN. We wanted a holy nation on earth. We wanted a utopian society that looked like ubf. We wanted all people to adhere to the 12 point spiritual legacy of ubf. I think now God is ashamed of such a thing. The Christian people are not a people defined by a specific culture, or a specific language or a specific territory of land. We are defined by our faith.

    • MJ Peace

      I agree with what you say about nations.
      Nationalism is very dangerous.

      The Church (big C) is not “a large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory. We are united by our value system and love for Christ. There is so much diversity in the church, as we see in the Trinity.

  6. The next question…

    “What is your view of US history?” This is rather open ended. In terms of what? In terms of events, I see the commonly taught events about escaping the tyranny of Great Britain–Columbus sailing, the tea being thrown into the river, Paul Revere, the Declaration of Independence,etc. Those are events of history that helped form the United States. By the way, something that goes overlooked often when Christians discuss US history: America refers to the continents (North and South) and includes the nations of Canada, US, Mexico, and a total of 35 countries when North America and South America are combined. America does not equal just the United States.

    There are other events however that are often not discussed or taught. We should learn US history from the perspective of the Native Indians or the African slaves or the women of the time. That gives us a much more sober and correct view of US history.

    The US was most certainly not founded only on Christian beliefs and as a Christian nation. The US was founded with the thoughts behind the “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” concepts. It was more of a freedom from religion. The US was founded in a hotbed of divisive issues and it seems miraculous a nation even emerged from that time.

    However it is also clear that during the Civil War especially, religion and Christian faith were an important part of the healing that took place. And even though I do not believe in the validity of a “Christian nation” I do believe there is something to be said for asking God’s protection/blessing on a community or nation. Some interesting thoughts along this line of thinking are on the US Treasury – Education – In God We Trust.

    I have much to learn and much to say but my comment is getting long :)

  7. My Sunday musings continue :)

    “What is your view of “white privilege”?”

    Well I first of all admit I lived most of my life oblivious to white privilege. I have often been racist and thought nothing of it.

    One reason I am willing to be an activist for The Reformation Project (led by Matthew Vines) is that Matthew and the other leaders of the project insist on being allies for all oppressed people–LGBTQIA, blacks, women, Latinos, mentally challenged–anyone oppressed. That is why I think they could help me on my journey of recovery from undue religious influence at ubf.

    If you look at my list of oppressed people you will see my built-in racism. To use the term “black” or “Latino” is not correct. But that’s my whiteness speaking.

    During one of the cohort sessions, our Reformation group played the “Race Game”. We had about 30 people. It was shocking and sobering and painful. I found out how massively privileged I am. White privilege exists and has oppressed so many people.

  8. MJ Peace

    You are correct the title of the article should be:
    “Is the US free?” My bad.

    Also I was listening to this song this weekend.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVyEPNIR-yk
    It goes along with this article.

  9. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    Interesting Twitter thread on slavery and the end of the Civil War. https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/625032000794181632