Monday, July 5, 2010

"God Bless America" & Commandment No. 3

Commandment Number 3: "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."

In my church rearing, this commandment always meant using any name of God as a sort of cuss word. "Jesus Christ that hurt!" The ever-popular "goddammit." Or "oh my god," which is now better known simply as "omg." Sometimes I even felt bad about the circumlocutions. "Oh my goodness!" "Dang-nabbit." Or "Gees!"

I still use the circumlocutions. I never understood them as such, though. They were simply words I heard "good Christian people" use and so I learned to use them as well.

I also learned to appreciate the phrase, "God bless America." I even played the song on my saxophone as a "special music" for one holiday--either Independence Day or Memorial Day. I arranged it as part of a medley, if my memory serves me correctly.

This year I preached on Independence Day and I made no references to the USA. When we sang a nationalist hymn at the end of the service, I hummed most of it. I don't think current US-nationalism has a place in the church. Worse, I think "God bless America" uses the name of the LORD the God in vain.

This phrase promotes the USA at the expense of other countries. Asking God to bless America is tantamount to asking God not to bless other countries when we are at war. In times of war, shouldn't we ask God to protect the sanctity of life? I don't care about winning any wars, I care about justice and love prevailing.

In times of peace, "God bless America" is a request for blessings of finances, health, and safety ... for the middle and upper classes of the US. When does "God bless America" ever include the poor? If it did, patriotism wouldn't be expressed in so much capitalist consumerism. When does "God bless America" ever include Mexicans who are quite technically a part of America (alongside the rest of North and South America)? If it did, patriotism wouldn't go hand-in-hand with efforts against immigration and their oppression, whether the persons are "legal" or not.

Why would God ever be involved in these sorts of blessings? God blesses a person or a nation in order that all persons and nations might be blessed through the person or nation originally receiving that blessing. God blessed Abraham to bless all peoples. God blessed Israel to bless all nations. God saved Jesus to save all peoples. God saves Christians to save all peoples.

"God bless America" is a vanity, asking for ungodly blessings and blessings that only add to the hubris of nationalism. The phrase as used today is quite unfitting for Independence Day, too. Independence Day is about justice and resisting tyranny.

The colonists did not believe Paul's words in Romans 13, where Paul says all leaders must be obeyed, are appointed by God, and only punish evil. The colonists did not obey their leader because he was oppressing the innocent alongside the evil (let's face it, many of the colonists did some terrible, terrible things, mostly in the name of God and Christianity). On Independence Day, we are supposed to remember the importance of freedom and the need to resist tyranny, fighting for the liberty of all.

One of the tyrannies against which the colonists fought was economical. The poor colonists were paying for the livelihood of the rich.

"God bless America."

Another tyranny was religious. Many of the colonies were founded for religious freedom, because different religious ideas were suppressed in Britain at the time.

"God bless America."

God bless the people of all nations. For it is this earth that I love. And may I never force this blessing upon those who believe in another deity or no deity.

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