Rand Paul Represents the GOP Vision of an America That Was Never Meant to Be

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Rand PaulBeing a religious person, I have nothing against prayer. After all, polytheists were praying for many centuries before the idea of monotheism occurred to anyone. My own Norse ancestors used to pray to their ancestors by lying on their burial mounds, seeking advice from the other world for the concerns of what they called Midgard, or Middle Earth.

Republicans, as we all know,  nearly dispensed with the leadership of John Boehner (R-OH). What spared the embattled House Speaker according to The Washington Post, was not an assessment of facts or even of pragmatic considerations. What saved Boehner was, we are assured, the Christian god.

As in Republicans not only prayed to their deity for guidance, but their God answered and told them to leave Boehner alone.

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Deus vult. God Wills It.

The fact of their prayer is not a concern to me. They are entitled to pray, says the Constitution. They have as much right to pray as atheists do not to pray. As much right to pray to their one god as I have to pray to my many gods.

What is troubling is that the Republican use of prayer masks a deeper desire to cloak their actions in sanctity. Rand Paul (R-KY), a 2016 presidential hopeful, is busily at work doing just this. Like the dark lord Sauron he is calling all Evangelicals to him in order to make war on his enemy: the United States Constitution.

In other words, like so many theocrats before them, they are ruling, or intend to rule, in their god’s name.

It has been recognized by scholars that people tend to see a Jesus who is most congenial to their beliefs. We should take to heart the warning of E.P. Sanders, who notes that many New Testament scholars write books about Jesus in which they discover that he corresponds with their own version of Christianity.[1]

Conservative Christians hate the Jesus Seminar, and not only because the members of the seminar understood the importance of Sanders’ cautionary note; their rule was “Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you.”[2]

The seminar had the audacity to do exactly what the early Church fathers had done: they voted on what Jesus had and had not said. And even worse, one of them, Marcus Borg, dared, exactly like Paul of Tarsus did in the first century, to have some extra-canonical mystical religious experiences of his own which have flavored his understanding of Jesus.[3]

Everyone agrees there can be only one Jesus, both theologically and historically. Considerations of who, exactly, the historical Jesus might have been aside, who wants somebody else’s Jesus to be running the country?

More, who wants any Jesus to be running the country? Jesus isn’t in the Declaration of Independence. He isn’t in the United States Constitution. He can’t run for president. He can’t even vote. His opinion, whether expressed directly or through his agents on earth, is powerless in a country where political power derives not from heaven but from the will of the people.

Republicans see their Jesus. Not the Jesus of mainline Protestantism, the Protestantism in which I grew up, but a Jesus who would have been a stranger to me. Their Jesus, rather than identifying with the poor and downtrodden, despises them. Their Jesus, rather than condemning the rich and championing the poor, condemns the poor and champions the rich.

What these Republicans are doing is saying “this is what God wants” but it is really what they want; their agenda gains legitimacy with their Evangelical supporters if they say they are merely god’s agents.

The excuse of so many horrors in the twenty-century history of Christianity.

Others will be understandably nervous about being ruled by God’s self-proclaimed agents on earth. History tells us that nothing good comes of such arrangements. Always, it has been an excuse for inquisitions, pogroms, and various coercive acts of conversion from torture to death.

Always, it has been the tool of a few zealots to give themselves power over the many. We are supposed to gullibly accept their version of God’s will.

Thus we get David Lane, who is working closely with Rand Paul to attract Evangelical voters to the GOP, asking on World Net Daily yesterday, “Where are the champions of Christ to save the nation from the pagan onslaught imposing homosexual marriage…?”

This claim to God’s will must of necessity be suspect, given how many different Republicans God told to run for the office of president. Certainly, God should be able to make up his mind. He must, being God, know who is going to win. Why tell those you know are destined to lose to run anyway?

The copout is, we can never know god’s will, but then how can we know what God wants at any point? Interestingly and significantly, we only know God’s will with a certainty when it aligns with what Republicans want to do anyway.

Thus we find Lane citing Peter J. Leithart’s “Between Babel and the Beast,” which, he says, “frames properly the battle facing America.”

Making my point for me, he equates “Americanism” with Christian orthodoxy”:

Throughout Scripture, the only power that can overcome the seemingly invincible omnipotence of a Babel or a Beast is the power of martyrdom, the power of the witness to King Jesus to the point of loss and death. American Christianity has not done a good job of producing martyrs, and that is because we have done such an outstanding job of nurturing Americanists who regret that they have only one life to give for their country. Americanists cannot break Babelic or bestial power because they cannot distinguish heretical Americanism from Christian orthodoxy. Until we do, America will lurch along the path that leads from Babel to Beast. If America is to be put in its place – put right – Christians must risk martyrdom and force Babel to the crux where it has to decide either to acknowledge Jesus an imperator and the church as God’s imperium or to begin drinking holy blood.

What this sort of thinking imposes is a violation of the Constitution, which guarantees that government cannot ever impose a state religion on its people.

And Lane does not deny this:

You ask, “What is our goal?” To wage war to restore America to our Judeo-Christian heritage with all of our might and strength that God will give us. You ask, “What is our aim?” One word only: victory, in spite of all intimidation and terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, America will ultimately collapse.

And there you have it: the Republican vision for an America that was never meant to be. Brought to you by Rand Paul. In God’s name.

Deus vult.

 



[1] E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 330,  n. 148.

[2] Robert W Funk, Roy W. Hoover, The Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels. The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (1993), 5, n. 10.

[3] Marcus Borg holds a masters in theology and a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University. He is currently Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University and is the author of numerous books, including The God We Never Knew (1997) and with N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (1999).

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