Americanist Christianity – continuing the discussion

I’m still completing a new post somewhat “spun off” from the last one, and don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I’d like to note Lee M.’s reply post, “American henotheism revisited,” in which he gets to what I agree is an important distinction, perhaps even the crux of the matter:

What I want to emphasize, though, is how often God-laden rhetoric actually masks national self-interest and even aggression. It’s easy to slip from the idea that the democratic ethos is, in principle, universal to thinking that the spread of that ethos is identical with U.S. national interest. When politicians invoke the deity, they rarely distinguish between God’s blessings and God’s prophetic call to expand the boundaries of justice. The latter entails a degree of self-criticism, and potentially self-sacrifice, that is virtually unthinkable in contemporary American politics. (The reaction to Jeremiah Wright in 2008 helpfully illustrates this point.) No one gets elected by delivering jeremiads to the electorate. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to me to suggest that this is a logical result of treating a particular nation as the bearer of a “universal” (and religious) mission.

I responded on Lee M.’s thread, which includes some interesting and useful contributions. I’ll paste my own comment here, for my own record and for easy reference:

As I just tweeted, I think you get here at the generally unspoken, very impolitic problem with a missionary national politics: It seems to imply a collective sacrificial career or at least a sacrificial denouement – sooner or later. If the thought creeps into discussion, it tends to do so via the kind of millenarianism and crank theodicy that regularly gets candidates too close to the John Hagees and Pat Robertsons of the world in trouble. Your example of Rev Wright is terrifically on point: His “jeremiads” were spoken in the prophetic mode, and we know what we know about prophets in their own countries. In the longer version of the post you link, I had started getting into this question, but decided it needed a longer and very careful treatment, since political and theological discussion hardly ever gets more dangerous.

The post I’m still working on is intended to push that “longer and very careful treatment” further forward.  It concerns the relationship of Mormonism to what Lee M. calls “Americanist Christianity,” but which I think might alternatively be referred to as “Judeo-Christian Americanism,” among other possible combinations of the three main terms – what I’ve already referred to in the God vote post and on occasion elsewhere as a political-theological trinary covenant of Judaism, Christianity, and Americanism.

More later.

(h/t Lee M.’s commenter crystal)

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