Richard Hughes in a recent article, The Christian Right in Context, Part 1: The Long View (Huffington Post, 11/8/2010) puts conservative Christianity in the context of liberalism. His essay oozes with the liberal righteousness of supposed objectivity, but is blindly ensnared in the religious philosophy of dualism. Hughes’ views are not objective.
Yes, I too have a bias, and my bias is for trinitarian Christianity. Rather than hide my bias, or pretend that it is objective, I put it on the table for all to see. Serious discussion of religious and philosophical matters requires no less, and genuine discussion of such issues will take a giant step forward as others admit and examine their own presuppositions.
I have not read Bellah’s book, The Broken Covenant, either. However, I am familiar with Bellah’s work and perspective, and will put this on my reading list. But my concern is not initially with Bellah, but with Hughes. Allow me to examine the words and perspective of his article.
Evidence of Hughes’ bias begins here: “the Christian Right has so successfully eaten away at the core, bedrock values that shaped this nation at its founding.” I am not arguing against the insight that genuine Christianity and American nationalism are incompatible, but am simply pointing out Hughes’ underlying commitment to American nationalism at the expense of genuine Christianity.
He suggests an irony in the assertion of the Christian right that has been pointing out the erosion of American values by blaming others—“liberals, secularists and humanists”—rather than acknowledging its own role in that erosion. Hughes assumption is that American nationalism and genuine Christianity actually agree in their liberalism, secularism and humanism, and that the Christian Right has been rocking the boat of this cozy relationship, as if real Christians should be celebrating it.
What he failed to notice is that liberalism, secularism and humanism are antithetical to biblical Christianity precisely because they deny the central thing that makes Christianity unique among world religions—the Trinity. Part and parcel of that denial is the corresponding denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ, which is the central element of the Trinity that makes the Trinity applicable to humanity and this world. Christianity is not primarily a philosophy from which general principles can be extracted and applied as a formula for better living. Christianity is personal. At the center of the faith is the divine Person of Jesus Christ who has come to renew humanity with a “piece” of Himself so as to bind individuals and the God of the Bible in personal and covenantal relationship, as a means of establishing human sustainability in this fallen world.
Hughes pits a philosophical threesome—liberalism, secularism and humanism—against the largely reactionary and misguided philosophy of conservative Christianity. The important thing to see is what isn’t acknowledged or articulated—the theology of trinitarian Christianity. It is important to see it because it stands in opposition to and as a corrective for both the liberal and the conservative perspectives. While both liberalism and conservatism appear to struggle against one another, they compete to dominate society with one or the other expressions of a monotheistic perspective. They are fighting about whether the dominant American monotheism should be liberal or conservative, but they agree that monotheism should dominate.
Christianity differs. While Christianity is monotheistic, its monotheism is trinitarian rather than unitarian. And this fact highlights the long religious struggle that has been raging, not only in this great nation but throughout the even longer history of the world. That long religious war is primarily a war of ideas, but occasionally it unfaithfully breaks out in violence as one side or the other attempts to force its perspective on an unwilling populace.
Hats off to Hughes and Bellah for acknowledging that the central dispute in American politics is religious. It takes some courage to face this fact because by and large the American monotheistic and nationalist effort has been to deny and suppress this fact because of its volatility. This has been a particularly useful strategy for the Left wing of the American nationalist movement, also known as liberals, secularists and humanists. The Right wing of the American nationalist movement, the Religious Right, has been more willing to engage in religious discussion because they have endeavored more effectively to paint Christianity in the Right colors. The Left wing of American nationalism has been fighting back recently by adding more disparate colors from the rainbow.
The monocular limitation of both political colorings (perspectives) comes through the realization that both are more expressions of American nationalism than of biblical Christianity. Both the Liberal and the Conservative viewpoints center on American nationalism in the name of God, but with the denial of God’s trinitarianism in Christ. By and large, the Liberals tend to deny the Christ part, and the Conservatives fail to understand the trinitarian part.
This situation is made more confusing by the fact that the religious Right is itself in the grip of philosophical and religious internal dualistic struggle between the monotheism of the Right and the monotheism of the Left. Christians, right and left, have failed to consider a full-orbed trinitarian solution because they don’t understand the Trinity. The Right is warring within itself as to whether it is essentially Christian or Libertarian, trinitarian or unitarian. This struggle evidences the same contours as the larger struggle between Conservatism and Liberalism nationally.
And the limitations of philosophical dualism hides the Third Rail of Christianity—the divinity of Jesus Christ—from the field by presenting various false, dichotomous choices of a Left/Right continuum. All expressions of a Left/Right philosophical or religious continuum are necessarily dualistic because they only contain two poles: Left and Right. All considerations and perspectives are understood, comprehended and mapped onto (forced into) the Left/Right continuum, to the denial of the Third Rail—Jesus Christ. All considerations and perspectives of the false Left/Right dichotomy deny, denigrate or attempt to destroy the full dimensionality of reality that can be seen and understood from a full-orbed biblical, trinitarian Christian perspective.
Granted, that trinitarianism is about a thousand times more complex than dualism, but the complexity is essential to the truth, beauty and actual objectivity of the reality in which we as human beings live. However, seeing the third dimension (the truth of God in Christ) is not a function of intellect or education, but of realization. Because Christ is real, He must be seen and understood as real. Thus, denial, denigration and deceit about Christ amounts to denial, denigration and deceit about the fullness of reality, and engenders a kind of blindness to important biblical subtleties like the difference between God’s dominion and political domination.
Hughes also accurately suggests that the three major conflicts in American history were embodied in the Revolutionary War, The Civil War and the 1960s Cultural Revolution. The Revolutionary War created a unitarian or deist document known as the American Constitution by attempting to create a political compromise between unitarians and trinitarians (Deists and Christians). That compromise has been in conflict ever since, even though at the same time it has utterly changed the world for the better.
The next time the American experiment broke down was during the Civil War, which was essentially a religious war between the mainline unitarians in the North and the Calvinistic trinitarians in the South. It was as much about states rights as it was about slavery, and the contours of the struggle are variegated. The South argued for a weak federal government to support an equitable balance of power, and the North argued that the federal government could sometimes play its trump card of political dominance. The South was wrong about slavery, but right about states rights and the balance of power. And the North was right about slavery and wrong about its political dominance. Of course, this is an over simplification, but it makes the point with broad strokes.
The unitarians prevailed in that conflict and imposed their theology upon the nation as the American Civil Religion (another Bellah title) by working to imbed unitarianism (the perspective not the religion) into the national legal and educational systems. The trinitarians (orthodox Christians) have struggled to clarify the theological confusion generated by the Constitutional compromise, as evidenced by the long-standing and hotly contested disputes about the “real character” of the American Founders. Additional confusion has resulted because the compromise has been perpetrated in the general spirit of Christianity, but not in the trinitarian truth of Christianity. Thus, trinitarians have continued to articulate and press their case regarding the Christian roots of the Constitution, while the unitarians have continued to argue for the universality (unitarianism) of those roots.
The American Cultural Revolution of the 60s began the third unitarian push for dominance with a bold step to completely overturn the values of traditional (trinitarian) Christianity through the imposition of a unitarian version of Christianity. At least that is the character of the current American struggle as seen from a trinitarian Christian perspective. The conflict burns brighter by the day. I’m convinced that resolution will require the acknowledgment of deepest aspects of the conflict, the religious aspects. So, I’m grateful for Hughes’ willingness to put it on the table, but frustrated that he seems to think his position is the objective view.
Hughes says that “when proponents of the Christian Right claim that the Founders were uniformly Christian, they are clearly wrong.” He is right about this. They were not all Christians, trinitarians. Some were Deists, who share the philosophical foundations of unitarians. At the time, the Founders themselves were caught up in what is known in American church history as the Unitarian Controversy that was raging in what we today call the Mainline denominations. It still is.
That eons old controversy has actually been raging since Nimrod built the tower of Babel in an effort to dominate the world by scaling heaven. The roots of this historic, ongoing conflict were imposed in the Constitution itself by the intentional elimination of all Christian references and an unacknowledged premise of the truth of unitarian principles but dressed in Christian language. The compromise struck in Philadelphia in 1776 vaguely implied some Christian rootage without directly mentioning Christianity or Christ or the Bible in the Constitution. This allowed Christians (trinitarians) to believe in the Christian rootage of the Constitution, and the Deists (unitarians) to ignore or deny it at the same time. That discussion has continued unabated ever since.
Hughes clearly sums up the heresy of the Constitution: “the Declaration of Independence grounded the religious meaning of the American experiment not in a God exclusively revealed in the biblical text, but in ‘Nature and Nature’s God.’ That is, in the God all humans can know and understand through nature, quite apart from the biblical revelation.” Unitarians, liberals, secularists and humanists believe that they can understand God apart from the Bible and apart from Jesus Christ. Indeed, the God of the Constitution by this very admission is not the God of the Bible. This is huge! The proverbial cat is out of the bag and on center stage.
Trinitarian Christians must not feed the dualism that attempts to hold in union the unitarianism of the Christian Left with the unitarianism of the Christian Right in the name of American nationalism or American Christian nationalism. And neither can any claim on the mantle of global internationalism be made without bringing this same philosophical and theological conflict to the international stage.
Indeed, the current international conflict that is raging between the Christian West and Islam is cut from the same cloth. The unitarianism of Islam cannot abide the trinitarianism of Christianity. Many people have wondered how Western liberals are able to tolerate and even join forces with Muslims, given Islam’s apparent conservative religious beliefs. The answer is that both Islam and liberalism share a unitarian understanding of reality (or God) and deny the divinity of Christ (or the trinitarianism of reality). Thus, both seek to impose monotheism upon the world, and differ only about who will be in charge. Neither understands how Spheres of Sovereignty (a term coined by Abraham Kuyper, the 19th Century Dutch politician, journalist, statesman and theologian) actually works, and accuse trinitarians of wanting to do what unitarians want to do—impose their “truth” on all. But it is a false accusation engendered in trinitarian ignorance.
Hughes then grounds the American Christian right on the Second Great Awakening. Charles Finney would be one of the chief representatives of the Second Great Awakening. And again Hughes correctly identifies the theology of the American Christian right as in fact being grounded in the Second Great Awakening. But he fails to note that such theology was branded a Christian heresy in the 17th Century Protestant church. The fact of this Arminian heresy has been broadly ignored and this theology has then gone on to dominate modern Evangelicalism. He’s right about that, too. And this insight is a very unsettling sentiment, so the majority of Christians have pushed it into the recesses of denial and ignorance.
Nonetheless, clarification of our actual present and historic, philosophical and religious situation is essential for the determination of a way forward. As a biblical, trinitarian Christian I believe Jesus’ teaching that the truth will set us free. As such, anything less than the trinitarian truth of the Bible in the light of Christ will drive us into a blind bind. Lord, have mercy!