My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Myth of a Christian Nation is a pretty good book that makes some excellent points while at the same time hitting the reader over the head with some strong repetitions and yet not going as far as it could in some of its criticisms of the religious right. Indeed, Boyd attempts to take both left and right to task, although to my satisfaction, he does focus primarily on evangelicals — just not enough to satisfy me completely.
Boyd contends that Jesus taught a “power under” form of service to humanity rather than a “power over” gospel of the sword. Yet, he contends, the Church has historically rooted itself in a “power over” ideology as seen in centuries of witch hunts, crusades, and other atrocities committed in the name of God.
His primary assertion that America is not — and never has been — a Christian nation is one of his weakest assertions in the book to me. He spends a tiny amount of time on describing our founding fathers as being little more than deists and then he wanders off to Americans practicing genocide against millions of Native Americans and slavery against millions of African Americans as proof that we’ve never been a true Christian nation, the assumption being that true Christians would never do such things. While that may be true, I frankly needed more than just this to convince me of what I already know and believe to be true. I wanted more on the founders and their specific beliefs and their efforts to ensure no state religion would ever exist. I was disappointed Boyd didn’t take advantage of his opportunity here. Boyd contrasts America’s “power over” history with Jesus’ “power under” alternative —
“This is what we are called to be: a community characterized by radical, revolutionary, Calvary-quality love; a community that manifests the love of the triune God; a community that strives for justice not by conquering but by being willing to suffer; a community that God uses to transform the world by providing it with an alternative to its own self-centered, violent way of existing.”
Later in the book Boyd contrasts Jesus’ style with the judgmental attitudes found in so many contemporary evangelicals.
“First, as people called to mimic Jesus in every area of our lives, we should find it significant that Jesus never assumed the position of moral guardian over any individual, let alone over the culture at large. In his ministry, he never once inquired into a person’s moral status…. Why didn’t the sinless Jesus point out, condemn, and try to control people’s morality? … His purpose, apparently, was not to guard, promote, or fix public morality.”
You get the picture.
Boyd also challenges the evangelical obsession with gays and gay marriage.
“Do evangelicals fear gay marriage in particular because the Bible is much more clear about the wrongfulness of gay marriage than it is about the wrongfulness of divorce and remarriage? No, for the Bible actually says a good deal more against divorce and remarriage than it does about monogamous gay relationships…. We evangelicals may be divorced and remarried several times; we may be as greedy and as unconcerned about the poor and as gluttonous as others in our culture; we may be as prone to gossip and slander and as blindly prejudiced as others in our culture; we may be more self-righteous and as rude as others in our culture — we may even lack love more than others in our culture. These sins are among the most frequently mentioned sins in the Bible. But at least we’re not gay!”
Excellent point, in my opinion.
Boyd talks a lot about love and the importance of people, especially Christians, to love as Jesus taught us to love. He spends a whole lot of time on this. And this is actually the one area where I veered away from the book, toward the end. He’s a pacifist. In the strictest sense. His final chapter has to do with violence, and it’s a Q & A chapter with questions dealing with self defense, wars, the military, etc. Basically, he’s all about non-violence to the point that people should not defend themselves if found in a situation where people invade their homes and assault them. He concludes it is better to die loving than act in one’s self defense. Call me an insensitive asshole, but I think that’s batshit crazy! I can assure you that if I’m victimized by a home invasion, I will do anything possible to save myself and my loved ones from harm. He also says Christians should never engage in wars or, probably, even serve in the military. It goes against God’s love. He goes so far as to assert that America should NOT have gotten involved in World War Two, thus saving the world’s Jews, even though that could have resulted in the extermination of the Jews. He feels that another option might have presented itself to save the Jews without our having had to resort to violence. I think that’s insane. Likewise the Civil War. He thinks it’s insane that 600,000 Americans died over slavery. I do too, but if that war hadn’t been fought, millions of American blacks would likely still be enslaved today and the country and the world would be different places. Again, he argues another option could have presented itself and that we shouldn’t have had to resort to war. I’m no war hawk. I don’t like war. But I do believe it’s necessary at times, and at times it’s nuts, like Vietnam or Iraq. I believe World War Two was an evil necessity. I guess that makes me a non-Christian or Jesus hater in Boyd’s opinion. It struck me that the author is as intolerant of those supporting such war efforts as the evangelical people he accuses of being intolerant of others in society today. This section ended the book and it ended it a bit sourly for me, after having largely enjoyed what was written throughout the majority of the book. I guess I think that Boyd is SUCH an idealist, that virtually no one who has ever called themselves a Christian would qualify as such under his stringent guidelines. That’s a bit disappointing.
This really is a pretty good book, but it was hard for me to overlook the nonstop repetitions throughout the book, which made it pretty redundant at times, and I was disappointed that he took it pretty easy on current evangelicals. I thought he could have really called them out. The sub-title, after all, is called “How the quest for political power is destroying the church.” Ahem. That means YOU, oh right wing evangelicals! Good book, worth the read, but with qualifiers. A four out of five stars.