There is more than enough talk regarding the Republic National Convention this week floating around the internet (thank you, Mr. Eastwood). However, there was one thing in particular that stuck out to me. In one of my seminars, we read the closing of Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s speech from Wednesday. While numerous outlets have commented on inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the speech, the concluding paragraphs were some of the most intriguing rhetorical moves from my perspective.
“Mitt and I go to different churches,” the Roman Catholic said of the Mormon Presidential candidate. “But in any church, the best kind of preaching is done by example.” Ryan’s approach to religious difference here is common. “Our faiths come together in the same moral creed.” Numerous scholars, pundits, laypeople, and religious leaders alike highlight the similarities in moral systems across religious lines. For example, there is not a major religion, for instance, that tells you to hate your neighbor and kill them (some characterizations of Muslims by Christians in the past year might beg to differ, unfortunately). This notion is not revolutionary and merely curious to me coming from a political party usually identified with a brand of Christianity hostile to this idea.
The truly interesting move Ryan makes concerns the nature of the god he describes. He alleges that he and Romney believe in the same god despite the radically different theologies in Roman Catholicism and Mormonism. In one, there is an understanding of God in Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Second Person, Jesus, is both fully God and fully Human, a Person of the Trinity Incarnate in the world. In the other, the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct persons with different bodies of different types. Ryan’s description of god is unconcerned with these details, however. Here’s what we know about Ryan’s deity:
(1) This god values human life. The most explicit name Ryan uses to refer to god is the “Lord of Life.” He claims that god made each one of us “for a reason, bearing the image and likeness” of god. This likeness is a goodness imbued in each person by the creator. Consequently, this god desires us to protect the sanctity of that life (though, from the way Ryan phrases it, this principle principally concerns abortion — it is unclear to what other scenarios it extends).
(2) This god bestows rights. After referring the “moral creed of our country” (which he identifies as the responsibility of “the strong to protect the weak,” despite his Randian affinities), he says that the rights that flow from such a claim “come from nature and God, not from government.” Ryan claims, then, that there is no such secular basis for rights in the Constitution or human rights in general — they come from god and creation.
(3) This god has strong ties with the origins of the United States. In the same breath when he says that rights come from “nature and God,” he alludes to the Declaration of Independence, claiming that the rights are “self-evident.” The rights are “as powerful in our time, as on the day of America’s founding.” After all it was “The founding generation [who] secured those rights for us.”
While Ryan’s god bears some similarities to the character of the Christian (specifically Roman Catholic) God and undoubtedly the Mormon understanding of God, this god appears to be uniquely American in its conception. This American God transcends religious boundaries and fits well within the Republican milieu. This God makes for a good political speech for the purposes of religious appeal, but whose God is it? It’s not necessarily the God of Roman Catholicism or Mormonism but seems closest to what Justices William Brennan and Sandra Day O’Connor refer to as “ceremonial deism.”
On its best day, this oddly interreligious god at best perplexes me and at worst scares me. On one hand, the idea promotes the cooperation and unity of varying religious perspectives. It chooses commonality over conflict and promotes interreligious dialog and work. Surely that kind of peaceableness is valuable! However, on the other hand, it ignores the realities of religious pluralism and can be unashamedly manipulative.
By appealing to some vague notion of divinity, politicians on both sides of the aisle attempt to construct a big tent religion that simply doesn’t exist. They use language to sway religious people in their favor while not actually acknowledging the concerns and perspectives of different religions. The fact of the matter is, as Stephen Prothero likes to put it, God is not one. The God of all religions is no more the same than the religions themselves are the same. To pretend otherwise is, in Prothero’s words, “dangerous, disrespectful, and untrue.”
I think we would all be better for not pretending to be more or less religious than we are or reimaging the world’s religions as more similar than they are. Besides all that, eliminating the Providential ties to the origins of the United States would also be nice, but that’s another story.
I don’t write a lot about music. Why? I don’t know a whole lot about music. The only thing I can ever really comment on in music is the lyrics. I don’t know anything about keys or chords or notes and all that. However, music moves me just like it moves the rest of you, and I couldn’t keep the music to myself today.
(No, I’m not going to sing for you. You don’t want to hear that, trust me.)
For weeks, I have eagerly awaited the arrival of one particular album. Now, it worries me when I anticipate something that long. Inevitably, it cannot be as good as I expect. I was pleased to discover yesterday that I was actually not disappointed.
I pre-ordered a copy of the David Crowder Band’s last work, a set of thirty-four tracks entitled, Give Us Rest or (a requiem mass in c [the happiest of all keys]). When I heard that Crowder and company would be doing a Mass several months ago, my interest was piqued. A Protestant, one group popular among evangelicals in fact, doing a Mass? The concept seemed odd and foreign.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis//Te decet hymnus Deus, in Sion, et tibi reddetur votum in Ierusalem//Exmudi orationem; ad te omnis caro veniet//Reqieum aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Not only is Give Us Rest a Mass, it is a Requiem, or the Mass for the Dead from the Roman Catholic tradition. Naturally, I found such a combination of influences fascinating given my interests. Regardless of how complex and interesting I find the idea itself, however, I think this work deserves the attention of the Church and all Christians because it does several things.
(This post might otherwise be known as: ‘Help me think through a sermon on a Sermon!’)
I am currently preparing for the 2012 National Festival of Young Preachers in Louisville, Kentucky this January. The topic for the sermons preached is the Sermon on the Mount. If any of you have read the content here regularly, you know that I have a bit of a penchant for this topic.
Contrary to what you might think, that situation makes me wary of preaching about it.
It is difficult to craft a sermon, to develop a homiletical plot, that is non-manipulative when you have certain strong points of view regarding the subject matter of a particular part of the Bible. To compound my difficulties, there is no specific passage for me, so options are open.
You might think that would make things easier, but I would sooner be assigned a passage any Sunday (or any other day of the week) out of the year than pick one. That is why I preach from the lectionary, to avoid asserting my own vision over the matter of the text.
Why do I say this to you? There is an interesting discourse about the value of lectionaries and assignments in there somewhere, but that is not the point. As it stands, I want to voice my opinions about the general nature of the Sermon and an application of the text apart from whatever my sermon for the Festival ends up being. That way, I can approach the text with a greater degree of honesty than I could before. So, read on, and engage me in dialog if you please. It will help me consider the text.
Fundamentally, I think one of the central questions answered by the Sermon on the Mount is one faced by Christians since the beginning. St. Augustine was one of the first to attempt to deal with it systematically (and he has a lengthy tome to prove it). St. Thomas wrestled with the concepts and divisions necessary for such a theory. The Reformers held a wide variety of views on the subject from the isolationist Anabaptists to the Christian Commonwealth of Calvin. Today, we have everyone from Richard Land to Jim Wallis attempting to answer this question. How is faith in public life? In other words, how is faith made external?