The Mush God
29 August 2010
 
 
This is part five of a seven-part series of articles which take an in-depth look at the book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest For Political Power Is Destroying the Church by Gregory Boyd.
 
Because I can only share a small portion of this vital book, it is vital that you get yourself a copy as soon as possible, and read the entire book a number of times. Click on the book cover to go to Amazon.com and make your purchase.
 
If you have not yet read...
  • part one — The "Power Over" Kingdom
  • part two — The "Power Under" Kingdom
  • part three — The Militant Church
  • and part four — American Jihad
  • ...be sure to do so now before continuing here.
     
    Today's article is VERY timely, in light of Glenn Beck's big Washington D.C. rally yesterday, where he, Sarah Palin, and others talked about turning our nation back to God, America having been founded as a Christian nation, restoring spirituality to America, and many more such statements. But are these statements true reflections of spiritual reality? Are they talking about authentic, Biblical Christianity, or a counterfeit, Americanized, pseudo-Christian civil religion that is mistaken for Biblical Christianity? Are they talking about Yeshua (Jesus), who permeates the Bible and is the all-in-all of true Christianity? And which God are they actually referring to? Are they really talking about the God of the Bible? Are they talking about Yeshua, who IS God, or a generic, look-alike "mush god?"
    The foundational myth [that American is a Christian nation] reinforces the pervasive misconception that the civil religion of Christianity in America is REAL Christianity. To understand this, we need to understand that throughout history most cultures have been influenced by some religion or other. Typically, most people in the culture don't make the dominant religion the central point of their life. But the religion nevertheless plays an important role in providing the culture with a shared worldview, shared history, shared values and practices, common holidays, and so on. In short, it helps bind the culture together. We might think of this as the civil role of religion.
     
    Now, as is typical of civil religions, if one further inquires into what actual impact these people's faith has on their lives, one discovers that in the majority of cases it is negligible. Indeed, research has consistently demonstrated that the majority of professing Christians, when asked, lack even an elementary understanding of the faith they profess. Though they may attend church on occasion, they think, feel, and behave pretty much as they would even if they were not Christians. They answer "Christian" when asked, not because it makes any significant difference to them on a personal level, but simply because this religious identification is part of the cultural air they breathe.
     
    On one level, there's nothing wrong with this. Every society needs some sort of shared vision of the world and shared values to stay healthy. And, as the decline of communism suggests, it is difficult to support this shared vision and these shared values without some religious underpinnings. Civil religion is good, if not necessary, for a healthy culture.
     
    This painting is an amazing example of the pseudo-Christian American civil religion. Be sure to click on this image to go to the artist's Web site, where you can see a larger version and, by placing you mouse over the image, have the symbolism of each person explained.
    Problems arise, however, when Kingdom people fail to see that civil religion is simply an aspect of the kingdom of the world. The Kingdom of God always looks like Jesus and so has no intrinsic relationship with ANY civil religion. The civil religion of Christianity has no more Kingdom-of-God significance than the civil religion of Buddhism, Hinduism, or the ancient Roman Pantheon.
     
    If you peel back the façade of the civil religion, you find that America is about as pagan as any country we could ever send missionaries to. Despite what a majority of Americans say when asked by pollsters, we are arguably no less self-centered, unethical, or prone toward violence than most other cultures. We generally look no more like Jesus, dying on a cross out of love for the people who crucified Him, than do people in other cultures, and thus are generally no closer to the Kingdom of God than people in other cultures. The fact that we have a quasi-Christian civil religion doesn't help; if anything, it hurts precisely because it creates the illusion in the minds of Kingdom people that we are closer to the example of Jesus than we actually are.
     
    If we simply hold fast to the truth that the Kingdom of God always looks like Jesus, we can see the irrelevance, if not harmfulness, of the quasi-Christian civil religion for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. When a Kingdom person realizes that the civil religion of America has no more relationship to the real Kingdom of God than any other civil religion — that it's all just part of the religious trappings most versions of the kingdom of the world adopt — they are motivated to live as much as a missionary in America as they would if they were stationed in, say, China, Cambodia, or India. The only significant difference is that in at least one respect it's arguably HARDER to be a missionary in America, for here the majority think they're already Christian simply by virtue of living in a Christian nation. Their need for the true Kingdom is concealed behind a civil surrogate of the Kingdom.
     
    When we fail to distinguish the civil religion of America from the Kingdom of God we end up wasting precious time and resources defending and tweaking the civil religion — as though doing so had some Kingdom value. We strive to keep prayer in the schools, fight for the right to have public prayer before football games, lobby to preserve the phrases "under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance and "in God we trust" on our coins, battle to hold the traditional civil meaning of marriage, and things of the sort — as though winning these fights somehow brings America closer to the Kingdom of God. This, we think, is part of what it means to "take America back for God."
     
    Can we really believe that tweaking civil religion in these ways actually brings people closer to the Kingdom of God, that it helps them become more like Jesus? For example, does anyone really think that allowing for a prayer before social functions is going to help students become Kingdom people? Might not such prayer — and the political efforts to defend such prayer — actually be harmful to the Kingdom inasmuch as it reinforces the shallow civil religious mindset that sees prayer primarily as a perfunctory religious activity? Might it not be better to teach our kids that true Kingdom prayer has nothing to do with perfunctory social functions, that true Kingdom prayer cannot be demanded or retracted by social laws and that their job as Kingdom warriors is to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) whether the law allows for it to be publicly expressed or not?
     
    In other words, rather than spending time and energy defending and tweaking the civil religion, might it not be in the best interest of the Kingdom of God to DISTANCE ourselves from the civil religion? Couldn't one even go so far as to argue that it would be good for the Kingdom of God if this civic brand of pseudo-Christianity died altogether? Isn't one of the primary problems we're up against in this nation the fact that Christianity has been trivialized by being associated with civic functions? And aren't we actually reinforcing this trivialization by fighting so vigorously to preserve this pseudo-Christian veneer? Maybe Kierkegaard was right when he stated that the worst form of apostasy the Christian faith can undergo is to have it become simply as aspect of a culture. Perhaps it would be a benefit to the advancement of this Kingdom if America LOOKED as pagan as it actually is, if the word God wasn't so trivially sprinkled on our coins, our Pledge of Allegiance, our civic functions, and elsewhere. Then perhaps the word might come to mean something significant to people who genuinely hunger and thirst for the real thing!
     
    When the public stance of Christians is associated with preserving and tweaking the civil religion, we reinforce the impression that Christianity is primarily about the civil religion, about engaging in social functions, answering a pollster a certain way, and perhaps performing "religious obligations" a couple of times a year by going to church and giving a couple of dollars. Would it not be better if Kingdom people spend their time and energy doing authentic Kingdom things — that is, looking like Jesus? Would it not be beneficial if we individually and corporately dedicated ourselves to serving others in Christlike love?
     
    What if we individually and collectively committed ourselves to the one thing that is needful — to replicating the loving sacrifice of Calvary to all people, at all times, in all places, regardless of their circumstances or merit? What if we just DID the Kingdom? This is far more difficult than merely protecting the civil religion, which perhaps partly explains why so many prefer focusing on the civil religion. DOING the Kingdom always requires that we bleed for others, and for just this reason, DOING the Kingdom accomplishes something kingdom-of-the-world activity can never accomplish. It may not immediately adjust people's behavior, but this is not what it seeks to accomplish. Rather, it transforms people's hearts and therefore transforms society.
     
    When we individually and corporately bleed for others, the Kingdom of God is advanced, and we end up having an impact on individuals and on the sociopolitical systems we'd never have if we merely played the kingdom-of-the-world game on its own terms. Resisting the temptation for quick, "power over" solutions and choosing the more sacrificial, discrete "power under" approach of Jesus is difficult. But it alone as the power to unify the church, advance the Kingdom, transform hearts, and thereby move society closer to the reign of God.
    Well, that's the end of our look at the civil religion of America. Next I will quote a short passage that I read many years ago about the "mush god" of America. I was unable to track down the original source attributed to Nicholas von Hoffman, but I can point you to the Leonard Ravenhill article in which I originally read it decades ago: Be Ye Angry And Sin Not.
    "The Mush God has been known to appear to millionaires on golf courses. He appears to politicians at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and to clergymen speaking the invocation on national TV at either Democratic or Republican conventions. The Mush God's presence is felt during Brotherhood Week and when Rotarians come together. He is the lifeless deity President Carter was referring to when suggesting peace might come to the Middle East because the Egyptian president and Israeli prime minister both worshipped the Great Mushy One.
     
    "The Mush God has no theology to speak of, being a Cream of Wheat divinity. The Mush God has no particular credo, no tenets of faith, nothing that would make it difficult for believer and non-believer alike to lower one's head when the temporary chairman tells us the Reverend, Rabbi, Father, Mufti, or So-and-So will lead us in an innocuous, harmless prayer, for this god of public occasions is not a jealous god. You can even invoke him to start a hooker convention and he/she or it won't be offended.
     
    "God of the Rotary, God of the Optimists' Club, Protector of the Buddy System, the Mush God is the Lord of secular ritual, of the necessary but hypocritical forms and formalities that hush the divisive and the derisive. The Mush God is a serviceable god whose laws are not chiseled on tablets but written on sand, open to amendment, qualification, and erasure. This is a god that will compromise with you, make allowances and declare all wars holy, all peaces hallowed."
    Tomorrow the sixth article of this series will take a Biblical look at the concept of violent self-defense, and how to overcome evil with good.
    You can send comments to me privately at: shahid@yourislamicfuture.com
     
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