Samuel Huntington, a well known scholar and author, has suggested that America has an identity crisis. We are not sure who we are and what we stand for. He further suggests that Protestant Christianity is an integral part of our culture, which forms the proper basis for our true identity. If America has an identity crisis, it could well be because Christianity has one. What is Christianity: a warrior creed which honors the nation state and its birthright privilege or is it a universal creed with the intended purpose of eliminating the walls of separation which so often lead to conflict and violence?
As long as Christian don’t know who we are, America cannot know either. Religious leaders never dare address this question for fear of rejection and unemployment. Church goers vacillate between various definitions of Christianity depending on the emotional state of the moment.
A large part of the issue with the place of the Christian religion in America is the unresolved question of what Christ was all about. Why did he come? What did he teach, and what does that have to do with his overall purpose? What did he accomplish? What remains to be done by Christ and/or by mankind? Was Jesus a nationalist or internationalist? Was he a traditionalist or a progressive? Why is there so much confusion about all of these questions?
Of course the institutional church claims to have answers to all of these, but in reality they don’t. People with real answers don’t summarily dismiss questions and castigate questioners like the church does. And a few isolated Bible verses coming out of a 2000 page divine text settle nothing. All these questions are legitimate and complex ones which have been debated for centuries even before we had a Bible. They cannot be rightfully and successfully dismissed with pat answers supported by tradition.
If church people are upset about a loss of national identity resulting from irreligiousness in America, we might consider getting real about defining ourselves in a way that is not so toxic to a great number of people. If nationalism, militarism, and birthright privilege are the essence of Christianity, then let’s drop the pretense to being an international faith system and any suggestion that Jesus was about human unity and brotherhood.
At least then Christians could be honest with themselves and others. If honesty can’t be a part of the American and Christian identity, who wants to be one? If church leaders won’t lead in a serious discussion of all these questions, who needs them. If we as a people won’t allow that discussion because it might be a challenging one, then we needn’t agonize over the absence of a national identity based on Christianity. Because Christians themselves aren’t truly interested in a unifying identity.