Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Why Christians Should Accept Me as an American Citizen
Whatever one might say about there being a First Amendment defending freedom of religion, to be able to enjoy any such rights in practice one is going to have to convince other people to go along with these principles and include you within them. As such one needs to be capable of articulating a case to others.
I stand before the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) establishment of the United States and ask for acceptance. I might not accept Jesus as my personal savior or believe in any Trinity, but I am a Bible-believing monotheist Jew. While I may not be a follower of the Christian religion, I am still culturally very Christian. I have studied Latin, read the New Testament and the works of many Christian thinkers. I even enjoy listening to Christian pop rock. While my academic work is technically speaking about Judaism, in practice it has largely been an education in Christianity and the different ways in which it has related to Judaism. While I do not deny that there are Christians with Jewish blood on their hands and am not about to ignore a history of some truly horrific things being done to Jews in the name of Christianity, I have a lot of respect for the Christian intellectual tradition. This even applies to people who were genuinely hostile to Jews such as Martin Luther. This is to say nothing of Christians like C. S. Lewis, who is a major influence on how I relate to God, and Augustine, my model for how to live in and even embrace a State not built around my faith. Unlike many Jews, I am not bothered by Christian symbols and images. I do not spit while passing churches. I can look at paintings of the crucifixion and even the Passion film as works of art, without getting caught up in whether Jews are being blamed for killing Jesus. I have even, on occasion, attended church services. My Judaism is one that consciously gives Christianity legitimacy and allows me to be a citizens with Christians. I practice a similar code of morality. I am looking to engage in a heterosexual monogamous relationship. (Not that I am about to butt into the lives of anyone pursuing any alternative relationships in the privacy of their own homes.) I do not use drugs nor do I drink to excess. I am honest in my business dealings with everyone, whether they are Jewish or not. If you are going to accept non-Christians into your country, I am the sort you can hope to deal with.
In addition to my Christian values, I strongly identify with the American narrative. This goes for the Pilgrims, who saw themselves as the new Children of Israel building their godly society in the new "Promised Land," to the American Revolution, a model of moderate force backed by a formal government used to defend liberty. Furthermore, the early United States offered a moderate version of the Enlightenment that was not out for war with religion and even capable of embracing it. It is from this perspective that I confront this country's very real flaws, particularly our history of slavery and racism. For me, following the American Christian abolitionist and civil rights traditions, slavery and racism are what idolatry was for the biblical Nation of Israel; a sin that challenged the very core of what we stood for and offering a narrative of salvation. Make no mistake, this country has paid a heavy price in blood for the sins of slavery and racism, but, as with King David repenting from his sin with Bethesda, the fact that a freedom loving country like the United States could struggle with intolerance offers hope to others that they do not have to be damned for their own intolerance.
Today the United States offers the best hope for the world for many of the values I hold dear. The United States, for all of its very real flaws, offers an alternative to theocracy on the one hand and anti-religious secularism on the other. Our political tradition offers the necessary level of government to allow for liberty without turning toward the tyranny of the State-run economy. If the United States were to disappear, I doubt that these values would have much hope flourishing throughout the rest of the world, leaving us to choose between the tyrannies of the left and the right, religious and secular.
As it should be clear from this, I am probably more of a Christian than the majority of people who claim to be. I also actively embrace being an American. This is the country that offered a home to my grandfather, an orphan of the Holocaust, and my grandmother, who fled Hungary during the 1956 Revolution. This is my country and I am not about to forget that; I am not about to simply use the privilege of citizenship to enrich myself with government handouts. It is right for other people, even WASPs whose family history in this country goes back much further than mine, to take me at my word and accept me as an equal citizen.
Now compare this to other individuals from minority backgrounds, who take the attitude that "they did not land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on them." However justified there historical grievances might be, why should anyone listening to such a listing of grievances trust the plaintiff enough to turn around and offer tolerance and even citizenship. "You Americans are a bunch of racist imperialist baby killers and I want in. Trust me; I mean you no harm and would never think to abuse equal citizenship."