in God we trust

our national god. (lifegatefellowship.com)
in my last post, i talked about how a culture of people living unexamined lives that didn't differ from those of their parents is dangerous. i made the claim that people within societies that champion this perpetual negligence might have very few qualms with owning other people.

though that sounds fairly sobering, what i want to warn you about today is much more serious than slavery. it is the notion that one people could have a national god, whose every whim they would serve with absolute devotion. that seems kind of barbaric and unsophisticated. however, this practice is not only repeated throughout antiquity, but has been known to go largely unreproached when history is taught.

the modern movement has taken the idea of having a national god to the next level. it seemed absurd the in light of our intellectual progress to invent a new deity to be our patron, so we instead attached fresh coats of paint to an existing god. like the romans re-worked the greek gods and the chinese expanded and marginalized india's buddhism, the americans have now enlisted jesus to enlist them.

this practice of re-writing mythology, history and theology developed into something remarkably sophisticated in the last few centuries. it has become frighteningly common and devastatingly effective. we can corporately use god to use us to do a lot of things - from social reforms to imperial military conquests. and we often do.

in many parts of the world (indonesia, egypt, plymouth rock, jerusalem, new york), people are told by god to violently destroy their neighbors. now many of us "rational" people would object that those that hear god tell them to harm or take from another human being are mis-conceiving Him, and would try to stop them. would we do the same for the instigators of a "morally justified" armed conflict today? we need to be more consistent.

contemporary pseudo-moralistic wars are only the beginning of the things that people can do, will, do and have done with god's authority. personally, i don't care what my national god instructs. i won't toe his party line.

it has been famously said that "hell is other people." (philosopher jean-paul sartre) even if you believe in a physical hell, you might still agree with the sentiment that we have an incredible capacity for inflicting pain on one another. we seem almost destined both to suffer and to inflict pain. arthur schopenhauer said that "if the immediate and direct purpose of our life is not suffering then our existence is the most ill-adapted to its purpose in the world."

i think we can all agree that pain is universal. schopenhauer concludes that our suffering should lead us to "tolerance, patience, forbearance and charity." i like that. it's true that we are able to injure, but we are so much more well fitted for compassion.  maybe after all, we can, as paul encouraged, "be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love."

as ever,



  1. Very interesting. reminds me of a book i was reading the other day: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements By Eric Hoffer

  2. I liked your conclusion's reference to Shopenhauer's statement about tolerance, patience, etc. It seems delightfully that this is true with specific individuals, but as a whole it seems rather impossible. Well done, man. I also appreciated the thought of theo-nationalism leading to genocide. Excellent, you get a gold star.

  3. @isaiah: sounds interesting

    @jered: good call. i think you may be right about that..

  4. Hi Joel

    I have been following your blog from time to time. I saw you had been to Gig Harbor a while ago. I am in Port Orchard these days. If you ever want to see us when you are up here, let me know.

    I will save content comments for later

    Ron Johnson
    stillamazing at juno dot com

  5. @ron: so good to hear from you! yes, we have friends up in gig harbor. i will try to look you up next time. thanks for commenting : )