It’s hard to call oneself a Christian when so many who flaunt that label behave in such unChrist-like ways. Too often Christian is synonymous today with racist and homophobe, which leaves many who actually attempt to live out the principles attributed to Christ feeling as though they are victims of identity theft. I wonder if God feels the same way.
The public context of God has been almost wholly subsumed in the identity of radical right “Christian” hegemony. Political Christianism is a rightwing gimmick. The God of “In God We Trust” is a “Christian” god for a “Christian” nation—both fictions designed to fool unthinking masses with feel-righteous rhetoric.
In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times (“How Business Made Us Christian,” March 15, 2015), Princeton history professor Kevin M. Kruse traced the formulation of God as an advertising ploy. Kruse attributes the mid-20th-century adoption of a decidedly Christianist God as America’s national trademark to the influence of business interests, particularly as stimulated and articulated by a young charismatic evangelist, Billy Graham.
Kruse quotes Graham as saying in 1952, “If I would run for president of the United States today on a platform of calling people back to God, back to Christ, back to the Bible, I’d be elected.” Republican conservatives have been banking on this ploy ever since.
Imagine a decade-earlier version of AMC’s Sixties advertising agency in Mad Men and one may better understand how corporate America began its drive toward oligarchy with the collusion of rightwing politicians. God got big in the 1950s. Government agencies initiated prayer services. In 1954 Congress added “under God” to the previously secular Pledge of Allegiance, and that was the year “In God We Trust” got added to postage stamps. The next year the phrase was added to U.S. currency. And in 1956 it became the official national motto.
In the current national debate about the character of the United States—a debate that affects education, the arts, the sciences, politics, global affairs, and all the rest—it is useful to remember that the public “God,” like the notion of being a “Christian nation,” is a recent invention—at root merely a crass advertising ploy and propaganda with no actual foundation in faith.
This essay is cross-posted on two blogs: Advancing Learning and Democracy (http://advancinglearning.blogspot.com) and Arts in View (http://artsinview.blogspot.com).