Which Christians? Whose Nation?

In junior high, I was a Christian fundamentalist. With little doubt, and no irony, I believed. From the seventh grade to the ninth, I attended a Church of Christ school in Texas. Though now agnostic, something of the faith still resonates with me.

But fundamentalism isn’t the word of the day, since displaced by dominionism. Before anyone can explain dominion theology, they must take account of Christian Reconstructionism. As Julie Ingersoll said, two core beliefs should be understood:

First is the view that the Kingdom of God was established at the resurrection, that its establishment is progressive through history and Jesus will return at its culmination when Christianity has transformed the whole world (a view known as post-millennialism). Second, all knowledge is based in one of two sets of assumptions: the God of the Bible is the sovereign source of all authority or human reason is autonomous from God. Reconstructionists drew this dichotomous view, known as pre-suppositionalism, from reformed theology, and pushed it beyond being a merely philosophical critique to develop a thorough strategy in response. That strategy, broadly speaking, was to cast secular humanism and pluralism as being in conflict with Christianity, conferring a duty on Christians to transform earthly institutions in order to combat non-Christian influence. In other words, establishing the kingdom on earth to prepare for Christ’s return required Christians to transform the world, or take dominion, a view that became an article of faith for the religious right, which popularized versions of post-millennialism as dominion or “kingdom now” theology. The pre-suppositionalist view became the basis for attacks on secular humanism and pluralism, which positioned the “biblical worldview” as being on a collision course with the others.

Reconstructionists “hold a view of knowledge that says that there are really only two possible worldviews (a biblical one and a humanist one that comes in several varieties) and that both worldviews are in a conflict for dominion.”

In Reconstruction, the original sin in the garden of Eden occurred when Adam and Eve chose to eat of the tree of knowledge, substituting their own reason for obedience to what God had commanded. From then on all systems of thought (philosophies, religions, worldview, ideologies, etc.) not based in God’s word as revealed in the Bible were really just variations on the decision to claim autonomy for human reason (“humanism” is defined as making “man” the measure of all things). For Reconstructionists, those two worldviews are inherently mutually exclusive, thus real pluralism is impossible (see for example, Gary North’s “Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism”). And in fact, in their view, the two sides are engaged in a battle for dominion.

The New Apostolic Reformation, however, is a strand of neo-Pentecostalism. They “never really embraced post-millennialism but blended dominion theology with their pre-millennialism.” The pre- and post- refer to differing beliefs over when Christ will return: before or after an era of Christian dominion.

What disturbs me about dominion theology is not mere religiosity. If adherence to God’s law is the ultimate source of our government’s legitimacy, why should a dominionist surrender to an insufficiently Christian majority? In defending their Christian nation, why shouldn’t they require a religious test for public office, curtail the free exercise of un-Christian religions, or even rescind the God-granted rights of those who do not believe? Christian nationalists rejected Barack Obama’s professed Christianity and declared his presidency illegitimate. They also demanded a veto over where Muslims may pray in America.

To some degree, religion will always animate public life. For an open society, the guiding principle should be liberty of conscience, not the illiberal delusion of an end to religion. Charles Taylor has tried to make sense of what that should mean, presenting a sober challenge to the formulaic “wall of separation between church and state.” And in many respects, I agree with John Gray: the facile theory of progressive secularization has been falsified, religions cannot be reduced to explanations of how the world works, religious faith is scarcely more eradicable than sexual desire, and the “new atheism” is just that old time Positivism.

update (December 12, 2011): In his campaign ad “Strong,” Rick Perry said:

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian. But you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As President, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.

Perry may not mean what people think he means by religious freedom. To a civil libertarian, religious freedom means that people should be free to exercise their own faith, provided that they do not impose it upon others—a negative liberty. But to a Christian nationalist, religious freedom is a positive liberty where their God is sovereign. America is free when the government derives its legitimacy from their God and when its laws abide by their Biblical principles. To them, anything short of dominion is persecution.