Friday, September 12, 2008

Oh All Right Then.....

I know I said I wouldn't but...........

BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day, 8 September 2008
Clifford Longley

Just now the internet in America is buzzing with what you might call "the search for Sarah Palin's God". Every kind of speculation is out there among the blogs. The reasons are fairly obvious. She was chosen for John McCain's presidential ticket because there are a lot of conservative voters in America who regard her as one of their own. She helps Mr McCain's chances with them. As vice president she would take over the running of the country if anything untoward happened to the president, who is in his mid-seventies. What she believes could make a difference to everyone's life, American or not.

Sarah Palin has belonged to a pentecostalist church called the Assemblies of God, but is now being described as a post-denominational Evangelical. We know she favours creationism and does not believe global warming is caused by carbon emissions. She's against abortion and homosexuality. Whether she actually thinks that the United States invasion of Iraq was God's will, or merely said that she hoped it was, remains to be clarified.

This is where the rest of the world needs to be wary. There is a strong strand in fundamentalist American Protestantism that believes God has given America a special and manifest destiny in world affairs - indeed that Americans are in a sense God's Chosen People and hence there is no real distinction to be made between America's interests and God's interests. The merging of religion with nationalism is always dangerous.

I believe this is close to the true meaning of the famous saying quoted in three of the Gospels, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." Jewish nationalists opposed to the Roman occupation of Palestine were trying to persuade people to stop paying taxes to the Romans, symbolised by the emperor's head on the coin. They wanted to recruit Jesus to their patriotic cause. He evaded the question by offering a general principle, saying, in effect, you can work it out for yourself. Caesar and God are two different things, so for God's sake keep them apart.

We British have to admit that we were once very good at confusing God's interests with Britain's interests; indeed, that is where Americans got the idea from in the first place. Now we've moved on, or let's hope we have. The positive side of this belief is that people who think they are acting on God's behalf can be very earnest, high minded and unselfish. If you're not careful, though, any and every quarrel America is involved in becomes a conflict between good and evil. What we need is the corollary of Jesus's words, "Do not render unto God the things that are Caesar's, nor to Caesar the things that are God's." Do not, in other words, confuse patriotism with piety.