Raised Right: Repentance and Patriotism

In chapter five of “Raised Right:  How I Untangled my Faith from Politics,” Alisa Harris shares her memories and thoughts from 9/11.  She speaks of it as a time of revived patriotism as well as a time when she hoped for a nation-wide revival and repentance.  Her link between patriotism and repentance struck me in this chapter.

While Harris might not have directly blamed 9/11 or any other disaster on QUILTBAG people, feminists, liberals, or any other perceived “enemies of God,” you can see the same mentality here.  While not (explicitly) pinpointing a particular group, she still thought of the national tragedy as god’s divine wrath and a warning call to repentance.

Harris explains that during the time immediately after 9/11, her mind began to compare America’s tragedy to the Old Testament description of the Israelites:

The world had shifted in a way I’d only read abut in the oldest of the Bible’s sacred books.  Although ancient Israel backslid, worshipped false gods, sacrificed its children, and neglected the tabernacle where God resided, God never abandoned His beloved.  Judgment came, the Israelites in their misery repented, and God always welcomed them back with a heart that forgave again and again.  I believed America, the new Israel, was stuck in the same relentless cycle: we backslid, sacrificed to the false gods of Hollywood and big government, murdered our children, and forsook the sacrifice of obedience;; but surely repentance and redemption and revival would come before it was too late.

What’s interesting to me — and something that she alludes to in other places — is that her list of America’s sins (or Israel’s for that matter) does not mention the neglect of the widow or orphan, taking advantage of those already impoverished and downtrodden.

At the time, Harris’s dream was of this leading to a revival.  She describes how she envisioned it:

I pictured revival beginning with a twenty-first century Jonathan Edwards in a small church in a tiny town waking up one day and being moved by God to preach an unusual message.  He would approach his pulpit that Sunday, look out at the soft sinners sitting in the pews, and then launch into a modern version of “Sinners of an Angry God” – a tale of woe, of damnation, of sinners being dangle over the mouth of hell by an outraged deity.  That same hand would clutch the hearts of the people who sat rapt in the pews.

I remember reading (or at least skimming) “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in high school.   It’s the model “fire and brimstone” sermon, and for good reason.  The fact that Harris and her former colleagues and co-religionists consider this sermon as the model for renewal and revival tells us a great deal about fundamentalist thought and the god they worship.

Understand that Harris is making it clear that in her early life, she soundly believed (and I suspect this is common amongst fundamentalists and other staunchly conservative Christians) is that revival and a return to God must be sparked by a fear of that same god and his almighty wrath.  Not can.  Not might.  Must.

This strikes me as an admission that the god of such people has nothing sufficiently positive or attractive with which to woo the wayward nonbeliever.[1]  Blessing will not woo the nonbeliever.[2]  Instead, they must be frightened into the grace of God by his wrathful judgment and doom.

Is it any wonder most of their evangelistic efforts fail?  There are reasons you don’t see more commercials that amount to “buy our product or we’ll beat you senseless.”

Of course, it’s important to note that Harris and those she worshipped with did not see 9/11 as a call for them to repent.  In their minds, that call was directed at others, which left those who were sending out that call on God’s behalf quite comfortable.

And that was her picture of patriotism at the time:  Telling others to shape up and get back in line.  I suspect that she might use a different term to describe that mentality now.  I certainly do.

Notes:
[1]  Remind me some day to do a post on why I despise the word nonbeliever.

[2]  Not surprising, since Jesus himself admits that God causes the sun to shine and the rain to shine on the righteous and the wicked alike.  Of course, I doubt most fundamentalists read that verse, and certainly not in context.  It’s a continuation of verse 44, which is the start of Jesus’s exhortation to love one’s enemies.  In context, verse 45 suggests that even God loves His enemies, which might conflict with all that wrath some of His followers is waiting for him to pour out.

5 thoughts on “Raised Right: Repentance and Patriotism

  1. A brief excerpt from the Dictionary of the Religious Right:

    Patriarchy: (n) Awesomeness incarnate, man.
    Patriotism: (n) The hatred of at least 75% of the population of one’s country. A uniquely Christian attribute.

  2. There are reasons you don’t see more commercials that amount to “buy our product or we’ll beat you senseless.”

    Well…
    Okay, Stride gum is more of a “Buy more of our product or we’ll beat you senseless”, but similar thing.

  3. @Brin: I actually love the Stride commercials because they are so silly. The thing is that the commercial isn’t really so much about “buy more of our product or we’ll hurt you” as it’s about “crap, we made such a good and long-lasting product that our sales plummeted after everyone got their first piece of our gum. Now what?” It’s silliness at it’s best.

    As I thought about this, the products that do seem to use the “scare the customer into going with us” approach would be home security systems, insurance companies, and Life Alert.

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