Friday, June 11, 2004

That Shining City on a Hill

This is my rant.

I'm sitting here tonight and there are two speeches playing on the news channels. One is Ronnie's Farewell speech. That's the one where he speaks of the "Shining City on a Hill." The text is HERE! Reagan is right to credit John Winthop in his remarks of 1630, a Pilgrim's remarks about the accomplishments he hoped for in the new world. Pilgrims, we need to remember, were born again. As Reagan rightly mentions, the remarks are used by Winthrop to describe what he hoped for his colony in America. The other speech is Dubya's from the other day, his first comments on Reagan's death, where he references Reagan's use of Winthrop's words.

Reagan using the words of Winthrop were not new. He also used the words in a speech in 1974. This theme was important to him. To use this tropes as almost cornerstones to his political career shows its importance. But are there origins beyond Winthrop? Of course there are. But while the references to Winthrop imply a connection to Pilgrim religious values and the nascent "can do" American spirit, if we look back to where Winthrop borrowed from we find something largely alien to the Republican project.

Those origins can only come from Augustine. Yes, that is St. Augustine, the Catholic theologian form Roman times. Augustine was born again, just like George Bush -- they evidently share the notion that it is fine to do drugs, play around with women and the like while you are young, but if you are born again, then when mature you are allowed to preach about abstinence and sobriety as if nothing ever happened. But Augustine was more than a bluenose.

In "The City of God" Augustine certainly discusses end days and the meaning of what happens after death, and that would be appealing to the Bush White House, who use such information to guide foreign policy, evidently, but modern readers of Augustine usually view "The City of God" as detailing the communitarian political nature of early Christianity. Writers such as Iris Marion Young define communitarianism as something very basic, a society in which the ability for people to meet their desires and aspirations is completely dependent and interrelated with the ability of all others to meet their desires and aspirations. This is far closer to a concept like Hillary Clinton's "it takes a village" than it is to Reaganomics or Bushite merchantilism.

It is often implied that Republicans know history or are closer to religion than Democrats. It just ain't so. Even though they borrow from Augustine through Winthrop, both Reagan and Bush would whimper if they truly understood Augustine's political ideal. They would shudder to think their words were borrowed from someone who would probably vote for Hillary before them.

Someone at the White House knew the original origins of those phrases, though. Someone there doesn't mind destroying history and distorting the words of someone like Augustine. No, they are not true believers in Religion. A true believer has faith. These folks are creationists as well, something you can see in the way Bush treats science, as a step-child to the pseudo-religious ideology that runs this Administration. Creationists can't do it on faith alone, despite the fact that faith is central to the Judeo-Christian religions. They need the bible proven word for word, their faith is so weak. So there's still more irony. While they can't seem to read and understand Augustine, their desire is to read and understand transparently every single word of the bible as literal truth. They haven't enough faith to work otherwise.

They make poor readers and poor Christians.