Racism as an “original sin” (Biden). The abolitionist war was also a schism among Protestants, founded on the Bible. All presidents have always been presidents of all, in the great civil religion. America is a federal state, under a federal God
With Ambrogio we close here. Because this story of religious symbols, the Bible and the bent knee, is entirely American. The policemen, the demonstrators, the common people, the VIPs who do “take a knee” know that that gesture, which has become a sign of a clash not only political, is a religious gesture. Brought into the history of the West by the Judeo-Christian religion. For Greeks and Romans, however, it was an ignominy. They were not the first, after George Floyd’s death, to use that gesture to indicate an implacable division. He was the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, to put his knee on the ground before a race, during the national anthem: “I do not intend to show respect for the flag of a country that oppresses blacks and ethnic minorities”. Against Donald Trump’s first and white America. He hadn’t been the first either. But the punch in the black glove of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ Black Panthers in Mexico ’68 referred to a political and violent war. Even the Denver Nuggets star Chris Jackson did not get off the bench in 1996: “I don’t mean to show respect for a symbol of oppression and tyranny like the United States flag,” he said. Then he changed religion and became Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. How Muhammad Ali had changed religion. Because to combat racial injustice, “the original sin that stains America”, as Joe Biden called it, seemed fatal to have to abandon America’s religion as well. But in Kaepernick’s take a knee perhaps, mysteriously, a different sense was already hovering. That of a prayer and a question placed at the heart of religion. On the one hand a feeling of pietas that invokes the justice of God, on the other the waved Bible – the Bible that according to Reagan is “the book where there are all the answers” – but also the crosses that in the South and in the sites of the alt -right they started again to mean threat and suprematism. It is the very root of American Protestantism, which was born Calvinist as a “Redeemer Nation” and has its two pillars in the free interpretation of Scripture and in total dependence on God. Confident or threatening. The problem is that a clash like this has not been seen for a long time. The American religion, America as a great nation under the Law of God, is and always has been the home of all free men who seek their happiness. Obviously with boundaries and circumstances that make ambition less absolute. Moreover, in the colony that Tocqueville considered the prototype of American democracy, Massachusetts, there were theocratic discrimination against Catholics, Jews and Quakers as they did not even exist in Spain. The laws provided for the death sentence for Catholic priests who were caught returning to the territory after being expelled from it. But in its most noble form, which has always been the essence of American Protestantism, America is the promise of the “city upon a hill”. And it continued to be even more so in the form of that “secularized Protestantism” which is the root of the American way of life. To put it with Eisenhower, the nation that has “religion as its foundation; no matter what religion. ”
But something has happened, which affects everyone in the rest of the world as well. Under the reckless leadership to the limit of Donald Trump’s blasphemy, his blowing on an increasingly angry, frightened, supremacist religious right there is a change that sinks into the origin: the deputy place of sins. After all, the America of the Mayflower Fathers is born of a schism. Puritan pastor John Robinson led a conventicle of “nonconformists” who had not accepted the Act of Supremacy of Elizabeth I, had fled to Holland and then finally, in 1620, to the promised land to be able to live without submitting to the monarchy-church of ‘England. Then came the Anabaptists, and the Quakers to found Philadelphia, each fleeing its own rebel schism. And after all, the other original sin of America, slavery, was healed at the bloody price of a war that was, once again, also a religious schism. The first to preach abolition in the name of God were the Anabaptist anarchists. The Quakers, the founders of the City of Brotherly Love who were the protagonists of the anti-slavery movement many decades later, became abolitionists only after the Great Awakening that shook and revitalized American churches in the first half of the eighteenth century. Before, they had been slave owners and their community was tormented by visionary preachers such as Benjamin Lay, author of a book in 1737 that sounded like a condemnation of God: All Slave-keepers that keep the innocent in bondage. apostates. The division split the communities, and the root of the dispute lay precisely in the literal interpretation of the Scriptures. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s hut, she was the daughter of a Southern Calvinist pastor. But the episcopal bishop Leonidas Polk, owner of slaves, was also from the South who, during the Secession war, took off his cassock and became confederate general. The problem was how to read the Bible, about slavery. And you couldn’t agree. Just that Lincoln Bible, an Oxford edition of the King James Bible, on which Barack Obama and Trump swore. Now that story seems to re-emerge. Far beyond the Bible belt, a sort of deep scar that marks the border of the southern states, where “black churches” are strong, the Southern Baptist Convention (Baptist pastor was Martin Luther King) and Pentecostal congregations. But where the hoods and crosses of the Klan have begun to appear again, together with the weapons of the supremacist right. Yet American history is not a history of religious wars and America is not the place of only an arch-religion, from American Gothic. It is the story of a nation that has put in its Constitution the separation between the state and religion, almost to protect its freedom more. And it became what already in the mid-twentieth century Reinhold Neibuhr, one of the greatest Protestant theologians of the United States, defined “at the same time the most religious and the most secularized of western nations”.
A great historian of the American religion, Mark Noll, wondered what Luther could still recognize of himself in today’s American Protestantism. Only two things: the absolute centrality of the Bible and the primacy of individual consciousness. Two cornerstones that have always governed the American “civil religion”. In its fundamental Calvinist imprinting, the idea of a task to be carried out has always been clear in American civil religion: if not justice on earth, a society that had the best conditions for well-being and salvation. Because human rights do not come primarily from the state and the hands of man, but from the hands of God. All the presidents who swear by the Bible have always been the presidents of all. Shared by that one religion, whatever the denomination or intensity. He was a fervent liberal Baptist Jimmy Carter. George W. Bush, who now says about Trump and rights the same things that Catholic Kennedy might have said, is a “reborn” member of the Methodist church, like Hillary Clinton (Bill is a Baptist), although one sits on the most conservative benches in the Protestantism and the other in those of the most progressive. Obama, from the roughest route, distanced himself in time from the United Trinity Church of Reverend Wright, a black religious populist, to calm himself in a more mainstream religiosity. One could say that America is a federal state, and therefore has a federal God. A God not by divine mandate, but by popular mandate, because it is the people themselves who recognize themselves under “his God”. A great nation under the starry federation of God. This faith has always been the propellant of social and political dynamics. But even a pious and belligerent president like Bush (David Frum, his former speechwriter, said with amusement that the first words that the president addressed to him in the White House were: “Missed you at Bible Study”, you chained the meeting on the Bible), he knew how to keep the religious aspect distinct from politics. And after September 11, he hastened to say very clearly to American Muslims: “We respect your faith. It is practiced freely by several million Americans and many other millions of people in countries that America considers friends. “
Trump is the international of a religion made of hatred, fears and closure. People’s opium was better, at least it relaxed the nerves. The great change of the churches, the South, the secularization and the emergence of the religious right which has become increasingly aggressive
From propellant to hate tool, things change. The history of the change that has taken place in US federal Protestantism in recent decades is long and complex. It is the cultural evaporation and percentage of wasp churches. It is the great explosion of the Pentecostal, warm and fundamentalist denominations, aggregative for the poorest and most rural population. And of the Southern Baptist Convention, which included Billy Graham, prototype of the preachers and listener of many presidents. It is the growth of evangelical churches, often right-wing, but not always: each church has divisions within it, including deep divisions between liberals and conservatives. It is also the inverse story of a secularizing aggression that since the 1960s has been committed to dismantling the values of the American way of life, up to the degenerations one step away from totalitarianism which is now dominant in universities and pervasive in the media. And it is the story of the opposite reaction, which through the experiences of war cultures and Tea parties has increasingly become the territory of the religious and extremist right, thanks also to an instrumental use of politics. But It is especially with Trump and with the alt-right campaigns orchestrated over the years by ideologues like Steve Bannon that the landscape has changed. That union sacrée of white men left behind, of refusal of immigration and melting pot, of globalist plots to be foiled, of traditional values challenged such as weapons of war and flags to mark borders has cemented. Radicalizing in a clash where the nation seems to be lost under one God. Thus religious and racial questions have become inflamed, suprematism has reappeared (and the sub-cultures of the web have fertilized), in a situation that risks falling out of control. And it’s not just a U.S. problem. If it is true that radicalization has succeeded in bringing together – in the country and internationally – two fronts that had never loved each other: Catholic traditionalism and fundamentalist evangelism. A dynamic that Father Antonio Spadaro and the Presbyterian pastor Marcelo Figueroa, in a recent essay by the Catholic civilization that has caused a stir, have well described, thinking about that “ecumenism of hatred” that Pope Francis had spoken about. Perhaps the opium of the peoples was better, at least it relaxes the nerves.
All under dangerous driving. Bush, a “born again christian”, was a religious president. And in recent days he wrote that “the answers to American problems lie in respect for American ideals, in respect for the essential truth that all men have been created equal and endowed by God with certain rights”. Trump may not be an atheist in his heart, but in dealing publicly with the matter he is a blasphemous and opportunistic exhibitionist. A diviner who knows how to evoke the worst of the long-held demons at bay and make it an international network. Through a red thread that unites America great again with the Brazil of the evangelical Bolsonaro. But which is also a reference for sovereign Europe armed with rosaries, Madonnas of Fatima and barbed wires of the Orbán, Le Pen, Salvini and Meloni. Leaders who aim for the result – and it would be truly epochal if they obtained it – to transform Christianity (of all confessions) from a positive factor in building more just, open and even value societies into an identity religion, of fear and closure. Up to ideological ties with the supremacist fringes. The manifesto of Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the bomber of Christchurch in New Zealand, is there to be read as a school text.
But America of civil religion has never been this, except in some particularly dark moments. And a president who uses a part of it “not to unite but to divide the nation”, as even his former Pentagon chief “Crazy Dog” Mattis said, is an unprecedented fact. The America of the schism between the waved Bible and bent knees today reflects on all this. At other times in history he has found the right path. Michael Cimino, with acute intuition, chose to set The hunter in a community of Russian immigrants, of orthodox faith, whites “left behind” in a Pennsylvania steel mill and then broken by a war not them, there in Vietnam, which had torn their lives, their souls, killed their friends and destroyed their future. In the finale, the protagonists are gathered together and sing the most American anthem of all, in the most poignant version of American cinema. They sing in tears, but sing: “God bless America”.