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Archive for October 16th, 2005

Just As American

The other day two gentlemen appeared at my front door. The more elderly one wore a grey suit and carried a Bible and a bunch of small plastic bags stuffed with handouts. The younger one wore a neat sports shirt and dress pants, and also carried bagged handouts.

They explained that they were from Cornerstone Baptist Church, here in Massillon, and they were going door to door inviting people to visit the church. I politely told them that I had a church home. When asked, I said that I attended a Byzantine Catholic church. I’m not sure they knew what that was, but
they acted like they did.

They invited me to visit Cornerstone Baptist Church some time, then handed me a bag. A pamphlet in the bag caught my eye, one with a bald eagle and a lot of stars and stripes on the cover. I opened the pamphlet and, skimming, saw that it was not a political tract at all, but an illustrated guide to salvation,
Baptist-style.

I told them that I thought it curious that the cover was so patriotic, when the contents were religious.

"Well, why not ?", the younger man said. "After all, I am just as American as I am saved."

"Really?", I said. "I’m way more saved than I am American."

Of course I don’t share the Baptist notion that one can possess absolute certainty of one’s eternal fate, but at that point I was simply speaking their language.

The elder man inquired whether I had, indeed, repented of my sins and turned to Christ. I assured him that I had.

The younger man asked what I meant about being more saved than American. I told him I thought Christian faith put one at odds with this nation [the older man agreed].

I wished them well, and they were off.

Now I have long known that Americans are confused, but this was the first time I had seen nationalistic symbols displayed when common sense would have suggested that Christian symbol–a cross or a Bible, say–might have belonged. And apparently without a touch of dissonance.

It reminded me of the Walker Percy novel Love in the Ruins, set at a time "near the end of the world", where there is an Americanist schism in the Catholic Church, which plays the national anthem at the consecration of the Eucharist.

Chesterton famously said that America is a nation with the soul of a church, which I don’t think he meant as a compliment. But have we reached a point where many Christian bodies are churches with nationalistic souls?

Faith and nationalism do get mixed up here; after all America is a kind of religion, with a credo that proclaims that we are a Sorta Chosen People, destined to bring Freedom and Democracy to the world, whether the world wants it or not, with Liberty and Justice and Always Low Prices for all, world without
end, amen.

One would think that Catholics, belonging to a Church whose very name means "Universal", who count as their brothers and sisters men and women and children of every race and nation, living under every form of government, would be immune to this sort of thing.

Alas, I’m afraid it is not so.

Too many Catholics are "just as American" as they are Catholic.

Daniel Nichols

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