Well, Ladies and Gentlement and Various Others, I have finished my course on the Bible. I spent yesterday banging out the last week’s lectures and homework, which only took a couple hours. It was so much fun. That course more than anything recently has changed my perspective so much. If you’re thinking about taking a class, try Coursera first. It’s free and so rewarding. And you can find me there! But because I am so happy with my Bible course, I wanted to write a blog post about a question we tackled this week in the discussion forums.
If countries had their own biblical type texts, what would they be?
This was my contribution to the discussion:
I think in many ways, the United States already has a bible of its own. It is made up of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and successive famous declarations, speeches and writings on these texts by various people. Things like the Federalist Papers and the Gettysburg Address are a part of these canonical writings. As with any text, there are better known and lesser known parts, but they are all important to the creation of a national identity.
Part of my justification for saying this is the extent to which these texts are appealed to in modern discourse. Politicians swear to uphold the Constitution and often we hear them talk about them as part of their reasoning for action in one way or another. This is not much different from how religious people appeal to the Bible in order to justify their own actions or condemn the actions of others. Together, these texts have helped make up what it means to be an American, just as the Hebrew Bible made up what it meant to be an Isrealite.
Another reason why I say that America already has a Bible is because of comparisons with other countries. For instance, I am American living in Australia. Australians do not have the same sense of nationalism that Americans do and they do not appeal to one text regularly as justifications for their actions and beliefs. If anything, when someone says that an action is “unAustralian,” the reply here is, “Who says?” Australia lacks the shared textual identity that America has. Or at least it does not have one to such a great extent.
If you want to see evidence for why I say the US already has its own Bible, just go back a couple days to July 4. What do Americans do? They celebrate, commemorate, and memorialize our shared national identity. The Fourth of July has that as its common purpose, but it does so in a diverse way. Dr. Wright talked about the diversity of perspective in the Bible. America has its own diversity of perspective in its national consciousness as evidenced by July 4. Different histories, disparate groups, ethnicities, and religions are all brought together to celebrate a shared, American heritage and identity. And we do so based around the creation of a text – the Declaration of Independence. For me, that is the clearest indication that America has its own Bible that there is.
You are welcome to comment on this idea and on the general question itself. I’d love to hear what people think, especially in light of recent events. But this is not the real question I want to consider here, though it is a starting point.
Where Your Bible Is
I’ve talked previously about the idea that “where your treasure is, there your heart is also.” That Bible verse is perhaps one of the most important to me functionally. It requires me to examine and re-examine my motivations for doing anything. For instance, I was writing an email to a friend and trying to explain why buying free range eggs was important to me. I was explaining badly, but perhaps, if you’re reading this, Moxie, this explanation will make more sense.
I buy free range eggs in order to focus on something other than myself. This requires some inconvenience on my part and I, naturally, hate to be inconvenienced. In my day to day life, little else is more important than me and what I want and what is easy for me. Anything smaller than me doesn’t matter enough to change my actions or attitude. I realized this attitude when my wife started crying about buying cage eggs and said, “But the poor things suffer!” (She is a soft heart, my wife). It was then that I realized how little I cared and how bad that was. God cares about sparrows (Matthew 10:29), but I don’t care about chickens. My “treasure” in this instance was selfish and therefore badly placed.
It is so important to know what motivates you. As Christians, Christ is supposed to be our center, our core, our reason for everything. But what about as Americans? What is important to us as part of our national identity? And, more importantly, do we prioritize that over our identity as Christians or even as human beings? In other words, where is our Bible? Is it in the political documents of the state? Or is it in Christ’s own words?
I don’t live in the United States anymore, so my perspective at least on America has changed recently. I still believe that it is a wonderful country and it is still a model for what I want my country of residence to be like. I want freedoms and protections like America has. But I no longer want to be an “American.” I’m not renouncing my citizenship (never will), but I do want to change what that concept of being an American means to me.
I do not want nationalistic pride to be more important to me than being a Christian is. I want The Bible to be MY Bible. That is a fundamental difference and I will elaborate more on that in the coming week, I think. But for now, the important point is that I want the universality of Christ to be my guide in life, not some other text.
My treasure is in a life of Christ, not in a life of patriotism.