Religious Nationalism, Revivalism Rising on the world stage

 

Picture from Terrasanta.net. (Click on the picture for link and source)

Picture from Terrasanta.net. (Click on the picture for link and source)

By Joe LaGuardia

Every election year, we see the influence of a demographic voting block, often pitched as a uniform, monolithic movement, called “evangelicalism”.

Evangelicalism, a loosely-defined subculture in American Christianity, rose to political prominence under the Christian Coalition in the late 1970s and has championed major reforms and legislation that transcend partisanship.

Now, nearly 40 years later, evangelicalism appears to be the national faith of the United States. For all the folks declaring that we’ve strayed from our Judeo-Christian origins as a nation, we still are one of the most religious countries in the world.

Some claim this is unique to our place and time — no other religion aside from Islam plays such an influential role in politics.  This myth reinforces the idea that America is morally exceptional, anchored in biblical values, and divinely blessed.

As times change and the global economy limps along, however, this no longer rings sincere or true.  In fact, a variety of nationalist religions are on the rise in other nations, and we are experiencing none other than a global revival of religion, as it were.

In Japan, for example, the government has been quietly pushing for the revival of Shintoism, an indigenous polytheistic religion of the island nation.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a faithful Shinto disciple, is making the religion a central part of governance and social life, not only supporting Shinto shrines with tax dollars but also incorporating ideologies into his political philosophy and promoting the inclusion of its tenets in public education.

According to Michael Holtz, writing for The Christian Monitor, the emphasis on Shintoism resulted from a growing sense of national pride and a concern over “economic stagnation, materialism, and the rise of China.”

Shintoism has always had a precarious place in Japanese culture, but has historically provided the nation with a sense of power and security.  After the Second World War, the government exchanged Shintoism for a more pacifist, secular platform that emphasized industrialism and cultural growth.

Even now, fears exist that a return to Shintoism will influence broader militaristic fervor and lead to regional conflicts and Japanese aggression.

Russia is yet another nation instilling a religious awakening with nationalist pride among the populace.  The Russian government has increased its support of the Russian Orthodox Church.

This program of national spirituality, which dangerously aligns church and state, contends that Russia’s religious and cultural way of life dominates what it perceives to be the West’s evil imperialism, according to Wallace Daniel with The Christian Century.

According to Daniel, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow recently “argued that Western nations had ‘abandoned their Christian identity,'” claiming that “both liberal democracy and secularism as enemies of Orthodoxy and envisioned a ‘clash of civilization’ in which Russian Orthodox values stood against those of the secular West.”

Against Kirill’s wishes, the government brokered a historic meeting between Kirill and Pope Francis in Havana, Cuba.  It was the first time the two figureheads met in over 1000 years of church history, and conversation centered on political, economic, and religious aims between the East and West.

For some, the meeting was productive and reflected a religious commitment to greater cooperation; for others, it was a sign that a third World War, entrenched in both political and religious ideologies, is eminent.  With tensions rising between East and West in hotbeds like Ukraine and Syria, these hyperbolic claims may be well-founded.

The fact remains: As economies stall and the world shrinks in the wake of increasing regional tensions, people will turn to religions that reinforce tribal pride, quail fears regarding economic inequality, and promote the interests of nation-states bent on building the capital and leverage needed to elbow their way onto the global stage.

Rugged Diamorpha inspires a rugged faith

DIAMORPHA diamorpha smallii

DIAMORPHA
diamorpha smallii

By Orrin Morris

Many artists are fascinated by the sunrise and sunsets in the Rocky Mountains. Shadows, silhouettes, cloud formations among peaks, and bright reflections provide spectacular scenes to draw and paint.

We live in a unique area, too. We are surrounded by the largest number of granite outcroppings in Georgia. Within the area from Stone Mountain to Panola Mountain, to the Georgia International Horse Park, and on to Loganville there may be as many as 100 outcrops.  Granite was created by magma and thus contains many different combinations of crystals. A wide range of plants grow atop or in close proximity to the outcrops. However, early settlers found farming very difficult.

The thin layers of soil were sandy, thus causing major crop losses during dry weather. Furthermore, large sections of a person’s farm could not be used and runoff from heavy rains washed trenches through adjacent plowed fields.

Was poverty the norm? According to urban observers, the answer was “yes,” but to the locals, the norm was adaptation, and survival techniques abounded. Rock quarries and gristmills dotted the area making the most of the natural resources.  But churchgoers found the Biblical account of creation hopeful.

Genesis 1:12 reads, “And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”

Survival was possible because God said it was good.

Our wildflower for today will soon appear on most outcrops and will inspire a faith that has survived in times of both poverty and plenty: Diamorpha.

The diamorpha is red in February and March but when it actually blooms, the flower will be white.  During the winter, patches of diamorpha appear in the indentions atop the granite outcrops in our area.

One Sunday in February, I visited a nearby outcrop and inspected the red patches where thousands of 3/16-inch ball-shaped plants awaited longer daylight and warmer breezes. By April, a second visit revealed white blooms had begun to appear, as sketched.

Diamorpha, also called elf orpine, when springing to life, causes stems to rise 3 inches. The light red stem has deep red 1/8-inch leaves that alternate for about 2 inches, after which branching occurs. The tiny leaves are oval-shaped, thick and have the appearance of little hot water bottles.  Along and at the ends of the branches, tiny white blooms (1/4-inch) form. These have four petals, eight stamens and a pistil. When the buds first open, four of the stamens are attached to the center vein of the petal. The pistil looks like a fuzzy white ball in the center of the bloom.

As the flower matures the stamens seem to pop loose, scattering pollen. Within a day or so the pistil splits into four seed cases (carpels). Shortly after this the petals drop and the plant dies.

Throughout summer and fall the tiny stem stays erect to hold the seeds aloft. The granite becomes heated and the summer showers that occasionally fill the indention with rain quickly evaporate. The tiny stems gallantly hold the seeds high to prevent their germination.

As winter approaches, the stems collapse and the seed cases discharge the seeds. The late fall and winter rains cause the seeds to sprout what appears to be tiny red balls and the cycle begins again.

As the economy has shifted from agriculture and cattle to manufacturing and service industries, the outcroppings offer us a useful venue for nature excursions and study. Some, like the one I frequently visit, unfortunately have been sites for dumping garbage and other waste.

God did not just create the world and walk away. He is still at work, lovingly watching over His creation. Not even a sparrow falls without His awareness. (Luke 12:5) More than that illustration, God watches over us and surrounds us with love. We would do well if we were better stewards of these outcrops.

Compromise is an important part of leadership, federal budget debate

(This letter was originally submitted to The Rockdale Citizen on May 11, 2011).

Dear Editor,

On May 10th, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) unveiled a budget proposal that cuts national spending from 25% of the GDP to 18.5%.   Like other plans, Toomey’s enacts restrictions on entitlement spending and healthcare reform.

As I listened to the conference, what I found interesting was not the proposal itself, but the rhetoric framing the budget debate as communicated from the Republican co-signers of the proposal.  It was Toomey’s fellow Senators, Jim DeMint and Marco Rubio (of South Carolina and Florida respectively), that thanked him for his leadership on this issue.

Leadership:  When it comes to the budget debate, this loaded term invokes the apparent in-action of the Obama Administration in contrast to the Republican Party’s commitment to resolve the issue.

Whenever I hear about leadership, I get a little nervous.  Are the Republicans looking for leadership that seeks to balance the budget in a prudent and tempered fashion—a type of leadership that navigates through the complexity of a multi-trillion dollar system?  Or are they seeking the type of leadership like that of the previous presidential Administration, in which the executive branch bullied the legislative and judicial branches?

Leadership without patience and prudence has the potential to unleash unintended and long-term consequences.  The previous Administration’s costly and ill-informed unilateral attack on Iraq is just one example where lack of prudence failed to garner positive, cost-cutting results.

And there is something to be said about the Democratic Party’s inability to form a budget proposal whatsoever.  Certainly, a recession makes a proposal all the more difficult; but for a party that had control of both houses of Congress, this lack of leadership is inexcusable.

Suffice it to say, budgets are more complex than some might assume.  It took my wife and me days to carve out a budget on a mere five-figure income.  Imagine the time it takes to do that on a trillion-dollar scale—with a “scalpel” (in the words of President Obama) at that.

When it comes to weighty matters in which an entire nation is involved, leadership with an eye towards compromise is key to bringing about positive reform.  After all, the Constitution itself  was born out of compromise—Remember the “Great Compromise” in which the Founding Fathers married the best of the New Jersey and Virginia plans to develop representation in Congress?

Compromise is not a sign of weakness; it’s the foundation upon which our very democracy was built.

If leadership is the problem, both parties seem to be guilty, for true leadership happens when persons of difference can sit down and produce a plan that’s in the best interest of the greatest good.

There is great concern that federal debt must be dealt with, lest the issue become a problem for our children in years to come—to quote Sen. Rubio, if there is no action, “We will be the first Americans to leave our children worse off than ourselves.”

Perhaps we should ask ourselves what kind of legacy we are leaving our children when it comes to wise governing.  I’d rather model for my children healthy teamwork and conflict resolution than to pass on the anxious uncertainty inherent in partisan pontificating.   Let’s pray that both parties can get their act together and get us on the road to economic stability.

Blessings,

Rev. Joe LaGuardia