A Law Against Blasphemy

The Senate is proposing a constitutional amendment to prohibit blasphemy — that is, flag-burning, blasphemy against the one true all-American faith, “our nation and its values.” The Washington Post reports:

Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) cast the debate in loftier terms. “Many Americans have come to see the flag as a sacred symbol of our nation and its values,” he said. “Those who dislike American values have the right to express their opinions even when they are offensive. But I do not believe that the right to desecrate a symbol like our flag belongs in the same category.”

I read that shortly after reading this passage from John Lukacs’s The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern World:

The great threat to religious faith in our time (more precisely, to the quality and meaning of faith) is populist nationalism. The democratization of the churches has led to that; but that is only a secondary consequence, inseparable from the democratization of entire societies. The primary element is simpler, and more important. It is that the religion of the nation, the sentimental symbols of the nation, are more powerful than religious faith, especially when they are commingled. Nationalism, I repeat, is the only popular religio (religio: binding belief) [legally binding, if Frist and the Republicans get their way — DM] in our times.

… When in the 1950s I asked my then orthodox and rigidly catechized American Catholic students, “Are you an American who happens to be a Catholic, or are you a Catholic who happens to be an American?” all of them chose the former, not the latter.

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4 thoughts on “A Law Against Blasphemy

  1. Jeff Taylor June 27, 2006 / 4:09 pm

    Yes, it’s all just American Civil Religion. Thirty years ago, Francis Schaeffer warned in his book The Church at the End of the 20th Century, “In the United States many churches display the American flag. The Christian flag is usually put on one side and the American flag on the other. Does having two flags in your church mean that Christianity and the American Establishment are equal? If it does, you are really in trouble….Equating of any other loyalty with our loyalty to God is sin.”

    For Bush and the secularists who tell him what to do, religion is a means, not an end. Christianity is exploited for rather un-Christian ends: power, wealth, and violence. Sadly, most evangelicals today are so shallow that they swallow it hook, line, and sinker while they contentedly drive their fish-embossed and flag-emblazoned SUVs around town.

    I contrast G.W. Bush the believer unfavorably with W.J. Bryan the believer in the last chapter of my new book, Where Did the Party Go? (http://www.popcorn78.blogspot.com).

  2. R J Stove June 28, 2006 / 1:30 am

    Curiously, although nationalism is much more overt in Australian society now than it has ever been before (as the “we wuz robbed” howling among Australians over the World Cup soccer loss to Italy confirms), the local Australian Pentecostals / Christian Zionists haven’t been able to cash in on this nationalism. This is despite the fact that they’re incomparably more popular, more powerful, and simply wealthier today than they were a decade ago.

    I think the reason is that these Pentecostals / Christian Zionists are so obviously an American import, that if they tried to wrap themselves in the Australian flag, they would be innately unconvincing. Rather as Soviet troops in East Berlin during the old days would have been innately unconvincing if they’d attempted to support nationalistic consciousness within the DDR.

  3. Paul J Cella June 29, 2006 / 1:13 pm

    My view of the Flag Amendment, as I wrote here is that almost anything that will have the effect of reining in the lawless courts is to be cheered. Whether the Flag Amendment would have done that is open to question.

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