WorldNetDaily, a right-wing religious “news” outfit, recently interviewed U.S. Representative Steve King, R-Iowa. King attempts to prove that American is a Christian nation, but succeeds only in showing his stunning arrogance.
King begins by claiming, “you could not build America without Christianity,” citing specifically the Ten Commandments. I have thoroughly debunked this claim (see a video of the debunking here and here) and am working on a book on the topic. I’m going to focus on the supercilious “proof” King once addressed to Alan Colmes:
“This is a Christian nation and I will prove it to you. If you drive home tonight and you drive in your driveway and your neighbor’s dog has gotten loose and runs in front of your car and you run over your neighbor’s dog and kill the neighbor’s dog, if you’re any kind of a man you’ll go over to the neighbor and knock on the door and say, ‘I killed your dog.’ Alan, that’s called confession.
And the next thing that you will say is, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.’ … And that’s confession and then repentance. And then once you repent, you’ll say, ‘please forgive me, I didn’t mean to kill your dog.’ And if your neighbor is any kind of a man your neighbor will say, ‘Alan, you didn’t mean to kill the dog, it really wasn’t your fault, you’ve confessed, you’ve repented, and you are forgiven.’ That’s called redemption.”
A common perception of Christianity, or perhaps a common Christian self-perception, is that Christianity or Christians are humble and that atheists, humanists, and scientists are arrogant. Dwell briefly on this notion and it is quickly and correctly reversed. Christianity claims to know ultimate truth with absolute certainty on the basis of no evidence. Atheists, humanists, and scientists claim to have answers supported by evidence, not faith, and are willing to alter their views should new evidence arise. The conceit falls on the side of unshakable faith.
King’s claim is the latest of many arrogant claims Christian nationalists make while attempting to prove our nation is really their nation. For instance, you’ve probably heard the claim that we are a Christian nation because we were founded on the Golden Rule. What arrogance! The Golden Rule is not originally or even uniquely Christian. Ancient Egyptians wrote down formulations more than 2,000 years before Christ was supposedly born. The Greeks documented it some 600 years before. This is a universal, human principle that any child can intuit — and it is arrogance to claim it for a particular faith. The same can be said of the claim that the Ten Commandments are responsible for America’s prohibitions on killing, stealing and lying. Addressing this argument in a debate with Al Sharpton, Christopher Hitchens rhetorically asked, “Is it really to be believed that until they got to the foot of Mt. Sinai, the followers of Moses believed that, up till then, adultery, murder, theft and perjury were OK?” Of course not. The assertion that Judeo-Christianity has bestowed these prohibitions on the human race is as incorrect as it is arrogant.
King’s argument is simply the latest instance of such arrogance. Claiming that accepting responsibility for errors, apologies, and forgiveness are uniquely and originally Christian takes Christian presumption and hubris to a whole new level. Feeling pain and regret for hurting another living being is called compassion or empathy and it is a universal human emotion (and not solely human, see here.) Apologizing for one’s errors or wrongs and accepting responsibility for the harm they cause are elements of our shared humanity. They are not inventions of the Christian religion.
King also gets Christianity wrong. Christianity does not require or even advocate that its adherents accept responsibility or apologize for wrongs. The central tenet of Christianity — that Jesus died for your sins and, by accepting him as your savior those sins are forgiven — is a complete abrogation of personal responsibility. In King’s run-on, run-over example, the truly Christian response to the horrific accident is not to ask the neighbor for forgiveness, it is to ask forgiveness from an imaginary friend who died for all your sins. Through Jesus the scapegoat, Christianity removes all responsibility for mistakes and wrongdoing from one’s shoulders. It also takes the responsibility of forgiving from the neighbor and gives it to that self-same imaginary friend.
This is the perfect refutation of compassion and empathy. Instead of centering the incident on the victim (the neighbor), Christianity centers it on the Christian. The victim is superfluous. Apology and redemption are obtained without the pesky need to accept responsibility for one’s actions.
Empathy, compassion, guilt, forgiveness, morality and responsibility cannot be claimed as the monopoly of one religion. They are, to borrow from Hitchens again, part of our “elementary human solidarity.” Unfortunately, so is presumption. King’s argument does nothing to prove that we are a Christian nation, but it does go a long way toward proving how arrogant the Christian nationalist can be.