Two days ago, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (AFA) defended the European conquest of American soil by arguing that Native peoples were morally disqualified from sovereignty over American soil due to their refusal to assimilate into Christian culture. Fischer’s post was rightly criticized both within his organization and outside of it, leading to the deletion of the post. However, there is still a webcatched version of the blog post and who knows how long it will exist (for those of use who know about screen capture, the post will live on as jpgs on our laptops).
Fischer knows that his comments will create a firestorm from the Left and that our complaints will not advance “thoughtful reflection.”
It is baffling that anyone would claim that the Native peoples’ loss of land was due to their refusal to convert from indigenous religious practices to Christianity. Moreover, Fischer argues that while many or most have become Christian, that there are still indigenous rites practiced therefore negating many Native Christianities as legitimate (ignoring the dichotomy between religion and culture is a Western phenomena, a distinction that many ethnic and cultural groups do not make). Then again, I am hardly surprised that someone from the theocratic Right would be making such a claim. At the very least, there are those who are part of the AFA who are distancing themselves from Fischer, such as Elijah Friedman.
Many people have already responded, such as Daniel Schultz from Religion Dispatches. There are two points of this that I would like to discuss: the ethical framework and the consequence of believe America to be a Christian nation, at least how it is discussed in the public sphere.
First, Fischer’s ethical framework is worth discussion. From what I have gathered from his various writings, one can deduce such a framework, even if it is implicit. Fischer’s framework is roughly such: A Christian is prohibited from killing non-Christians (even though his definition of Christian is highly contentious considering he envisions Christians and homosexuals, for instance). However, the non-Christian is nevertheless immoral. As such, if the “non-Christian” is killed by a bigot, their place as immoral person legitimized their murder. In other words, they had it coming and deserve any immoral action that comes to them.
Perhaps here we need to rely on the distinction (à la Butler, Laclau, and Levinas) between the ethical, which is contentious and morals, which enforce already normative stances in society. Fischer is less concerned with ethics and more concerned with morals because Fischer is advocating for the reinforcement of normative stances and not ones that problematize a collective ethos. Of course, I think Fischer’s ethical/moral framework falls on multiple grounds. For instance Fischer’s own Biblical-moral framework advocates the immorality of ‘pagans’ and sexual minorities but at the same time advocates that lying, stealing, and murder are also immoral.
What Fischer’s logic infers is that only the (Fischerian definition of) Christian constitutes a fully human person. That supposedly immoral persons are culturally unintelligible, to use a Butlerian term and therefore, as such, they are only semi-human. A (supposedly) non-Christian death is less problematic than a Christian one.
This leads me to my discussion of Christian hegemony in the United States. I think it’s important that we begin to move away from arguing that either the United States was a Christian nation or was a secular nation. My contention with this sort of argument is that it is clear that both Catholics and Jews, for instance, have had a difficulty living in the United States. At the same time, neither the Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution specify Protestant Christianity as privileged.
What we need to begin to do is start adding culture into the mix and argue that culturally, Protestant Christianity was and still is a hegemonic force in American society. Moreover, this requires that we scrap the idea that a religion is based purely on what ideals it espouses.
Christians killed native peoples and we have to accept that they did so on the premise that Fischer provides. To be sure, I do not think that Fischer’s argument is a legitimate argument in defense of what Christians did. Killing, stealing and lying are prohibited in both the Torah and the Sermon on the Mount. Nevertheless, there is a difference between the rules that are articulated and how those rules are actualized as a practice. I might argue that Fischer’s notion of what constitutes Christian behavior is antithetical to my interpretation of Halakha, but neither interpretation should be less privileged than the other, in the sense that Fischer’s is not Christian and mine is.
I hesitate to make this distinction primarily because I think we have instances, such as Pope Benedict’s rhetoric, who argues that Nazi Germany was atheistic and pagan. In my mind, the issue with such a logic is that given the history of Nazi Germany and the records that we have, most Germans during the Third Reich, considered themselves Christian and attendance of Christian churches rose between the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich.
This is not to say that Christianity should be abandoned. Nevertheless, the people who committed atrocities in Germany were Christian. They didn’t cease to be Christian once they committed those atrocities, thus, it is our obligation to understand how they interpreted Christianity and offer a better definition.
That’s why I also think a notion of Christian cultural hegemony is important. Obviously Christians committed atrocities in the United States (and many Jews owned slaves, as well). However, there were also Christians who were abolitionists, suffragists, fought for worker’s rights, and fought against Jim Crow. What I mean to say is that religion, as a cultural force can act as both an ethical force and a moral force. In Fischer’s reading of United States History, Christianity might have been a moral force (enforcing social norms) but not an ethical one.
Perhaps at this point, my post is getting too gummed up and becoming incoherent. I’ll stop here and hope that perhaps I can clarify more, my position.