Painted Idolatry: “One Nation Under God”
Hello blogging friends,
Some of you probably have encountered the recent painting, “One Nation Under God.” Artistically speaking, it’s an excellent work. Theologically speaking, it incarnates, in the most graphic form imaginable, the sin of nationalistic idolatry. It’s sort of an artist’s rendition of The Patriot’s Bible which I reviewed on this blog some time ago. You can see the painting here. As you scroll over each character in the painting a commentary by the artist on why they were included pops up. I’d like to offer a few comments on several characters in this painting.
At the center of the painting, of course, is a very European looking Jesus holding the American Constitution. This document, the author claims is “[I]nspired of God and created by God fearing, patriotic Americans.” One might think that this outrageous modification of the traditional view that the Bible alone is the inspired Word of God would be enough for Christians to lose interest in this work, but I suspect it won’t. It’s not clear why this artist believes the Constitution is divinely inspired, though I suspect it’s the same reason other patriotic people throughout history have thought their foundational documents and causes were divinely inspired. This is simply the way nationalistic idolatry works. People just know that God (or the gods) is on our side and against our enemies. It’s obvious, right? Nothing in history has caused more bloodshed than this arrogant and unfounded assumption. Nor, I submit, is anything more contrary to the Kingdom Jesus brought than this assumption.
Moving on, an F-16 pilot is honored to be in the presence of Jesus. The artist comments that this fighter represents all those pilots who have given their lives to preserve freedom. The people these pilots have slaughtered with their bombs and bullets are unfortunately not present. This too is typical of idolatrous nationalism: it gives divine sanction to our spilling of blood while ignoring, if not demonizing, those whose blood we have spilled.
Thomas Jefferson stands close to Jesus, of course, which is a little odd since he is famous for insisting on the separation of church and state and for cutting out all of the miraculous elements of the New Testament. He found the doctrine of the Incarnation to be especially revolting. Something similar must be said of the inclusion of Thomas Payne. He is honored to be in the presence of the pro-American Jesus because he was a Founding Father, wrote pamphlets fueling the American Revolution, and was an Abolitionist. The artist does not mention that Payne also wrote pamphlets and books vigorously attacking Christianity and all religion. As an Enlightenment Deist, he and other Founding Fathers objected to any belief in supernatural occurrences, such as the virgin birth or the resurrection. I can’t imagine Payne or Jefferson being too happy about being co-opted as cheerleaders for the pro-American Jesus.
The former slave Fredrick Douglas is also present, which is a bit ironic, especially in light of the thoroughly European Jesus he’s revering. Douglas famously proclaimed that the Christianity of white America has nothing in common with the Christianity of Jesus. I think he would vigorously join Jefferson and Payne in protesting their inclusion in this idolatrous painting. Also ironic is the inclusion of John Adams, since it was he who wrote in the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli that “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” It’s hard to imagine him applauding the intense fusion of church and state in this painting.
Another famous Founding Father who is given the honor of being present with the Constitution-holding Jesus is James Madison. He seems to have been a decent enough fellow, unless you happened to be one of his slaves who tried to get free (many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves). He is reported to have nailed one rebellious slave to a barn yard door by his ear, despite signing a Constitution that declared all men to be created equal!
I was a little surprised to find the folk hero Davy Crockett included in this painting. But it must suggest that Jesus was highly invested in keeping Texas part of the Union rather than going to Mexico, to the point of affirming Crockett’s valiant killing of Mexicans to keep this from happening.
A particular interesting character surrounding Jesus is a civil war soldier who is crying. The artist explains that his tears are because the civil war was the only war in which “American fought against American, and brother against brother.” Apparently the many other wars we have fought were not between “brothers,” which is why no tears need be shed over them — even if those we are fighting are fellow Christians. Close by we find an American Revolution Soldier who is said to represent those “brave men who fought against all odds in defeating Britain in the Revolutionary War.” The British, of course, were Christians. In fact, they felt a divine obligation to keep Americans under the authority of the King because the Bible says all authority is given by God and Christians are to submit to the authorities they are under (Rom. 13:1-7). But we killed more of them than they us, and since this artist apparently is happy about this, our Revolutionary soldier gets honored next to Jesus while British soldiers are excluded. One of the most demonic aspects of idolatrous nationalism is that it tends to give people within one’s nation more value than those outside it, especially if those outside are in conflict with one’s own nation. Jesus died to tear down just these sorts of stupid, violence-tending walls (Eph. 2:13-14).
There are many other loathsome aspects of this idolatrous work that could be mentioned, especially regarding the people present in “Satan’s corner” (on the lower right corner), but enough has been said. The bottom line is that someday, people from every tribe and every nation will gather around Jesus (Rev. 7:9-10) and I assure you he won’t be holding a particular nation’s Constitution! The chief business of the church is to model this beautiful unity-amidst-diversity in the present. We are to manifest a Kingdom in which there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, rich or poor, American or British, and in which there is no violence.
This painting is a perfect illustration of the sort of primitive tribalism and diabolic nationalism that keeps Christians from doing this. It must, I believe, be renounced in the strongest possible terms.
If you’re interested in viewing an inspiring painting of the true Jesus and the true Kingdom, go here