Monday, 5 March 2012

Oh God...

I suppose nothing should surprise me any more about American Christian fundamentalism, but today was the first time I came across the concept of Providential History - the idea that the history of the United States of America has been divinely guided by God because the nation has a part in His Plan. This apparently includes the US Constitution being Divinely Inspired, in much the same way as the Bible. I was so gobsmacked that I had to sit down for a while and take in the enormity of what that claim would imply. Even the discovery of minerals, oil or other natural resources is divinely guided, apparently. Presumably God therefore has a bit of a downer on Jews but is particularly delighted with Wahhabist Islam, given the relative share of resources that Israel and Saudi Arabia have been given.

It shouldn't be too surprising I suppose; the temptation if you are at the top is to assume that you deserve it and got there via your own merits, rather than there being any element of chance or circumstance that has led you there, and from there it is only a short step to say that it has been Divinely Ordained and that you are part of His purpose. Trouble is, that kind of teleological reasoning was just as popular in the British Empire ("God is an Englishman"), and probably the Spanish and indeed Roman Empires before it. It also presumably means that God was also pretty keen on slavery and the genocide of native peoples - he must have been in a bit of an Old Testament mood at the time.

Of course, not even the adherents of Providential History would actually claim such a thing. They insist that those were human "mistakes" which were made along the way. It's the usual story of; "if it's good it must be from God, if it's bad it must be human". The trouble with that is that what you attribute to God's Will thus becomes completely subjective; basically whatever confirms your own prejudices is all down to Divine Inspiration, and anything else is the fault of "secular meddlers" messing up the Plan. And hence the context where I came across Providential History today; that of gay marriage.

Now marriage is a whole ballgame all in its own right, and while the Catholic Church gradually muscled in on marriage ceremonies during the Middle Ages, it has always been an essentially secular activity; a civil contract between parties, to do with inheritance and exchange of property (back at a time when women were also property, which is another can of worms I'll leave for the moment). Even today, a Church "wedding" is technically only a "blessing" on the marriage - the actual legal ceremony itself is about declarations in front of witnesses and signing the certificate. Personally I've never been quite sure why people were so keen on marriage anyway; I don't need a certificate to validate my relationship, but that's by the by. Let's just say that this is an area where views have changed throughout history. In a lot of US states, weddings between people of different colours was illegal until very recently, and equally justified at the time by appeals to the Bible. I've recently read an interesting article that I unfortunately can't locate at the moment which showed how US Christians' position on abortion has moved over the past 50 years, from "some for, some against" to "you can't call yourself a Christian if you're in favour of it".
EDIT: Found it!
But which view was Divinely Ordained, and which the result of Secular Medding? God's not telling. I suspect that the adherents of Divine Providence might find He's not really got much to say on the subject of gay weddings either. He's probably too busy working out where the rise of atheist China fits into Providential History.

Yeah, somehow I thought you were going to say "as the Antichrist"...

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