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The Political Grounding of American Christianity

28/03/2014 11:32 GMT | Updated 27/05/2014 10:59 BST

The Philosophers Richard Rorty and Jacques Derrida said that both Religion and Philosophy were forms of Literature in the sense that both essentially propose a theory about ontology and epistemology. Thus were literature is employed, interpretations and assimilated perspectives begin to occupy a given discourse. Obviously this was one aspect of Derrida's Deconstruction Theory - that any text is open to rampant deconstruction and an infinite amount of interpretation. It is not, therefore, surprising that two hundred years earlier the practice of Hermeneutics began to emerge; the study of interpretation. This initially centred on the methods of Biblical interpretation. Endless speculation and interpretation still encompasses Biblical studies, ranging from those that see it as a first hand literal account to those who advocate a reading between the lines perspective. With literary consideration in mind, how many different ways of reading Shakespeare are there?

The doctrines and precepts found in Literature can transcend the social, cultural and historical. From a Rortian perspective, Philosophy as a pure form of Literature, we can see different philosophical works applied to a wide range of phenomena. This includes Socratic and Platonic concepts involving the form of the good and its resemblance to fascism and dictatorial Government, Aristotle's relativistic and pluralistic political ideas echoed by Locke's representative Government and Popper's Open Society. However as with any other form of progression and evolution in historical and societal knowledge we also see a vast amount of adaptation and change.

The axioms of Christianity continue to be debated. Whether the Christian doctrine is about forgiveness, equality, compassion and toleration or whether it is segregating, authoritarian, perverse and intrusive are sill the subject of much debate. As a paradigm, Christianity has seen its own changes. Primarily this began with the Protestant revolution under Martin Luther; separating the latter from the established monolithic Christianity and what was seen as the corrupt, hierarchical and oppressive Catholic institutions represented by the Vatican. Other divisions and adaptations have followed ranging from Anglicanism, Methodism and Presbyterianism.

Today America has over 200 Christian denominations. However, politically, it is a Liberal Democratic government as well as a fierce and pioneering capitalist economy. Can this ego centric and individualistic based political and economic system be reconciled with the self-sacrificing and altruistic principles that simultaneously encapsulate selfless Christianity? Well as with any discourse that appears fraught with contradictions one can usually find a way of rational justification that facilitates the foreclosing of the loop holes. How do some Americans amalgamate Christianity with their political ideology? Primarily this depends on how one is defining the facets of Christianity and in what context? As the above has demonstrated this is not at all easy to do and is suspect to significant interpretations and reconstitutions. Thus I will speak with some traditional assumptions in mind that illustrates the assimilation of certain Christina values into particular aspects of contemporary conservative political culture in the United States.

Right wing Christianity in America still takes seriously the concept of original, eternal and natural sin. This is most evident today with same sex marriages and abortion movements. Yet often this is the same religious crowd who oppose medical coverage for the most exposed in society. One may say this is not compassionate or in line with charity. How does this paradox get resolved? Well one aspect of it is to redefine what is meant by Charity. Is helping other people that can't help themselves empathetic or insulting? Should we do it for them or should they do it for themselves?

It will come as no surprise that right wing Christian thought in America overlaps considerably with right wing politics. Religion, in the most abstract and basic sense, deals with power, relationships and institutions and thus it is a form of politics itself; and in America it becomes difficult to distinguish the two. Thus keeping on a Christian track whilst allowing others to help themselves marries the religious views of the western world with self-dependent politics, begging the question whether this philosophy is Christian or political.

The idea that it is natural, correct and less insulting to let others fend for themselves rather than giving them handouts (the latter term is usually seen as derogatory, painted with political ideals) is most acutely captured by comedian Steve Harvey whose Father once said to him "The best thing you can do for poor people is not be one of them". This ethical stance only makes itself palatable from within the context of American society. Americans thrive of competition and social status, its individualism is thus so striking that appealing to altruistic and collective social responsibility is to make a mockery of the individual autonomous self that God has instilled in everyone. To fulfil, compete, flourish and bask in opulence is to live up to the potential, pure liberty and free will given to us by God even evading positive liberty; that is intrusion by others in our life that may make us monetarily better off but both individualistically spiritually ruined.

In a stunningly ironic way it is the political equivalent of survival of the fittest that seeks shelter under a religious cannon. The religious Americans have there ultimate dream cake and eat it: the pre-eminence of self-regard on this earth is the right thing to do for yourself, others and God and as a consequence you are spiritually rewarded for it in the afterlife. It's an open and shut case. This demonstrates what happens to all forms of literature and philosophy; they become adapted and redefined either to suit the present or justify initial contradictory positions. We are all guilty of it in our everyday compartmentalised lives producing balanced schemas. This explains why technologized modern societies such as America, with Liberal Individualistic qualities first founded during the enlightenment which manifestly opposed dogma and orthodoxy, at the heart of it still manage to function under the overarching umbrella of superstition and supernaturalism awash with contemporary political ideals.