I happened to notice The American Patriot’s Bible yesterday at our local Sam’s Club (a Costco-like retail warehouse owned and operated by Wal-Mart). Following are some of Greg Boyd’s thoughts about the flag-draped idolatry that Patriot’s Bible represents. Boyd is Senior Pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota and is President of Christus Victor Ministries. He is also a theologian and author.
The Patriot’s Bible and Justified Torture
The Patriot’s Bible consists of hundreds of commentaries on various patriotic themes, ranging in length from one sentence to four pages, inserted at various points (and quite randomly) throughout the New King James Version of the Bible. It is, quite honestly, one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever witnessed coming from a Christian publishing house.
One of the more unsettling aspects of the Patriot’s Bible is the way it unashamedly glorifies nationalistic violence. Almost every nation and tribe throughout history has shared the idolatrous assumption that its military victories were evidence of divine favor. This has been a staple of pagan religion from the start. From its earliest days this same assumption has permeated American culture, it’s just that our tribal warrior god was called “Jesus” or “Jehovah.” In the Patriot’s Bible, this idolatrous mythology is given the appearance of divine authority by being interwoven into the biblical narrative.
From cover to cover, and in a wide variety of ways, the Patriot’s Bible is filled with glorified nationalistic violence. A good portion of its commentaries focus on America’s victorious wars (Vietnam, not so much) and on war heroes. Moreover, the introduction of every book of the Bible is accompanied with a montage of national monuments, symbols, stars and stripes, etc…that include, with few exceptions, images of armed soldiers, bombers and battleships. Most remarkably, each Gospel (The Good News of Jesus Christ!) opens with a picture that includes soldiers struggling to raise a flag under the words “In God We Trust.” All the subsequent books of the New Testament open with a montage that includes a flag waving behind the Statue of Liberty on one side and armed marching troops on the other.
…evangelical Christians as a group have a significantly more positive view of torture than any other group in America. The group that has the lowest view of torture are non-church goers.
One might wonder how the group that is supposed to be the most passionate about the Saviour who commanded us to “not resist an evil-doer” (Mt 5:39) became the group that is most in favor of torturing them. Having just read the Patriot’s Bible, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.
Nations have always lived and died by the sword. As I argue in The Myth of a Christian Religion, when nationalism and religious zeal are fused, the sword is wielded all the more passionately (which, by the way, is why it’s always been in the interest of national and tribal leaders to get religious institutions on board as they rally troops for war). The Patriot’s Bible and this recent Pew Research Center poll simply demonstrate that this nationalistic and religious idolatry is tragically alive and well in American Christianity.
From Greg Boyd’s “The Patriot’s Bible and Justified Torture” (May 3rd, 2009):
The Patriot’s Bible — Really?
…I believe this Bible is, frankly, idolatrous, dangerous and profoundly damaging to the Kingdom. I feel compelled to denounce it in the strongest possible way I can. The sarcasm that follows is intended for this purpose only.
Here’s some “really?” reflections, in no particular order.
* David’s census of warriors in Israel and Judah (2 Sam. 23:8) elicits a full page commentary on “Freedom’s Defense,” consisting of quotes from various people who agreed that freedom is worth fighting for, including the 19th century former slave, Frederick Douglas.
Really? The link between David’s census and American soldiers is tenuous enough, (couldn’t this be applied to soldiers from every nation?) but what’s even stranger is that this is an account of David disobeying God. He was not to place his trust in warriors but to trust God, which is why counting his soldiers was forbidden. What’s even stranger is that Douglas is included in this list. The freedom Douglas was talking about was the freedom that the United States was at the time denying blacks!
Here’s a quote of Douglas that I wish had found its way into the Patriot’s Bible.
“Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference – so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked…I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.”
* In I Samuel 12:13 the Lord reluctantly accommodates Israel’s demand for a King, telling Samuel that this constitutes a rejection of him. This inspires a page long commentary on how Christians have a duty to vote.
Really? Really?? I’m a huge fan of democracy, but it says something when a Bible has to stoop this low to find support for it. Come on! The whole Saul-as-King narrative is about human rebellion against God! One might have thought the passage would be used to support the view that Christians have a duty not to vote.
* You have to love this one. A statement that “the mighty have fallen in the midst of battle” (2 Sam. 1:25) inspires a commentary entitled “Duty-Honor-Country.” Here General Douglas MacArthur says that soldiers sacrificing (and of course, killing) for their country represent “the noblest development of mankind.” The commentators of the Patriot’s Bible add that “as long as other Americans serve their country courageously and honorably, his words will live on.”
Really? Really?? Christians can’t find anything more noble than soldiers fighting other soldiers in the interest of their respective nations? Not even, say, someone choosing to die for their enemies rather than killing them? Really? And does the title of “noblest development” apply to all soldiers from all countries, or just to American soldiers? Hasn’t every country thought it’s soldiers were the noblest? Are Christians really to get sucked into the age long merry-go-round bloody game of insisting that our soldiers are more noble than our enemies? Really?
I could go on (and on and on), but I think I’ve made my point. I’ll end by simply noting that the very fact that there’s a sizable market for this Bible (why else would Thomas Nelson Publisher’s publish it?) is a sad commentary on the state of the church in America. It makes me tilt my head, squint my eyebrows and say….
From Greg Boyd’s “The Patriot’s Bible — Really?” (May 8th, 2009):
Dr. Boyd’s formal review of Patriot’s Bible: