Sunday, July 15, 2018

King's Sanctuary and Royal Temple

Today's 1st Reading at Mass (Amos 7:12-15), which pits Amaziah, representing the king's sanctuary and royal temple, against Amos the Lord's prophet to Israel, always reminds me of an article by the great Reinhold Niebuhr that I remember reading in graduate school in the mid-1970s. In 1969, reacting to the eagerness of religious figures to function as court chaplains to President Richard Nixon, Niebuhr had authored "The King's Chapel and the King's Court" in Christianity and Crisis. Given the contemporary religious right's reprise of that role as chaplains to the Republican Party, I think Niebuhr's article is, if anything, more relevant than ever.

"If we consult Amos as our classical type of radical nonconformist religion," wrote Niebuhr in 1969, "we find that he, like his contemporary Isaiah, was critical of all religion that was not creative in seeking a just social policy." In his essay, Niebuhr quoted one contemporary religious figure, who "forgetting Amos," issued this effusive praise of the then President: "future historians, looking back on our generation may say that in a period of great trial and tribulations, the finger of God pointed to Richard Milhous Nixon, giving him the vision and wisdom to save the world and civilization, and opening the way for our country to realize the good that the century offered mankind."

To that implicit identification of Nixon with Cyrus, the Lord's Anointed (Isaiah 45:1), Niebuhr famously responded: "It is wonderful what a simple White House invitation will do to dull the critical faculties, thereby confirming the fears of the Founding Fathers. The warnings of Amos are forgotten, and the chief current foreign policy problem of our day is bypassed."

What might Niebuhr - or any other authentic religious voice - respond to today's religious right's even more fulsome identification of the Republican Party with Cyrus?

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