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Michael Flynn, American theologian

Someone needs a basic lesson in the Constitution. That would be Michael Flynn.

Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn speaks Nov. 13, 2021, at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. Video screen grab

(RNS) — Quick quiz.

What’s the First Amendment of the Constitution?

You’ve got this, but here goes.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Pose that question to Michael Flynn, who served briefly as the national security adviser during the Trump administration.

I am pretty sure he would get it wrong. An F in American civics.

This past weekend, Flynn attended the ReAwaken America tour in Texas. Speaking before a conservative Christian audience, he stated the United States of America should have only one religion.

“If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion,” he said.

He did not say which religion that would be. But I am guessing it is probably not Wicca.

Flynn was playing to the crowd; in exit polls, 35% of Republicans said they favored Donald Trump because they believed Christianity was being taken from them.

The New York Times recently reported there has been a bump in the number of Americans who identify as evangelical, precisely because they identify that religious style with support of Trump.

One American politician agreed with Flynn.

You would expect that the politician would be a conservative Christian.

Nope.

Actually, he is Jewish, and from an active Jewish family — Josh Mandel, former Ohio state treasurer, and now a U.S. Senate hopeful.

On his Twitter feed, he said: We stand with General Flynn.

But that is not all. Mandel’s campaign website proclaims he is “pro-God” (complete with a graphic of a church steeple). There is a graphic of a gun: “Come and take it.” He believes Trump won the 2020 election. He has said the United States must turn away Afghan refugees: “To protect our kids, our communities and our Judeo-Christian way of life, we must FIGHT this with all our might.”

Let’s talk about Mandel’s fantasy: “Judeo-Christian way of life.”

“Judeo-Christian” is the “Happy Days” of American religious ideologies. It is quintessentially American, and it is strictly American — I assure you no one in England or France is using that term.

The 1950s might have been a cool time for music.

But, as for religion: meh. It was boring and lifeless, overly committed to a bland, conformist suburban lifestyle. Abraham Joshua Heschel’s most trenchant critiques of what passed for Jewish piety emerged from his observation of Conservative Judaism, 1950s-style.

In 1952, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed, “Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith — and I don’t care what it is.”

This was when “In God We Trust” appeared on our national currency. This was when “under God” made its appearance in the Pledge of Allegiance.

And why? It was very simple. Soviet communism was the enemy. It was atheistic, and therefore we had to be pious — and in Ike’s terms, it didn’t matter what that piety was. It was faith for the sake of faith.

After all, what was the typical suburban tableau? Main Street — with its neatly arranged Catholic church, Protestant church and a synagogue. Hence, Will Herberg’s 1955 classic sociological work “Protestant, Catholic, Jew.”

That Judeo-Christian thing? Did anyone really take it seriously? Did Jews take it seriously?

Judeo-Christian was the bone America threw to the Jews. It let us think our religious faith was an equal partner in American life. When you consider that American Jews never constituted more than 3% of the American population, it seemed like a rather generous move, even if it was only a consolation prize.

American Jews were (rightly) sick to death of being Other. We parroted Judeo-Christian along with everyone else. It meant Jews were strangers no more, we were not peripheral, we were ready for prime time.

But, alas, no. America’s default religious switch was — and continues to be — Christian. This, despite the massive demographic challenges non-Christian religions have posed to the American body politic.

Read my Religion News Service colleague Khyati Joshi’s spectacular “White Christian Privilege: The Illusion of Religious Equality in America,” and you will understand.

Christian normativity makes Christian values intrinsic to our national identity, conveys the status of truth and rightness on Christian culture, and makes Christian language and metaphors and their underlying theology the national standard … Indeed, those three terms— “White,” “Christian,” and “American” — have been used interchangeably so often that in many contexts, including in the lexicon of non-White, non-Christian immigrant communities, they remain synonyms for one another.

Let’s be honest, Judeo-Christian does not really exist.

So, why does Mandel use that language?

It’s quite simple. Mandel lives in a binary world — a world in which someone needs to be the Other.

The original use of Judeo-Christian was “not communist.”

Today, Judeo-Christian signifies: not Muslim, not Hindu, not Sikh, not anything else.

Poor Mandel! He actually thinks crowing about Judeo-Christian values makes him part of the true American club.

But, he should ask Flynn if there is a place for Talmud, Maimonides and mysticism in his version of America.

It makes me think of a decades-old reflection by the late Frank Forrester Church (who went by “Forrest”), who was a Unitarian minister and the son of the late Sen. Frank Church. It was a profound statement about religion in America.

Let me paraphrase.

We all live in the Cathedral of the World. The light pours in through the stained glass windows. Every religious “tribe” stands at its own window and experiences the light in its own way.

The religious relativists say: It doesn’t matter at which window I stand; the light is the same.

Religious seekers say: I don’t like the light at my window; I am going to move to another window.

Fundamentalists say: The light only shines through my window.

To which I would add: “And, the religious fanatics go around with hammers, smashing everyone else’s window.”

That is, I fear, the religious vision of far too many Americans. They don’t have room for pluralism in their souls.

I firmly believe: Give Mike Flynn a hammer and he will go around smashing everyone else’s windows.

I wonder if Josh Mandel realizes that when the glass starts flying, a lot of people are going to get cut.