Racist Names

Etching by G. Scotin and J. Cole after H. Gravelot and J.B. Chatelain, 1743.

The License to Name

“ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air and brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”  -Genesis 2:19, New Revised Standard Version, updated edition

Now, the U.S. will rename hundreds of mountains, rivers, and other natural features to remove racist name’s they were given by colonizers.

The Power and Trauma of Naming

“Things die a little when we name them.” -Ben Okri in Astonishing the Gods

From naming flows claiming and taming.

The bald eagle is not bald. Devil’s Lake is not demonic. To name Ukraine Russia does not make it so.

When colonizers gave their own name to Indigenous peoples and their sacred sites, they lost their capacity to know who those people and places truly were, while revealing who they, the colonizers were. By naming, they were making claims of dominance and ownership.

When Donald Trump gives someone a disparaging nickname, he loses all capacity to see them for who they are, while revealing who he is. One who relishes asserting power over others.

And so, it has been learned, ask of every living thing and every place you encounter, “Do you have a name? How do you prefer I refer to you?” Listen carefully. Respect what you hear and when there is nothing to hear.

Naming obscures all but the namer, whose heart it reveals.


Christian Nationalism: Bible as Playbook

Photo by John Rudoff / AP

“Without the Bible, there is no America.” -Sen. Josh Hawley (NBC News, Allan Smith, Sept. 23, 2022)

Sixty-one percent of Republicans and 17% of Democrats think the US should declare itself a Christian nation, according to a recent U Maryland survey. This, despite many recognizing that it would violate the Constitution.

Why would Christians think their religion should dominate a nation? Hawley is right that much of it is derived from the Bible, which has functioned as the playbook for Christian nationalism. While liberal Christians choose to think he is wrong about that, the American myth may not have the qualities discussed below if it were not for the Bible.

Christians get to judge

In the Gospels (Matthew 18:18), Jesus told his followers that whoever they condemn on earth will be condemned in heaven and whoever they forgive on earth will be forgiven in heaven. So they have gone around the world taking it upon themselves to be the judge of others, as if their judgment is God’s judgment. Considerable outright condemnation of others has followed, as if with Godly authority.

Enemies of Christ

Jesus also said that whoever is not for him is against him. We now know this to be a toxic binary. It has motivated war against all non-Christians, whom the popes declared “enemies of Christ” in the Doctrine of Discovery. If you are not a friend of Christ, you are an enemy of Christ – a toxic binary if ever there was one.

The position of Christians declaring “as we judge you, so God judges you” is foundational to Christian nationalism. A clear statement of that is  Requieremiento(Requirement: To be Read by Spanish Conquerors to Defeated Indians). Written in 1510 by the Council of Castille, it stated that what the conquerors were doing was ordained by God, and that the Church was “the Ruler and Superior of the Whole World.”

Christians went on to condemn non-Christian Indigenous for such things as how and whom they worshipped to how they had sex. They judged Indigenous spirits to be demons. They even judged the Indigenous relationship with the earth to be sinful because they were not exploiting all of the earth for human use. This posture toward the earth continues today among Christian nationalists, based on passages in Genesis where God told humans that everything is here for our use. Causing environmental damage is then no problem. The sin is to leave valuable resources not extracted.  

Christian nationalism is a logical outgrowth of this posture of judging with godly authority The state, a large state, can function as the agent and executor of such judgement. While traditional conservatives favor small government, Christian nationalists favor the power and reach of large government.

False Attribution

What is denied here is that religion is the invention of humans. As such, humans must take responsibility for it. A part of that is that the sacred texts are human inventions. Again, human beings must take responsibility for their influence. When this is denied, we believe the words of humans are the words of God, an extremely dangerous proposition. My will is God’s will can follow. Like Genghis Khan, who convinced the religious leaders of those he vanquished that he would not have succeeded if it were not the will of God.

Bible as Rorschach

Then you add the Biblical narrative of a chosen people with a promised land that was adopted by Christians toward America. Christopher Columbus, the story goes, landed with the cross and the flag of his nation to claim ownership – Christian nationalism. Liberal Christians would prefer to believe that this is based on a misunderstanding or misuse of Bible passages. But this is not an academic exercise. Lives have always been at stake over it. The Bible is not only a human invention, reading it is like looking at a Rorschach. We can project all kinds of things onto it and believe they are there.

The bases for Christian Nationalism, and Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery before it, were seen in the scriptures by millions of ordinary Christians, as well as religious leaders. It doesn’t get us anywhere to argue about whose interpretation is correct. The alternative is to apply moral criteria. Criticize the Bible and say it is wrong about these things, just as we do with passages that support racism. The Bible is riddled with atrocities committed by humans but attributed to God or God’s will. But criticizing the Bible just isn’t safe in most parts of this country. Proof that our society is under the thumb of the hubris that a human invention is ordained by God.

Applying a Moral Standard

If we can lighten up a bit, perhaps we can apply the moral standard Jesus taught, to know them by their fruits. When a religious belief brings harm, question it on that basis. If a Bible passage supports doing harm, question it as lacking moral authority. The passages supporting Christian nationalism in any way just do not pass the test of moral authority.