Faith as a Political Statement

This is a rather delayed post, but it’s been on my mind since I saw Marco Rubio’s speech at the Republican National Convention this past August. Here’s an excerpt:

America was founded on the principle that every person has God-given rights. That power belongs to the people. That government exists to protect our rights and serve our interests.

That we shouldn’t be trapped in the circumstances of our birth. That we should be free to go as far as our talents and work can take us.

We are special because we’ve been united not by a common race or ethnicity. We’re bound together by common values. That family is the most important institution in society. That almighty God is the source of all we have.

Special, because we’ve never made the mistake of believing that we are so smart that we can rely solely on our leaders or our government.

Our national motto is “In God we Trust,” reminding us that faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all.

What I found interesting is the implication that having faith in “God” is one way of asserting that power belongs to the people and not to the government or regime. The “most important” thing (“value” in his words) that binds Americans together, he seems to be saying, is “faith in our creator,” as opposed to patriotism or loyalty to the country. I’m not sure that he’s right about this (I was a little surprised when I heard him say it), but it made me think of an issue that still gets debated among biblical scholars.

I used to be somewhat skeptical of the idea in biblical scholarship that texts such as Deuteronomy 13 and 28 were subversive in the sense that they took language from Neo-Assyrian vassal treaties (or treaties in general, not necessarily Neo-Assyrian ones) and created oaths of loyalty to Yahweh rather than oaths of loyalty to the Assyrian king/emperor. I didn’t doubt that these texts could have functioned as loyalty oaths to Yahweh, but I wasn’t convinced that the intent of using treaty language was to pit loyalty to Yahweh vs. loyalty to the emperor. After hearing Rubio’s speech, however, I’m now much more open to the idea. If a modern politician can make that move and try to win folks to his side by saying your faith should take precedence over your patriotism (and if it does, then you’re on my side), then I can see how an ancient author might want to do this – and even be more likely to do this.

I know that faith, religious values, and the like are often used for political purposes. But I wasn’t sure that it would seem, say, natural to someone to use it in this particular way. Naive of me? Perhaps. I have Senator Rubio to thank, now, for curing me of that.

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