As American as apple pie


Separation runs deep in the American soul. Since President Obama won re-election, more than 750,000 Americans have petitioned the White House website to let their respective states secede, from Alaska to Iowa to Maryland and Vermont. Those leading the charge are framing it, observers say, in terms that suggest a deep-seated religious impulse for purity-through-separation is flaring up once again.

G. Jeffrey Macdonald writes for RNS in the WaPo:

“Today’s secessionist movements are just the latest example of a long parade of breakaway groups (in American history) seeking to restore some lost ideal,” said Peter J. Thuesen, professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “The problem is that the ideal is invariably a mirage.”

Seeking purity through separation has marked American religious history since the Puritans sailed from Holland to establish a holy beacon in the New World. It helps explain why Baptists, Presbyterians and others have splintered into countless subgroups over the years, and why the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church this fall.

The pattern commonly involves one group breaking off to re-establish a holy community by living in fresh accord with sacred texts. Religious purists have the Bible to guide their quest; secessionists look to the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Both insist these centers of authority have suffered neglect and must be restored.

One of the persistent theological themes is the “faithful remnant.” An idea that is echoed in Mormon history, in the language of the Episcopal wars of the last decade, and in the current political secession movement: God will bless the small number of people who break away because the original group is by definition “lost.”

Jim Rawles, an evangelical blogger and novelist…teaches survival skills for the coming day when America’s economy collapses. He sees no point in seceding, since the federal government would “hammer” such efforts anyway.

Instead, he’s getting more response these days, he says, to his call for Bible-believing Christians, Orthodox Jews and Messianic Jews to relocate to what he calls the American Redoubt: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, eastern Washington and eastern Oregon.

One reason he gives on his website for separation: “Even if God has withdrawn his blessings from our nation as a whole, he will continue to provide for and to protect his remnant.”

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John D. Andrews
John D. Andrews

I think the real motivation is the misguided American ideal of individualism that celebrates the individual over the collective. In other words, what is best for me is more important than what is best for us. This ideal rejects the Christian ideal of community.

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