Monday, March 24, 2008

God Damn America For...

Here is the full sermon of Reverend Wright that has received so much criticism of late. The last few lines of it that I have printed below show I think that in context, his "God damn America" is entirely appropriate.  Sure the sermon has a lot of politics in it, much of it swallowed wholesale and unreflectively.  But the essential reason for which he used this reprise is well merited.  He always qualifies the statement in an effective way.  
God damn America, that's in the Bible, for killing innocent people.  God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. God damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and she is supreme.  The government of the United States has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African descent.  
Markel, SJ

1 comment:

Longin, SJ said...

Gotta disagree here. If Pastor Wright wants to criticize America (and that's certainly okay, patriotic, and even necessary--though I want to bracket the specifics of what he says) the language "God damn America..." is completely wrong. It's wrong not just at the level of social norm (as would be, say, F*** America), but theologically wrong as well. "God damn" is not a cry against injustice or a moral judgement, but a curse in the theological sense, a wish of ultimate evil, not of hope for conversion, but of ultimate and final destruction. For this reason, it's blasphemous, arrogating for oneself divine judgement.

If he wants to say, "God will condemn," or "God will judge America" or something like that, fine. But "God damn" means something else. In my register of bad language, it acutally ranks as about the worst, as blasphemy it's beyond any mere obscentiy.

To take it a bit further, I heard this on NPR:

"According to Dwight Hopkins, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, that was theological wordplay — because the word "damn" is straight out of the Bible and has a specific meaning in the original Hebrew.

"'It means a sacred condemnation by God to a wayward nation who has strayed from issues of justice, strayed from issues of peace, strayed from issues of reconciliation,' Hopkins says."

First of all, no English bible I could find translates any Hebrew word as "damn." In fact, the word damn doesn't occur in any form in the RSV or KJV OT. I'm assuming that he's referring to the Hebrew rasha', from a root that means evil, which in one verb form (the Hiphil) means "to judge as guilty" or "to condemn." There are 25 uses in this way in the OT, none of them in the imperative. It's viewed positively as the action of God (Ex 22:9), but negatively as the action of the wicked (Ps 94:21). It's usually translated as "condemn." I don't see any use where God is urged or commanded to do this.

It's too much of a stretch to say that the modern curse "God damn" comes from a Hebrew expression. In modern English, it's just a blasphemous curse, not appropriate either socially or theologically. One can criticize his country, but not curse it.