Metanarratives and Faith: Is America Islam? Christian? A Critique of Acts 17 Apologetics on YouTube… (Part 1)

I got an email from my mom late last week, with a request to view this video by David Wood and friends, and offer some perspective. Because David and I both share a faith in following Jesus, and my mom does not, she wanted some other point of view from someone who shared an orientation with David’s. Having never heard of David and his ministry before, I briefly perused his site, his work and posts, video titles, and blog followers comments. Because of this, I hold my brief reserach in context with the video that I watched. What I found online about the Acts 17 Apologetics organization he’s connected to was interesting, but at times at odds with my understanding of what following Jesus is about.

America and Culture: Christian Nation vs. Nation of Islam

I must share that his video is very compelling, and put together well. He follows a rational argument that pokes holes at the policies with which the U.S. Government has mandated for interacting with holy texts. I found myself becoming drawn into the claims he made, the seamless arguments that offered that illuminated the lack of consistency with the decisions of President Obama, General Petraus, and the US military on its response to managing the Koran and the Bible.

However, there was also a splinter in my mind. While I was taken by his argument, the discontent grew within me. At first I had trouble naming it, but it became more clear what I was struggling with over time: This video reveals what seems to be a conflation of following Jesus (& perhaps Allah) and of being an American. He goes back and forth, describing the sociopolitical landscape as it pertains to the metanarratives of both the Bible and the Koran, and decides/demonstrates that America is already practicing Sharia Law. Using what I percieve to be the spin of fear, sowing discontent with any potential viewers, he describes a U.S. politik that is no longer Christian, but Islam. It also, in my opinion, breeds stereotypes and discord between peoples.

The Story of Nations; the Story of Jesus of Nazareth

I can’t speak for Muslims, but my first critique of his argument is rooted in this: Whose story are we to follow? As people of Jesus, its his story. He was Hebrew, but he was not a Hebrew “national”. In fact, most of his public life was contra to both systems he was subject to: Jewish and Roman. He often spent time in outlying towns on the margins of his home territory, because he incensed those he challenged. He was culturally Hebrew, but in no way tied to either his ancestral metanarratives or those of the Roman sociopolitical occupancy.

His metanarrative was one of truly loving the other, of non-violent resistance, of challenging the system on behalf of the marginalized. He spent time with the outcasts, who: washed his feet with her hair; followed him as a mentor as women against the societal norms; as tax collectors, ate dinner with them; touched the medically infirm and “unclean”; pulled money from fish to appease the system; told his followers to leave their weapons unused; and concluded all of this by asking people to do as he did. He showed us what it means to be truly human; in fact, he was the true human.

American Metanarratives and Jesus

This is the point I think David conflates sociopolitcal context of the U.S., its roots, and following Jesus. To begin, the U.S. was never a Christian nation. It may have had some Christian-esque values or founders who espoused the idea/narratives of some of Jesus, but to call America “Christian” is inaccurate. (We’ll leave the conversation about how non-western nations view the US as “Christian” aside at this point, which often includes Muslim nations.) It is based largely on Enlightment philosophy-which some from the Christian circle may call secular humanist- inspired further by the French Revolution. Although a statement of political identity like “all men are created equal” may ring some similar truth to “love your neighbor as yourself”, one only has to look at the metanarratives of America in its slave trade to see how both the roots and incarnation of the tenets of the U.S. have been lived out, not to mention its continued systemic racism.

To critique David’s line of argument from the national side then, the U.S. government -with its own doctrine, protocols, mission, etc.- will do with the Holy books whatever it deems necessary to fulfill the goals of the government. Its metanarratives are not those of YHWH, or Jesus, but of America. It will burn books, or maintain them, to the best interests of the country. It has no allegiance to Jesus, but only to maintaining or propagating itself. The “good news” of the U.S. is about narratives like “rags to riches”, “the greatest nation”, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, “freedom” and “democracy”. (Both of these last terms have very specific and problematic definitions, of course. Whose freedom and democracy will depend on who you ask – both in the U.S. and outside.)

The U.S. metanarratives are just that: metanarratives. They draw in, shape, and structure the lives of its adherents. They rank right up there with faith metanarratives as significant stories of influence.

It seems then, that David has described a situation in this video, with both stories lived out. And I certainly don’t wish to downplay the tension, the difficulty, of trying to pursue Jesus who as a cultural subject, didnt’t necessarily buy into the sociopolitical stories. That being said, David critiques his ability to live or share the metanarrative of Jesus, while putting his faith into an altogether different story -American- to give him that ability. It doesn’t fit; they are stories that are so different they aren’t told and lived in the same way.  American metanarratives, as stated briefly, have wrought much pain and oppression to some within our country. And what of the atrocities of a “great nation” via military might have killed our brothers, sisters, and infant children from different cultures? Economically enslaved peoples? Overhauled or reduced unique cultures with western cultural values?

Whose Power are We Fighting?

At the end of the video, David pipes a song called “Fight the Power” into the background, what I assume is to encourage his viewers to fight the power of the U.S. government to resist the Sharia law he sees in the U.S., and treat the Bible with the consistent manner with which the Koran is handled. Although I think the song has some truth in it for one struggling to work through living amidst two different stories, I believe a “fight the power” from a metanarrative of Jesus has roots in caring for the minority and suppressed/oppressed peoples in the U.S. As a white man, David represents the power, which the irony as both his agency in systemic power in the U.S. metanarrative and his call for fighting said system almost makes my head spin.

In my humble opinion, David is the power. The metanarrative of Jesus would ask that we be sure that our participation in sociopolitics cares for those without, those on the margins and mis/under represented, to the point of letting go of that power. The ideology of “free speech” and American “democracy” are not “Christian”. The whole of each metanarrative runs distinctly counter to the other in many places. “Fight the power”, then, is interpreted through one of these metanarratives. I humbly argue here that David is quixotically using a nationalistic metanarrative for the rights to express a competing one.

In Part 2, I dialogue about David’s use of the scriptual context of both the Koran and the Bible.

~ by Brian Shope on June 22, 2011.

One Response to “Metanarratives and Faith: Is America Islam? Christian? A Critique of Acts 17 Apologetics on YouTube… (Part 1)”

  1. […] part 1, I offered some critique to David Wood’s allegiance to story. Having embraced the […]

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