I’ve already thanked Sarah Palin once on this site. In that instance, it was for giving Tina Fey such a wonderful character to play.
I’m indebted to her once again, this time for a remark that she made during last Thursday’s vice-presidential debate with Joe Biden [click here to see a transcript.] I’ve already quoted the remark in my post “The Seagull“: it’s her reference to John Winthrop via Ronald Reagan:
But even more important is that world view that I
share with John McCain. That world view that says that America is a
nation of exceptionalism. And we are to be that shining city on a hill,
as President Reagan so beautifully said, that we are a beacon of hope
and that we are unapologetic here. We are not perfect as a nation. But
together, we represent a perfect ideal.
I’ll be opening tomorrow’s lecture on on John Winthrop’s sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” (1630) with a clip of Palin’s remark, eventually circling back around to her inspiration, Ronald Reagan.
“A Model of Christian Charity” was delivered on board the ship Arbella on the eve of its reaching Massachusetts Bay. I prepared the way for Winthrop during last Wednesday’s lecture by discussing, once again, the New Testament appropriation of the Old, exemplified by the relationship between these two passages:
Leviticus 24.19-20: “And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him: breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.”
Matthew: 5.38-39: “You have heard that it hath been said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’: but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thyright cheek, turn to him the other also.”
I spent a little bit of time talking about Matthew’s emphasis on Jesus’ life as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, with particular reference to Isaiah 53, which was part of the class’s assignment from Isaiah. I presented St. Paul (via Romans and 1 Corinthians) as a quasi-cosmopolitan thinker who offered the Gospel of Christ to both the Jews and the Gentiles: “[God] will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith” (“Romans 3.30-31). And I discussed the tension, in St. Paul’s writing, between his emphasis on love and his emphasis on the Passion as the most important aspect of the Gospels. For Paul, it is love that explains the importance of the Passion: Jesus died because of God’s and his love for humankind, but I asked the students to think about what it means to stress the way Christ died over the way he lived, the suffering over the teaching. In Paul’s hands, it is compatible with a cosmopolitan message. In the Puritans’ hands, it becomes something else.
I’d be willing to bet that Sarah Palin couldn’t tell you who John Winthrop was, but she sure knows who Ronald Reagan was. And I’ll end tomorrow’s lecture with a brief discussion of Reagan’s appropriation of Winthrop’s appropriation of Matthew’s image of the “city on a hill.” I’ll talk about the ways in which Winthrop puts community ahead of the individual and argue that the sermon is designed to harness individual energies for the good of the community. Reagan, however, reverses the message and transforms Winthrop into a spokesman for individualism. In a speech given to the Conservative Union in 1977, after Jimmy Carter won the White House, Reagan argued that the Republican party “must be the party of the individual. It must not sell out the individual to cater to the group. No greater challenge faces our society today than insuring that each one of us can maintain his dignity and his identity in an increasingly complex, centralized society.”
If the Republicans could manage to bring this about, Reagan concluded, “then with God’s help we shall indeed be as a city upon a hill with the eyes of all people upon us.” Indeed, Reagan goes further, transforming Winthrop into a rugged individualist: “What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.”
Tomorrow’s lecture is, in part, about symbology: I’ll discuss what the symbols that we associate with Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity tell us about the ways in whcih these religions present themselves both to believeres and to outsiders. And I’ll close by showing how the meanings of symbol like the “city on a hill” shift as it circulates through history and culture.
Wednesday’s playlist was: Santana (with Eric Clapton), “The Calling”; R.E.M., “It’s The End of the World” (even though I didn’t really get to Revelation); and (gotta love that Christian hard rock) Petra, “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
Tomorrow’s playlist is: Moby, “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters”; Loretta Lynn, “God Makes No Mistakes”; and two by U2, “In God’s Country” and “God, Part 2.
And for you Tina Fey fans, here’s the latest: