By Ruether, Rosemary
National Catholic Reporter , Vol. 44, No. 17
Language and Languages--Usage
Language and Languages--Influence
Language and Languages--Social Aspects
Ministers (Clergy)--Beliefs, Opinions and Attitudes
Wright, Jeremiah A., Jr.--Beliefs, opinions and attitudes
Great outcries of angry condemnation have swirled around Barack Obama's campaign for presidency because of the off-quoted words of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright: "God damn America."
Few quote his full text where he said: "The government gives [black people] the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America--that's in the Bible--for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."
For many Americans, the phrase "God damn" is bad language and should not be heard from the pulpit. To say "God damn America" is to commit the supreme sin of anti-Americanism. They fail to remember that such words are an integral part of the biblical tradition. Indeed the word "damn" fundamentally means that someone is declared to be guilty and deserving of punishment.
Few of the pundits who were so outraged by language from Sen. Obama's pastor bothered to note that Christian fundamentalists are in the habit of regularly opining that God is punishing America for some sins. Only their list of sins for which America deserves punishment is different from that of Rev. Wright.
In the words of the recently deceased Christian fundamentalist Jerry Falwell, "I really believe the pagans, the abortionists, the feminists, the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, the People for the American Way, all of them who tried to secularize America, I point the finger at them and say you helped 9/11 happen."
Similarly, Pat Robertson attributed the terrorist attack on Sept. 11 to divine vengeance brought about because of the Supreme Court's forbidding Bible reading and prayer in the schools. "We have insulted God at the highest level of government and then we say why is it happening?. Well, it is happening because God almighty is lifting his protection from us."
Both Mr. Robertson and Christian conservative John Hagee claimed that Hurricane Katrina was a punishment of God for the sins of New Orleans. Mr. Hagee said, "All hurricanes are acts of God," and, citing a gay parade in New Orleans, added, "I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God. I believe the Bible teaches that when you violate the law of God, God brings punishment sometimes before the Day of Judgment and I "believe that Hurricane Katina was in fact the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans. …