The Christ of the Constitution

I ran across a piece in Salon yesterday about Jon McNaughton, a conservative artist who gave up the unprofitable business of painting landscapes for the lucrative trade of painting right-wing allegories.

The Salon interview was a masterpiece of trying to get information from a man who was clearly either not too bright, or was borderline dangerous. You could almost feel the interviewer trying to back out of the room with the mad painter.

Anyway, the painting on the right, "The Forgotten Man, is a recent example. Obama, in the foreground is standing defiantly on the Constitution while James Madison looks on in horror and disbelief. Presidents Clinton, FDR and Teddy Roosevelt applaud Obama on the right, with G.W. Bush standing blankly nearby. JFK is raising a mild objection in the middle foreground while Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Reagan angrily gesture toward a dejected figure, the Forgotten Man of the title, who sits disconsolately and alone on a park bench. Most of the rest of the presidents mill about without gesture or expression.

McNaughton's web site provides more info on the painting, including the artist's perspective on list of Obama's unconstitutional actions. These include the stimulus bill (its real purpose: to increase the size of government!), ObamaCare (pushed through against public opinion), appointing 30 czars to "control every aspect of the country" and even the popular "Cash for Clunkers" program, which McNaughton decries as a pointless give-away.

You have to admire the man for putting his ideas into tangible form.And you have to admire his nerve, too, for showing Teddy (a progressive Republican who got better wages and shorter hours for mine workers and signed the Pure Food and Drug Act) and FDR (whose New Deal saved the US economy) as Constitution-breaking enemies of the working man.

But I was especially taken by another painting in McNaughton's portfolio, "One Nation Under God," a portion of which is shown here:

The painting is filled with soldiers, presidents and notables like Frederick Douglas, several of the Signatories of the Declaration of Independence and Abigail Adams. But the religiously-minded might be surprised to see a virile, haloed Jesus Christ, front and center, holding a copy of the Constitution. Clearly, the Lord is not only "on our side" but he founded the team as well! On his site, McNaughton explains that the document being bequeath to us by Christ was "inspired of God and created by God-fearing patriotic Americans."

The inspired wrongness here is almost endless. America was founded (by Deists, closet atheists several sects of Christians) as secular land, free from the vile and violent squabbling of religious people in Europe. To show the Founders (especially Ben Franklin, roué of roués!) pledging allegiance to Christ is at once absurd and historically false. And the judgement of the artist on Supreme Court justices, lawyers, politicians and liberal media reporters (all of who share the lower right corner with Satan) is hardly subtle.

And for goodness sake, Abe Lincoln is on his knees, like Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer." Mammy!

Anyway, the paintings are so bad as to be comical. But the mindset that inspired them, shared by many on the right, is alarming. For those of us who worship Jesus Christ as cosmic Son of God, it's disquieting to see him allied so strongly with America and its causes. America, like all empires, needs to realize its capacity for being fundamentally disjoined from the gospel. The dark American values of individualism, greed, racism and jingoism mesh rather badly with gospel values of love, generosity, pacifism, and forgiveness.

The day that America actually believes that it has achieved alliance with the Jesus Christ shown in the painting is the day it has lost its way for good.