Of Languages and Coca-Cola or, Christianity and Nationalism Don’t Mix


If you watched the Super Bowl last night and the commercials that came with it, chances are you saw Coca-Cola’s amazing “America the Beautiful” sung in multiple languages. The commercial obviously refers to the United States’ place as a very diverse nation, a nation that has always spoken multiple languages (we’ve never had a singular national language). Still, it didn’t take long for conservative trolls commentators Allen West and Todd Starnes to jump on the “English only” soapbox. Allen West stated quite emphatically that the song sung in multiple languages places the US “on the road to perdition” (and not the good kind with Tom Hanks and Paul Newman).  Todd Starnes decided to go full jerk with his comments on the commercial:

 

 

For those who haven’t seen this apparent sinful video, here you go:

 

While Starnes’ comments are simple mockery and display a crudeness and ignorance to US linguistic history, West took his outrage further and in the process destroyed the English language. One important part of understanding English is understanding vocabulary words, like the word “perdition.” Perdition is exclusive to Christian theology, arising from the Latin word perditus, sent over into old French/late Latin perditio. The word isn’t technically “English” as it didn’t arise from Anglo-Saxon origins, but required William the Conqueror bringing over his non-English language into England in 1066. Regardless, the word refers to hell or the loss of the soul. To say someone is “on the road to perdition” means the person is on the road to Divine judgment, on the way to Hell. Of course, it does hold the archaic use of referring to “utter ruin,” but that use dropped out somewhere around the 16th century, well before the founding of the United States and when the word was still spelled perdicion (some archaic uses of “perdition” to mean ruin lasted into the 19th century, but even then the idea of “ruin” was idiomatic and only made sense within its meaning as a term within Christian theology). 

The whole point being, West’s use of the word “perdition” implies that by allowing people to speak a language other than English, the US is on its way to destruction, or on its way to Hell. Such a sentiment is nothing short of nationalism and nationalism has nothing to do with Christianity. Nationalism wants one culture, one language, one party, one ideology, and in many cases one race (shockingly, West is silent on that area of nationalism). While one can be a nationalist and say that it’s “Un-American” to sing a patriotic song in “foreign” languages (English is a foreign language if you really think about it), one cannot invoke Christian theology to justify such biases. Mostly because Christianity is not limited to one language, culture, nation, people, or race. Christianity is, always has been, and always will be – even into Eternity – diverse. 

One of the central beliefs within Christianity is that of the Triune God, or a God who is one in essence, but diverse in persons (three). God has called Christians to unify with him and to become one with him, yet this often ends up looking different in different cultures. One can look to the Eastern Orthodox Church and see a variety of liturgical styles, from the Greeks to the Russians to the Antiochians and so on. Yet, in this diversity there is still a unity (ideally speaking of course, nothing is done in perfection), one that transcends any language barrier, national border, or race. This unity holds true on the broader spectrum for Christians around the world, many of whom do not speak English. This is because love, unity, freedom, respect, and personhood are not dependent upon a common language, but upon a common love for one another. 

Applied to West and Starnes’ criticisms of a multilingual commercial, while one can proceed in ignorance concerning what makes a nation strong, one cannot use Christianity to justify such ignorance. Acts 2, where the Church began, makes it incredibly clear that the Church started within a multilingual context. God, it seems, is not put off by the idea of speaking multiple languages. A multilingual nation is not on the road to perdition, but instead on the road to education and proper unity (as the greatest nations to ever exist were multilingual). 

West and Starnes can remain ignorant all they want, they can continue in their nationalism and bravado of only speaking English (which is actually a sign of lacking education; up until the 20th century, knowing more than one language was a point of pride for academics), but they ought not drag Christianity through their nationalistic mud. 

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2 thoughts on “Of Languages and Coca-Cola or, Christianity and Nationalism Don’t Mix

  1. words, only words, even Jesus fell out with his friends, the bigger mystery, that everyone misses, why is the truth so hard to get out these days, bradley manning 35 years, ed snowden in hiding, where is the freedom in that, it’s the emperors clothes syndrome, only a child calls it what it is, honestly, amen

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