Eagles are amazing animals to watch. They soar through the skies as their powerful wings give them the freedom to fly how and where they want. Is it any wonder that the “land of the free” would pick an eagle as a national symbol?
But there is another characteristic that eagles have; they are birds of prey. They are predators. Their strength not only allows them to fly where they want, it allows them to take what they want. It is this latter characteristic that should give American Christians pause before embracing this national symbol too enthusiastically.
But conservative American Christians tend not to pause. They are in too much of a hurry to take this country back. They want America to return America to its "Christian roots" which includes keeping the eagle as its national symbol. They want America to be a Christian nation again.
The problem that such Christians have is to define what is a Christian nation? Surprisingly enough, the Bible provides no answer. One cannot use the theocracy of Israel as an example of a Christian nation because it was based on the laws of the Torah many of which were discarded by the early Church and its Apostles. In addition, there is neither a New Testament example nor set of teachings that mandate such a nation.
Though the Bible provides no help in defining a Christian nation, many conservative American Christians seem to have an idea of what such a nation should look like. And there should be no surprise that their picture of such a nation resembles old portrait—that is a portrayal of how things use to be in "the good old days." It is a picture of a time when certain mores, in particular sexual ones, were perceived as being publicly accepted and America was rich, united, and powerful as it used its strengths to defeat evil. It is actually a self-portrait that reveals a very positive self-image. Indeed, a predatory animal, like an eagle, might be a very appropriate symbol here.
The problem is that the America that conservative American Christians want to embrace is not Christian just as the eagle is not a symbol of Christianity. Rather, associating with the America of the filtered past and using the eagle as a symbol is merely an exercise in self-flattery. For example, where do we see the practice of self-exaltation (i.e. claming that America is the last best hope for Democracy) in what Jesus teaches? Didn’t Jesus say that those who wish to lead should serve rather than rule? And where do we see Jesus putting the emphasis on personal prosperity that America does? Doesn’t Jesus tell us the parable about the final resting place of the rich man and Lazarus--the rich man was not a happy camper in hell. And as we see foreign policy after foreign policy that destroys other countries or at least instigates violence (i.e. Iraq and Gaza after we cut off funds), does not Jesus tell us that it would be better if we were not born than to cause someone to sin? Would Jesus want his nation to use violence and try to dominate the world in order to maintain a high level of prosperity or did Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount?
And does Jesus want an eagle to be the symbol for any Christian let alone a Christian nation? Where in Jesus’ beatitudes or other teachings do we see a predator being blessed? Do we see having the freedom to take what we want or the charge to love others more than oneself in Paul’s letters? Should a predatory animal become the national symbol of a Christian nation? Does Jesus want his followers to become predators?
Certainly, the Eagle is an apt symbol for our nation. Our form of capitalism is strongly predatory and we use our military to enable us to freely take from others--a fact that many outside of this country have known for a while. In addition, the predatory nature of our form of capitalism is now being learned by many in the middle and lower classes of this country. But especially for those who are well-off, Americans have become somewhat like the Eloi in H. G. Wells' "The Time Machine." Remember that the Eloi were so well-fed that they neither knew nor cared about either the source of their bounty or its price. Should Christians be attached to a prosperity that is built on the backs who suffer as victims--work for insufficient wages in sweatshop conditions?
Should American Christians embrace the eagle as a national symbol? The answer depends on whether these Christians want to be American first or Christian first.