The Face of God (What the Actual Hell, Ohio?, Part 5)
“But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
On May 5, 2020, Republican state representative Nino Vitale announced that he would not be wearing a mask because his face is the likeness and image of God.
One hardly knows where to begin.
Not a Christian Nation
In his announcement, Vitale claimed that the US is a Christian nation, founded on “Judeo-Christian Principles.” That claim is often repeated, and demonstrably false. Or, at the very least, a selective understanding of the issue.
Gregg Frazer wrote a book entitled The Religious Beliefs of the Founding Fathers. He spent over 30 years studying the issue. In a lengthy conversation with Frazer in 2012, he makes the case that the founding fathers were not Christian and did not intend the nation as a Christian nation. For example, he notes that George Washington was not a Christian. Frazer read through 200,000 pages of correspondence, and Washington never once mentioned Christ, Christianity, or the US as a Christian nation.
According to The Jefferson Monticello and The Jefferson Encyclopedia, Thomas Jefferson was similarly un-Christian. According to “Jefferson’s Religious Beliefs,” “While Jefferson was a firm theist, the God in which he believed was not the traditional Christian divinity.”
To complete the trinity, John Adams quite clearly stated that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” That seems definitive, no? (In that quote, Adams goes on to explain why we should not wage war with Muslim nations, but that’s another article….)
Instead, Frazer introduces the term “theistic rationalism” to describe the founding fathers. By that term, he means that those men generally believed in a deity, but not necessarily the Christian deity. They read many kinds of texts, from many religious traditions, and they kept what they saw as “rational” and discarded the rest.
Not Biblically Accurate
Does the face of man represent the face of God? Not according to most interpreters of the Bible.
As the above quote suggests, no one see the face of God. Not and live. No one knows what God looks like. No one can imagine what God’s face might look like. Humans have a tendency to imagine God (the Christian god, the Roman gods, the Norse gods) as human in shape (and often in action). Christianity, however, takes God to be a spirit, without a physical form. According to Christianity, Jesus Christ was the physical incarnation of God, but did not resemble God. He could not have. He had to take on a physical form for humans to see him. And, yet, Christians use the expression Imago Dei, which does translate to “image of god.” Does that mean that humans physically look like God? No.
Instead, it has been taken to mean that we can recognize the qualities of God in humans. Furthermore, “imago dei” has a moral implication. The concept suggests that, if we are each a representation of God, then we have the moral obligation to love one another as if the other person were God, as well.
That sentiment seems generally missing from some current versions of Christianity and the current administration.
Not Medically Sound
OK. This one is easy. The CDC says wear a mask. Masks work. They slow the spread of the disease.
Not What You Should Be Doing
And if Nino Vitale is a devout Christian, and if he believes in “imago dei,” then — by his own beliefs and convictions — he has the obligation to protect his fellow citizens as if he were protecting God.
Put on your mask.
Ritch Calvin is an Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at SUNY Stony Brook. He is the author of Feminist Epistemology and Feminist Science Fiction and editor of a collection of essays on Gilmore Girls.