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One Nation Under Who? What? Huh?

Posted by Rick · April 8th, 2004 · 4 Comments

The Bush Administration seems to have a very odd view of G-d, or at least of the meaning of words that refer to G-d.

Frankly, one wonders whether they were trying to perpetrate a fraud on the Supreme Court.

On the other hand, they could just be trying to help the Court find a way to come to a politically-acceptable conclusion for their Christian constituents in spite of the fact that this conclusion would not make sense within the meaning of the Constitution as historically interpreted by the Supreme Court.

The solicitor general stood before the Court to argue against the plain meaning of ordinary words. In the Pledge of Allegiance, the government insisted, the word “G-d” does not refer to G-d. It refers to a reference to G-d. The government’s argument, as it was stated in the brief filed by Theodore B. Olson, was made in two parts. The first part was about history, the second part was about society. “The Pledge’s reference to ‘a Nation under G-d,'” the solicitor general maintained, “is a statement about the Nation’s historical origins, its enduring political philosophy centered on the sovereignty of the individual.” The allegedly religious words in the Pledge are actually just “descriptive” — the term kept recurring in the discussion — of the mentality of the people who established the United States. As Olson told the Court, they are one of several “civic and ceremonial acknowledgments of the indisputable historical fact that caused the framers of our Constitution and the signers of the Declaration of Independence to say that they had the right to revolt and start a new country.”

The reason I wonder whether this is an attempt to perpetrate a fraud upon the Court is that I doubt they can seriously and in “good faith” (if you’ll pardon the pun) believe that the argument they’re proposing is the natural product of their desire or that it is even consonant with their real goal, which is to throw another bone to religious conservatives and other misguided souls who mistakenly believe they can legislate acknowledging their G-d and thereby honor “him.”

The President of the United States, who has been described as “G-d’s Man for This Hour,” was probably not making a statement about our nation’s historical origins when he said,

Yet we do know that G-d has placed us together in this moment to grieve together, to stand together, to serve each other and our country. And the duty we have been given, defending America and our freedom is also a privilege we share.

We’re prepared for this journey. And our prayer tonight is that G-d will see us through and keep us worthy.

It is doubtful he thought of the term as merely referring to a reference to G-d when he followed this statement by quoting from John 1:5. And what the heck does it mean to “refer to a reference to G-d,” anyway? And how does that obviate the need to address the issue of government endorsement of religion? When the President invited Franklin Graham to an Inaugural Prayer Service where he talked about Jesus, the Gospel and the President humbling himself before the Almighty, it’s doubtful that anyone thought of this as merely “a civic and ceremonial acknowledgement.” When Bush invokes the name of G-d (repeatedly) as at a National Prayer Breakfast and comments upon a “faith that finds hope and comfort in a cross, he is not merely making a statement about an enduring political philosophy centered on the sovereignty of the individual!

On the contrary, I think the President of the United States has made quite clear what he means when he says the word “G-d.” And although there are those who think he holds higher regard for — and has more in common with — Pontius Pilate, I think he has made it quite clear that he intends us to understand this as a reference to the Christian G-d. He has regularly professed faith in that particular G-d.

If, as the government claims, the words are not religious and if, as Steve Gushee of the Palm Beach Post argues (this is support?), the words are “drivel,” then why should Christians object to an attempt to remove them?

It is because, in fact, they are part of the blending of an activist Christian agenda and Republican politics that is fomenting a mis-named “Culture War” within the United States.

In talking about this blending, particularly in relation to a “Culture War,” it’s important to note something from the start.

Not all Christians — not even all Christian groups — sanction it. In fact, the reality of the “Culture War” is that while there is a great deal of religious involvement, the real driving force is not Christian, but Republican. In some sense, the “Culture War” is — like so many before it — about political and economic power. Who will hold the reins of society? Will legislation result in this kind of society, or that kind?

These may appear to some to be moral questions, but most of the questions are not actually moral, however they may be couched; many are economic and political. Who will be taxed? Which groups will bear the brunt of contributing labor and which will reap the benefits of that labor? Will traditional corporate interests obtain the benefit of expanded intellectual property laws or will Free Culture result in a redistribution of creativity and power?

These questions concern Republicans more than they concern Christians. Yet just as did the Pharisees (who arguably get more of a bum rap than they actually deserve) and the Catholic Church before the so-called Age of Enlightenment, the modern Republican party has learned that by harnessing religion, they can achieve the goals which are most advantageous to the leaders of their group, their clique, if you will. (Speaking of cliques, doesn’t it strike anyone as odd that the same few hundred people — and later their descendants, relatives, friends, or acquaintances — out of a nation of millions continue to hold the reins of political power year after year? Why can’t the multitudes recognize that political and economic power go hand-in-hand and thus consider the possibility that those with the political power do not have the economic well-being of the average American foremost on their list of priorities?)

The so-called Moral Majority (which, as one humorist remarked, is neither) took a drubbing in the 1990s because of the obvious way in which they pushed the Christian agenda vis-à-vis the laws and political office-holders of the United States. The reason for this, though, wasn’t because there wasn’t enough Christian sentiment to push that agenda. It was because the Christian agenda of the Moral Majority was too restrictive, too much the view of a small anabaptistic, or (perhaps more accurately), Baptistic, enclave of control freaks. And that particular group, while numerous, was not numerous enough to give the Republicans the power base that they wanted.

Nevertheless, these control freaks had something in common with the party to which they naturally gravitate — those other control freaks who brought us the USA PATRIOT Act, Carnivore, Total Information Awareness, the Orwellian-named Homeland Security Department and the War President. Both groups understand that holding power requires controlling (and thus, usually, monitoring) the behavior of others. Whether the goal is moral — forcing a regulation of what goes on in bedrooms or between consenting adults — or political — forcing regulation of the movements of people who oppose you (peace activists and other “terrorists,” apparently), control is the name of the game.

The Moral Majority also failed in its original goal to control partly because they were too rigid and unable to learn when they met resistance and partly because they wanted to control not only behavior, but thoughts, hearts and minds. The Republican control freaks have no such problem (but only pretend to it on occasion for political expediency). For one thing, they learned from their early failures. And they recognized that the trick wasn’t to push a narrowly-focused Christian agenda that only appealed to a small faction and thus only allowed a partial wedding of politics and the power of religion, but to push the election of more ecumenical Christian politicians. By throwing a few bones to the noisy anabaptistic dogs, the Republicans keep these dogs on a relatively tight leash; by being more ecumenical, they are better able to harness the religious powerbase of a larger flock of sheep. Masterful handlers — or “shepherds,” if you will — the Republican leadership knows just how and when to cut loose the dogs to push the herd in the right direction and protect it from outsiders who would try to talk sense into it.

The problem is that the United States is a less homogenous herd than it once was. Today there are larger numbers of non-Christians with political power and they are uncomfortable at the current attempts to wed Christianity with governmental power. After all, this threatens to leave them — “us,” I should say, since I count myself in more than one faction that group — out in the cold.

Some of us are concerned because we see:

…a real threat to our freedom, and one which should not be underestimated.

I’m talking about a threat to our religious liberty. I’m talking about those who would turn a blind eye to the wisdom of our founding fathers. I’m talking about those who either intentionally or out of ignorance, would curtail or even abolish a fundamental principle of the American democracy: the separation of church and state mandated by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Like the extremists and the white supremacists, the opponents of church-state separation always have a vision. It is not a vision of a purely white America, but they would love to see a more Christian America reflecting their particular religious values. They would love to see an America where children say Christian prayers in public schools, join Bible clubs, and sing religious songs. They would love to see an America where taxpayers pay for religious education and fund sectarian organizations to provide drug counseling and other basic social services. They are not especially concerned when a Jewish child is asked to perform a concert of exclusively Christian music, or the part of Jesus in a school play.

Here is why this threat should concern us. Unlike Klansmen, neo-Nazis and other extremists, these opponents of church-state separation have a significant following in this country. They are not relegated to the fringes; they have serious mainstream support. Unlike white supremacists, their vision could someday become a reality in the United States…. — Foxman, “Keynote Address: The Legal Frontier of Religious Freedom: Religion and State in the Twenty-First Century” (2000) 57 NYU Ann. Surv. Am. L. 1, at p. 2.

Yet religious freedom isn’t the only thing at stake. G. Beato writes:

When I ask [Morality in Media President Robert Peters] what he hopes to accomplish in his Sisyphean battle against obscenity (he?s worked for Morality in Media since 1985), he replies: “If we could just send a message to people that this is not what sex is all about, we will have won more than half the battle. Whether you?re a creationist or a Darwinist, sex is linked to something greater than masturbating to depictions of other people having sex. It?s linked to a person. We have a capacity to love.”

It doesn’t matter what you — or I — think about obscenity, sex or love. The point here is that this is an area where individuals should be free to make their own decisions and follow their own choices. The government should not be in the business of deciding whether or not any purported capacity for love must be inextricably linked to sexual gratification; a fortiori it should not “send a message” about what the acceptable means of sexual gratification should be, so long as the means chosen are not actually and factually injurious to non-consenting adults or to children.

And these — religion and attitudes about sex — are just two of many areas in which our freedom is being subjected to unprecedented attacks in the name of religiously-inspired government (or governmentally-driven religion).

Karl Rove and the others who have worked hard to acquire power over our country did, indeed, learn well the lessons of the failures of the Moral Majority and of earlier Republican administrations. In George “Dubya” Bush, they’ve found a pious and priestly President who, being more ecumenical and able to put a kind, bemused face (or is that really a smirk?) on the party, has managed to appeal to a wider range of people. The problem is that — as with Constantine and so many others in the past who have embraced religion to accomplish political ends — these moral issues are irrelevant to those who rule. With perhaps certain bizarre exceptions, such as John Ashcroft, whose rise to power is only allowed because he’s amoral and dogged in the pursuit of his goals and the goals of his handlers, they don’t care because the restrictions they endorse impact only the hoi polloi. The periodic exposure of the politicos’ picadilloes testifies to that.

Nevertheless, the blending of religion and politics which they bring about threatens all of us just because most of us (by definition) are hoi polloi! Throwing bones to religious factions, while simultaneously remaining just religious enough, just ecumenical enough, to appeal to “middle America” means that while they are busy enjoying the spoils and the very freedoms that end up being denied to us, freedom is becoming ever more restricted, ever more patterned after a Christian ethic that deprives even we non-peace-activitists and non-terrorists, about whom the Republicans don’t much care one way or another, from joys which do not sit well with this “Christian” society.

Special thanks to Bob Marcotte for bringing the CBS article, “Under G-d and Over,” which inspired this entry, to my attention.

Categories: Culture Wars · Religion · Social Issues


4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bob // Apr 8, 2004 at 10:08 pm

    Since I am ‘responsible’ for this entry it is only fair that I express my views and beliefs.

    I am a Christian.

    I am for separation of church and state.


    Because they have absolutely nothing to do with each other. And neither have the best interest of the other in mind.

    It disgusts me that politicians align themselves to a religion to gain acceptance and votes.

    It also disgusts me that ministers & pastors align themselves to politicians to gain power. The same simple earthly power they preach about in such negative terms to their congregations.

    But something else that disgusts me is unfairness.

    Bush may be aligning himself (again) with Christianity to gain votes but let’s not forget that Bill Clinton, after impeachment and public embarrasment, held regular ‘bible studies’ with Jesse Jackson and company, giving the appearance of penitence for his behavior.

    And let’s not forget that Jesse Jackson later came out as the father of an illegitimate child. Hardly the behavior expected of a Christian minister, especially one who embraced the public attention. How could he stand in a demonstration against any organization on moral or ethical grounds when the ground he trod was polluted by his past actions.

    Christianity is highly misunderstood even inside of Christianity, but the one foundation that is common is forgiveness. Jackson, Clinton and Bush are all forgiven for their association of politics and religion for gain of wordly power. They are all forgiven for their greed.

    They will not be forgiven in the voting booths by intelligent Christians who see through this common deception. ANY politician can fool some of the Christians some of the time. My prayer is that the apethetic Christians who watch this crap in the news day after day finally get these guys where it counts..in the common casting of a single vote in a democratic society.

    I just can’t figure out how to force media to report fairly. Politicians have been using religion for centuries, regardless of party.

  • 2 Rick // Apr 9, 2004 at 7:06 am

    While it’s true that politicians have used religion for centuries, invoking gods even before Christianity, it’s also true that there is, as I noted, a very serious attempt going on to wed Christianity with the Republican party.

    It’s blatant and the only real surprise to me is that the Hal Lindseys of the world haven’t come out to talk about it.

    Not that I think Bush is the Anti-Christ (because I don’t even believe in such an animal), but if you read books like _The Late Great Planet Earth_ you realize that when the Anti-Christ comes, people are going to LOVE him. They’re going to see him as the world’s salvation, the one who will restore order, peace and return the world to days of glory.

    So *I* would think that Christians would be the most frightened about any political party that too strongly embraced their religion and any leader who exhibited such public piety.

  • 3 Bob // Apr 9, 2004 at 11:23 am

    I think we’re safe for now.

    No one loves Bush or Kerry!

    This election is not really a two party election, it’s a one candidate election. You either vote for Bush or the anti-Bush. There is no compelling reason besides that to cast a vote.

    All I can hope for is that the winner actually WIN the election and not throw the country into any additional trama of leadership.

    And I’ll bet that the Democrats start marketing their candidate to more mainstream Christian groups soon, perhaps near the convention. It’s just too tempting not to.

  • 4 Rick // Apr 9, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    I can’t disagree with you on that last point.

    I just hope all the Christians listening to these politicos take it with a pillar of salt!

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