In doing some genealogical research on ancestors born in 18th century Ireland it seemed that religion was something that was tricky to say the least. Some were Catholics and others were Presbyterians and still others were Quakers or Church of Ireland. The reasons for this varied from Cromwellian land grants and migration from Scotland to some religious experimentation and probably a little pew or meeting house shifting driven by love. These choices made major differences in people’s lives and they made me think about how this country worked so hard to insulate itself and its citizens from the harm that comes from this dynamic.
In a time when people were twitching to find the next logical place to reference God or their take on the Bible, the founders of this country crafted a 4,000 plus word document that purposely did not mention either God or the Bible. Yes the vast majority of them were Christians with a smattering of Deists slowly carving the faith out of their lives with the ever-sharpening knife blade of facts and reason, but they were also folks who understood what suffering befalls those under the rule of the all-powerful and unknowable channeled through the corruptible and all-too-human body of man (if you want to quibble on the corruptible part watch the above video and imagine these gentlemen in charge of your future).
Our Founding Fathers charted this course because they knew that these differences caused deep and long-lasting harm which I was reminded of recently when one of my wife’s relatives—who are mostly Roman Catholics—expressed disdain for Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) because of the destruction of Catholic monuments in Ireland during his reign. Although I am not really a religious type in any way I could not help but bristle and feel like saying: Oh yeah, but what about my Huguenot ancestors who lost their estates in France and had to flee to Germany, then England and ultimately landed in Pennsylvania because of being persecuted by Catholics? And there the point was. Remove this from the equation and we have one less set of arguments to divide us and we do become more indivisible.
All of this was brought home even more when I was looking at this meme (above) about adding “Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s which coincided with adding “In God We Trust” to our currency. Our pledge is short, dense and full of meaning. In this light I could not think that artificially wedging the words “under God” into this pledge could do anything other than figuratively and literally move us farther away from “indivisible.”
Moreover, the changing of the national slogan from “E Pluribus Unum” (out of many, one) to “In God We Trust” throws large grains of sand into the foundation machinery set in place by Benjamin Franklin when he intoned that we should “hang together” or most assuredly “hang separately.” Both the above graphic often credited as the first US political cartoon and the pledge were all about working to ignore our differences rather than planting a lightning rod to accentuate where we differ.
Some will argue that the “under God” phrase is needed, justified or even benign because it is inoffensive to them. But how justified are words that enable one set of Americans to kill or hate another set of Americans? How benign is the concept that Biblical law trumps the US Constitution when a person with this belief is empowered to shoot citizens, blown up health care facilities or set fire to the places of worship of others? Please, please explain to me how that mind set or the catalyst that enables it are in any way benign.
Patriotism: love that people feel for their country. Merriam-Webster
Patriotism: the feeling of loving your country more than any others and being proud of it. Cambridge English Dictionary
Patriotism: love of and devotion to one's country. American Heritage DictionaryAbout this point I can hear the flags ruffling and those prone to invoke patriotism as a defense of their want of Biblical Law building up for a Tea Party-style fife and drum tirade, but I would ask them to look at the above definitions of “patriotism.” All of these and most others that I saw and did not cite use the word “love” in their verbiage implying that country is put first in patriotism before all others—even self and faith.
But this will not satisfy some who are justifiably concerned about where the country they love is headed, but my sense is that those folks have confused faith with morals or principles—related at times but not the same. In this I am reminded that Thomas Jefferson wrestled with this dichotomy as well even going so far as to edit out all of the miracles in the Bible so that he could makes some sense out of the moral lessons contained in the tome (i.e., those elements that did not require faith to accept). He even read the Quran and other religious texts looking for these same lessons.