Monday, September 10, 2012

Under God

Trying to prove or disprove God’s existence, I contend in my book Transcenders, is a fool’s errand.  People on both sides are likely to disagree.  I respect and understand their point of view, but think that when it comes to the divine in the absolute, we must ultimately rely on a leap of or from faith and move on from there.  My chapter on God is called The Arrogance of Attribution.   The problem that many of us have is not with a god per se, but with what is attributed to that deity with such absolute and arrogant surety.

Over the past weekend Republican nominee Mitt Romney used the pledge of allegiance as the text for a campaign speech in Virginia Beach.  The effort by some committee members to eliminate God from the Democratic Platform, made for a sure-fire Republican campaign applause line.  In using it, Romney sanctimoniously promised never to do such a thing.  What a surprise.  Whether God belongs in a a political party platform is a valid question — I think not — but challenging its incorporation only serves as distraction at a moment when the election stakes are so high.  Moreover, that platforms have become such a sham is probably the more important issue as is whether the conventions themselves make sense any more. That’s for a future post. 
Michelangelo's Creation from the Sistine Chapel
What interests me here is not the applause line but the content of Romney’s remarks.  According to the NY Times, he said: 
“We pledge allegiance to that flag, we believe in a nation under God, a nation indivisible, a nation united, a nation with justice and liberty for all and for that to happen we’re going to have to have a new president that will commit to getting America working again, that will commit to a strong military, that will commit to a nation under God that recognizes that we the American people were given our rights not by government but by God himself (my emphasis).”
Justice Anton Scalia made similar claims from the bench during 2005 oral arguments before the Court regarding the constitutionality of displaying the Ten Commandments on public property. 

It isn’t that Governor Romney and Justice Scalia believe in God; they are hardly alone in that and in some very good company.  It’s that they so arrogantly claim divine actions or intent they can’t possibly know.  Every time such pronouncements are made I want to stand up and ask, “how do you know that, Sir?”  It may be accurate to say with some surety that those who fashioned our Constitution were, for the most part, individuals who believed in God.   Moreover, Scripture and other religious teachings might well have informed their moral compasses.  But to go from there to claiming “God himself” gave us rights is a real stretch and an arrogant one at that.  It is the kind of thinking and attribution that also gives license to the religious imposing their ideologies on the rest of us in so many other areas.  Romney, for one, has reiterated his support of overturning Roe as well his opposition to same-sex marriage.  Both positions can be justified only on religious grounds, and of a certain orthodox kind.

Romney’s comments at that Virginia event were not new.  The candidate also believes that some Americans have taken the separation of church and state too far, "well beyond its original meaning."  In an interview with the Washington National Cathedral's magazine, Cathedral Age, Romney said those who "seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God" aren't acting in line with the Founders' intent, which was not, "…the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God, 'and in God, we do indeed trust."

With a still deeply troubled economy and the more overriding issue of government’s role in our society on the table, one would have wished that dueling over God would not factor in the 2012 campaign.  In large measure of course it is just a smoke screen.  If God were in the mix, isn’t it fair to ask if the sad state of the economy reflects divine will or for that matter if the Almighty favors more or less government.  Are Democrats or conversely Republicans carrying forward God’s will or are they subverting it?  Is it God’s providence that the disparity between rich and poor is so great or that the gap is widening between those of have far more than they will ever need and those who need so much more than they can ever hope to have?

When all is said and done, the majority of our government officials believe in God or at least profess such a belief.   Many feel guided by their faith.  So the issue between them is not whether they see our nation as “Under God” — something which they would assumably attach to the world as a whole — but rather, what is the human role?  What should the humanly run government do, and what should we do as individuals?  In that discussion we dare not pass the buck, dare not claim that we carry endorsements of any “higher” order, stacking the cards in favor of our point of view.  God shouldn't factor in a partisan or philosophical debate.  In a country where those living without religion are growing faster as a percentage of the population that those who with follow one, God’s role will need to be addressed at some time in the future.  For now, we have more immediate and urgent questions to resolve.


  1. When will the religious community understand there's is not the be all and end all? Religion is a personal thing, not to be shoved down the throat of others but to be held within your being. If someone else does something you don't approve of then, instead of condemning them, make peace with them. If they are not harming you, your family or your life in any way, then who are you to tell them how to live theirs?

    1. David: Thanks for your comment. I could not agree with you more. Jonathan