Thursday, November 03, 2011

In God We Trust (& Ceremonial Deism)

The House reaffirmed "In God We Trust" as the national motto for - what? - the third or fourth time? Keep trying to flush out the godless liberals. My congressman, one of the most liberal in the House & in a safe seat, just goes "Yeah yeah" & votes yea for stuff like this.  I wish I could find the  transcript of Representative  Trent Franks'  speech; the excerpts I've read are incomprehensible, like a third grader forced to give an oral report on theology.

This used to be "ceremonial deism, " or what I call the "granite gods." It's the religion of American monuments, centered on the Mall in Washington with smaller temples in every city & town, & approved by the Supreme Court. We've always had it, but it took on a settled  shape in  the decades after the Civil War when thousands  of commemorative statues were constructed & dedicated, Memorial Day was created, & Lincoln's brilliant Old Testament-flavored  oratory had  influenced  the hack speeches of local politicians.  American composer Charles Ives captured it perfectly 100 years ago. It was the religion of solemn public occasions when I was a kid,  acknowledged quickly at government meetings, Little League award dinners, etc.,  & I'm  comfortable enough with it.

But since the rise of the protestant right in the Seventies, "ceremonial deism" has become increasingly specific - narrower -  by implication. You could practice American Ceremonial Deism without mentioning Jesus. Lincoln's speeches weren't Christian. In fact, Lincoln became the deified American Savior who died for our sins of slavery & war.  We built him a magnificent temple. Pull out a penny if you have one handy.  Now a considerable portion of the Christian Right / Republican base  won't even let "In God We Trust" encompass that most American of religions, Mormonism.  If Mitt Romney says he trusts in God, he's expected to explain how  his God is the same as Michelle Bachmann's or Rick Perry's God.

The best Ceremonial  Deism tried to leave wiggle room for atheists, agnostics, non-Christians, & enthusiastic  First Amendment advocates.  But if  you're  the kind of person who mumbles "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, or stands but doesn't sing "God Bless America" during the 7th Inning Stretch,  just because it makes you uncomfortable, now you'll get a nasty look from the fundamentalist standing next to you. That person wishes you weren't permitted to vote.

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I turn the sound off during the seventh inning. Don't do ballgames anymore.
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"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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