Thinking Anglicans

Is the US still 'one nation under God'?

This is the question now being asked at Comment is free Belief:

Is the US still ‘one nation under God’?
After the election, will America still be one nation? And will it still believe that it shelters under God’s providence?

Judith Maltby responds from Urbana, Illinois that The vision survives in surprising places.
In Muslim America and in Episcopalian churches, it’s an ideal that still has has traction

The Farmers’ Market in Urbana, Illinois on the Saturday morning before the US election seemed a good place to get some views on this question. Among the stalls groaning with more types of squashes than I knew existed, was the Champaign County Democrats table. It was being staffed by Al Kurtz, a Democrat on the county board. What did he think? He was upbeat. (I would have, just to be clear, put this question to the local Republicans, but they weren’t at the Farmers’ Market – Illinois’ electoral college votes are about as safe as they can be in Senator Obama’s bag.)

Earlier responses:

Neither one nation, nor under God by Harriet Baber
In 2008, American religion is inextricably linked to social conservatism and the political right

One nation under secularism by George Neumayr
If America is still one nation, that is because no one who might be elected to public office takes religion as seriously as its founders did

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Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

George Neumayr apparently does not realize that the phrase “one nation, under God” is only about 50 years old…and does not appear in any official document of the United States.

The phrase comes from the Pledge of Allegiance, originally written in the 1890s and not adopted as the “official” pledge until many years later. The phrase “under God” (which would have appalled the writers of the US Constitution) was added in 1954, at the height of the McCarthy communist witch hunts, and at the urging of, among others, the Knights of Columbus.

ettu
Guest
ettu

I am not claiming to be a historian but I am fairly certain that several founding fathers did NOT take religion seriously but were more in tune with the concept of secular humanism. Witness Thomas Jefferson physically removing references that he disagreed with from his Bible by cutting them out.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“The phrase “under God” (which would have appalled the writers of the US Constitution)” Isn’t it interesting how the US has come so far from the breathtaking ideals of the Founding Fathers? Like gun control, for instance. I very sincerely doubt that enshrining the right of citizens to bear arms for defence of the nation was ever intended to evolve into constitutional protection of the right of the citizen to be shot by a handgun. I was thinking last night while watching the US TV coverage of the election about how different our political systems are. In the US, people… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

It’s long been the case that American political rhetoric has absorbed a civic religion, a cut-down secularised sacred that nevertheless incorporates the sacred. The vision thing by which Obama wrapped up his victory speech was such a speech, and they all say God bless America. However, McCain’s speech in its sheer generosity was a speech of the highest values. I noted in my blog that just before the vote, the sheer nastiness and negativity of the material on Barack Obama that appeared on Anglican Mainstream was less a campaign and more a declaration of how the hard Christian right is… Read more »

Cynthia Gilliatt
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Cynthia Gilliatt

Pat O’Neill is quite right. Jefferson edited his own version of the New testment, with only the ‘moral’ parts and none of the supernatural. Franklin also was a deist, as were many of the others. Washington was an indifferent Anglican/Episcopalian. I can remember quite clearly stumbling over the ‘new’ Pledge while in elementary school. Sadly, many Americans are quite convinced that the Pilgrims came here to establish religious freedom and that they were prototypes of conservative evangelicals. Instead, they were out to find a place where THEY could control how people worshipped and what they believed. And they were firece… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“The phrase “under God” (which would have appalled the writers of the US Constitution)…”

And your basis for such a claim is – what, exactly?

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Genesis 18 teaches us that it is “before God, under the Terebinth”… but I suppose that for literalist accuracy isn’t that important.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Baber’s comments might have been more accurate if written eight years ago. Americans have just elected a man whose father was born to a Muslim family, whose wife is a descendant of slaves, and who belongs to the United Church of Christ, the Congregationalists, the most liberal Christian church in America, much more liberal than the Episcopal Church. There were issues in this election far more important that the Luddite view of abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research. Palin, who was poorly chosen by McCain to improve his chances with the evangelical right, was seen — even by many… Read more »

Steve Lusk
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Steve Lusk

It’s worth remembering that the New England Puritans founded Harvard, picked up some critical reading skills, and evolved into Congregationalists. The Congregationalists are, as noted above, at least as liberal as we Episcopalians are. In 1800, the church planted by the Pilgrims (who were separatists, not Puritans)opted to join not the Congregationalists, but the Unitarians. So there’s hope even for Sydney and CANA, although it may take a century or two for all of them to see the light.

Jay Vos
Guest

I’ve refused to say the Pledge for many years because we are not a country with liberty and justice for all. I don’t even stand with others while they say it. For those who ask me why, usually they look bewildered on hearing my answer.

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“was thinking last night while watching the US TV coverage of the election about how different our political systems are. In the US, people have to register to vote, and it seems somehow linked to party affiliation, but I don’t know how that works. In this country, the government keeps a voters list, we are sent a notification in the mail a few weeks before an election telling us we are on the list and where we have to vote, if we are not on the list, we needn’t even contact Elections Canada, we can be sworn in at the… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

BillyD:

My basis for that is that the word “God”–or any reference to a deity at all–appears nowhere in the Constitution.

Cynthia Gilliatt
Guest
Cynthia Gilliatt

“I was thinking last night while watching the US TV coverage of the election about how different our political systems are. In the US, people have to register to vote, and it seems somehow linked to party affiliation, but I don’t know how that works.” No you don’t, because it varies from state to state. In the US you do register to vote. You supply your address. In some states you are asked party affiliation so that you vote only in your party’s primaries. In other states, not. The point about registering to vote I guess is that you make… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Were the USA ever united in the sense suggested above?

Hasn’t it been far too divided and antagonistic politically ever to be united?

Isn’t this the real problem!

The Politics of Division?

MJ
Guest
MJ

Found an interesting piece from the Washington Times in October on two surveys of the political views of young US religious voters. Both surveys found an interesting result on attitudes toward same-sex unions by young, white evangelical voters: “The [Faith in Public Life] survey also found that 52 percent of young, white evangelicals favored same-sex marriage or civil unions.” “PBS [Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly) also found that a majority of young, white evangelical Christians (58 percent) support legal recognition of civil unions. Twenty-six percent support marriage for same-sex couples versus 9 percent of older, white evangelicals.” So over half of… Read more »

Richard
Guest
Richard

Just for reference, in the UK you are legally required to register to vote (although many do not) but not required to actually vote. This makes comparative turnout figures difficult, as our potential voting pool is the whole adult population except those in prison, mental hospitals or the House of Lords. (I apologise to prisoners and the mentally ill for putting them in the same group as their Lordships) “the United Church of Christ, the Congregationalists, the most liberal Christian church in America, much more liberal than the Episcopal Church.” Surely not? Surely TEC is Satan’s representative on earth, the… Read more »

kieran crichton
Guest
kieran crichton

There have been some interesting comments here about electoral process in the US. Here in Australia I think we have the best practice model for electoral procedure. Since we’ve been the world’s democratic laboratory for a long time, perhaps there’s something to be gleaned from what we do. There are state and federal electoral commissions, which maintain the electoral roll and administer the process of the ballot at local, state and federal elections. It’s even possible to get the state electoral commission to run committee elections in an incorporated association, or university student unions. Political parties run the candidates, not… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“My basis for that is that the word “God”–or any reference to a deity at all–appears nowhere in the Constitution.”

And yet the Philadelphia Convention opened its sessions with prayer, as has Congress – from the beginning. The Founding Fathers had a variety of attitudes towards religion; portraying them as inimical to its practice – even in the official business of the Republic – is overstating the case.

Frank D.
Guest
Frank D.

We’re very diverse and scattered across a broad area and very little is consistently mandatory (other than death and taxes) — and we almost always fight loudly and in full view of the world — but yes (to the question) I expect the USA are united. And of course we’re one nation “under God,” at least in my view as a liberal (Episcopal) Christian, but then in my view as we are so are thee — in Australia, the UK or Sweden. But I have no idea what God has in mind, in the long run, so am more than… Read more »

orfanum
Guest
orfanum

BillyD

Take a look at:

http://www.sullivan-county.com/nf0/dispatch/fathers_quote2.htm

To get a flavour. Certainly many aspects of religion were felt to be potentially and actually inimical to the Republic, or to its representation to other states.

BillyD
Guest

“It is compulsory for all citizens to attend a polling place on election day — you can still return a blank ballot sheet, so long as your name is ticked off on the electoral roll.”

Are people ever actually prosecuted for not voting?

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

“in the UK you are legally required to register to vote”

However, this is an extremely simple process and was usually done by mail. It can now be done electronically. The government takes the initiative by sending to each dwelling place a paper form.

See for example
http://www.stalbans.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/elections/electoral-registration/

BillyD
Guest

“To get a flavour. Certainly many aspects of religion were felt to be potentially and actually inimical to the Republic, or to its representation to other states.” Even at the link you provide a variety of approaches to religion are evident. Some people didn’t want any expression of religion in connection with the government (Madison is a good example, I think). They were in the minority. Even Deists (which is far from the full bore atheism that many today suppose it to be) weren’t necessarily opposed to the almost official expression of religion. Mind you, I’m not arguing from the… Read more »

choirboyfromhell
Guest
choirboyfromhell

Cynthia Gilliatt: “This time I voted proudly for Obama. I cried when I saw he had won. Those were tears of joy.” You weren’t the only one, there were hundreds of thousands of us along with you. Then I kicked in the dresser when I heard about California in the AM. You see Billy D, you might have a point that our (USA) founding fathers (and mothers) were deeply devout and fervent believers in Christ. But they were correct and polite enough to keep their personal beliefs to themselves. They would have never tried to impose them on a new-founded… Read more »

Robert Ian Williams
Guest
Robert Ian Williams

Surely the founding fathers of the USA were against the establishment of one church as the national etablished Church and they were not secularists.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

Pat and Cynthia, I was just looking for clarification on a system that I don’t understand. For the record, our system of voter registration also looks after the same kind of locality issues Pat speaks of. I can only vote in one place, I can’t vote in another Electoral District, or even in a different polling station in my District. If I’m not on the Voter’s List, I can be sworn in, but I have to provide ID and proof of residency in the district. I agree that it says something about how we see things. Cynthia’s comments about people… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“But so is it (pardon me) nonsense to to think that the Founding Fathers were united in their opposition to the public expression of religion in connection with the government.” Is it more accurate to think of them as products of their time? They certainly weren’t a particularly pious lot of Christians, some of them weren’t even Christians, and they were certainly radicals born of the Enlightenment with the ideals of that period. It always seemed to me that they only put in as much reference to God as they had to for the time. It was actually a rather… Read more »

revLois Keen
Guest

The United States, in the Americas, is not any more “under God” than any other country in the world. We like to think that we are more “Godly”, and that we enjoy some special protection or some special mandate from our Creator, and that assumption on the part of many U.S. Americans will continue to be maintained, but it doesn’t make it so. Every nation, and every human on this globe is “under God” and under a mandate from God to love our neighbors as ourselves, and not to build fences that say “you are my neighbor and you are… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“You see Billy D, you might have a point that our (USA) founding fathers (and mothers) were deeply devout and fervent believers in Christ.”

Good Lord, did you even *read* what I wrote? I wrote NOTHING of the sort – this is solely your own work.

BillyD
Guest

“The United States, in the Americas, is not any more “under God” than any other country in the world.”

Who here said that it was?

drdanfee
Guest
drdanfee

Perhaps right into the blog mix of competing narratives about personhood and nationhood and who is witness to exactly what sort of beliefs and what sort of religion, arrive this additional narrative from noted author Alice Walker in her open letter to President-Elect Obama.

She is pondering the inner work of leading, of being targeted by enemies.

See: http://telling-secrets.blogspot.com/2008/11/we-are-ones-we-have-been-waiting-for.html

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“The Founding Fathers had a variety of attitudes towards religion; portraying them as inimical to its practice – even in the official business of the Republic – is overstating the case.”

And where did I say that? I said they’d be appalled at an official description of the United States as “one nation, under God”…and they would be. They wanted religious practice–or the absence thereof–completely divorced from political life.

Father Ron Smith
Guest
Father Ron Smith

“What exactly do references to “God” mean in a culture where the lifestyles of the “religious” and the non-religious are almost indistinguishable – in a culture where politicians punctuate every speech with “God Bless America” before trotting off to vote for partial-birth abortion and gay civil unions?” – George Neumayr – Being of English stock, long resident in New Zealand, I have hesitated before commenting on this thread, but I found ther above statement by George Neumayr particularly interesting. The writer has obviously equated the word ‘Godly’ with people who are absolutely opposed to the idea of abortion (under any… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“I said they’d be appalled at an official description of the United States as “one nation, under God”…and they would be. They wanted religious practice–or the absence thereof–completely divorced from political life.” Yes, you did say that. And you were wrong. If they wanted religious practice “completely divorced from political life” they would not have opened the sessions of the Philadelphia Convention with prayers, would they? There would not have been Congressional chaplains from the start, would there? From the website of the House Chaplain (http://chaplain.house.gov/chaplaincy/history.html): “The election of the Rev. William Linn as Chaplain of the House on May… Read more »

choirboyfromhell
Guest
choirboyfromhell

Billy D: “But so is it (pardon me) nonsense to to think that the Founding Fathers were united in their opposition to the public expression of religion in connection with the government.”

And my argument is that they were.

Pardon me, but I read your sole work quite thoroughly.

BillyD
Guest

“Pardon me, but I read your sole work quite thoroughly.”

Then you either need to go back and read it again, or redraft your reply. You wrote “…, you might have a point that our (USA) founding fathers (and mothers) were deeply devout and fervent believers in Christ.”

In reality, I had written, “Mind you, I’m not arguing from the ‘This is a Christian nation and all the Founding Fathers were good Christians’ position, since it is evident nonsense.” You took what I wrote, and somehow extracted the exact opposite meaning.

Stephen Bates
Guest
Stephen Bates

I think BillyD is wrong to state that the Constitutional Convention opened its proceedings with prayer. This appears to be a trope of the modern religious right. At one stage in the proceedings, on 28 June 1787, Benjamin Franklin proposed that a deadlock should be broken by calling in clergy to offer daily prayers, but his motion was denied without a vote. Alexander Hamilton said there was no money to pay chaplains and Franklin himself noted: “The Convention except for three or four persons thought prayers unnecessary.” This has not stopped modern members of the religious right claiming that the… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“*Some* of the Founding Fathers wanted to have no role for religion in the government. They did not prevail.”

They wanted no “official” role…and they prevailed. There is no state religion, God is not invoked in our Constitution, not even in our oaths of office (“So help me God” was adlibbed by Washington and presidents since have followed suit, but it’s not in the oath as prescribed by Article II). There is nothing in law or constitution requiring a chaplain for the congress.

choirboyfromhell
Guest
choirboyfromhell

Billy D, you seem to put out a claim of “evident nonsense” that the founding fathers were of good Christians’ position, in your argument. You then bring up the deliberateness of invoking prayers to God in various duties and activities of U.S. Government, material written in the Constitution notwithstanding. Ultimately I’d ask, does it matter? All I’m saying is that I think it was probably was a much more civil proceeding where most present were sensitive enough to both proceed gently with the grave issue of plotting a brand new country’s course. After the pains of Reformation England and the… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“They wanted no “official” role…and they prevailed. There is no state religion, God is not invoked in our Constitution, not even in our oaths of office (“So help me God” was adlibbed by Washington and presidents since have followed suit, but it’s not in the oath as prescribed by Article II). There is nothing in law or constitution requiring a chaplain for the congress” And yet, there is a congressional chaplain, and has been one since the beginning. And yes, s/he is official, since s/he is appointed under Article I, Section 2 which states states: “The House of Representatives shall… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“What many of those attending the Convention were were deists.”

Are you under the impression that only orthodox, Bible-believing evangelical Christians refer to God in public? Yes, many of the Founding Fathers were Deists. And many Deists had no problem making reference to God in political discourse. Witness, for example, the Declaration of Independence.

BillyD
Guest

For an extensive discussion of the role that religion played in both the Congress of the Confederation (which, among other things, sponsored an edition of the Bible) and the new Federal government, see http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel06.html .
This is far from a right-wing Christian site, being that of the Library of Congress.

BillyD
Guest

“I think BillyD is wrong to state that the Constitutional Convention opened its proceedings with prayer.”

I find that Stephen Bates is correct – the Constitution did not vote on Franklin’s motion, or the compromise motion moved by Edmund Randolph that a sermon be preached on 4 July and prayers commenced after that. I stand corrected: the Constitutional Convention did not open its sessions with prayer. (A mistaken statement by Ronald Reagan seems to be the source of the story that they did).

Cheryl Va.
Guest

“In 2008, American religion is inextricably linked to social conservatism and the political right” Piss myself laughing that conservatives still foolishly try to claim that they are the only truly religious people. Obama’s election is a manifestation that all the peopleS of all the nationS can come together to cooperate. One nation no longer means “us” as an elite who subjegates all others’ needs and voices. One nation now means different peopleS working towards a common good through diverse strategies and paradigms. We are returning to the heart of God, and as God is so immense, of course we need… Read more »

Malcolm+
Guest

“Only one of the members of the convention is thought to have been an evangelical: Richard Bassett of Delaware, and he never spoke.”

John Witherspoon of New Jersey was a Presbyterian divine – descendent of John Knox and ancestor fo the actress Reese Witherspoon, who was raised an Episcopalian.

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“And yet, there is a congressional chaplain, and has been one since the beginning. And yes, s/he is official, since s/he is appointed under Article I, Section 2 which states states: “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers.”

The chaplain is not an officer of the House, since such officers must be members of that body and the chaplain is not. The chaplain is, at best, an employee of the House.

BillyD
Guest

“The chaplain is not an officer of the House, since such officers must be members of that body and the chaplain is not. The chaplain is, at best, an employee of the House.”

You need to take this up with the Office of the Chaplain, not me. According to the Chaplain’s site, they are appointed under Article I, Section 2.

stephen bates
Guest
stephen bates

Thank you Billy D for your acknowledgement and Malcolm for your posting. John Witherspoon was, of course, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, but he was not a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, though he supported the constitution that it developed when New Jersey came to ratify it. Had he been a member of the convention, he would have counted as an evangelical, though whether like Bassett and possibly Roger Sherman of Connecticut he would have thought of himself personally as “born again” may be moot. He might well have had something to say about prayer at… Read more »