|ESSAY: ONE NATION UNDER GOD|
March 9, 2001
| SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN:
Let the spirit move me, as it does, to remember the words from Chronicles,
which are to "give thanks to God."
ROGER ROSENBLATT: During the election, all it took was one remark by Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, Joseph Lieberman, and the country spun off in its usual frantic dizziness about religion.
JOHN ASHCROFT: The phrase "we have no king but Jesus" was a representation of what colonists were saying at the time...
ROGER ROSENBLATT: In the John Ashcroft confirmation hearings, up came religion again, and the country bristled. Recently, the public agenda group published a report on the deep emotional complexity of why so many want religion to play a greater role in American life. How much greater could it be? America is the most religious country in the industrialized world, and the most shook-up about it. Ever since Jefferson and Madison separated church from state, it freed Americans to be as religious as they wanted. And we wanted. We have old-line churches and storefront churches. We have at least three levels of Judaism. We have Muslims, Buddhists, Shintos, native American religions. We have cults, sects, people who set themselves up as Gods. We pledge allegiance under God. In God we trust. We go to court, so help us God. We go to war with God on our side. When a President becomes a President, God is at hand. With all that, the national nerves get jangled every time religion is spoken of publicly. Everybody seems to be doing that these days. Some of the reasons are obvious. (Singing) The rise of evangelical churches with the absence of mediation between God and the individual has made it more inviting for people to declare their faith. George W. Bush claimed Jesus as his favorite philosopher. Al Gore spoke of finding his personal savior. 40, 50 years ago, Presidents invoked God as national guide and protector, but that's about as far as it went. Then Jimmy Carter told about being born again. Suddenly lots of people did the same. On TV, in mega-churches with basketball arena seating, vast choirs sang religion loud and clear. Then, too, there was the end of the Cold War, which many saw as the victory of God over the Godless. And the opening up of issues that impinge on religion, such as abortion and fetal tissue research and cloning and assisted suicide -- and the recent emergence of a cultural atmosphere in which people are taking the spirit world as fact. On Broadway, there was "Angels in America." On television, "Touched by an Angel." In movies, the "Sixth Sense," where it was announced matter- of-factly...
ACTOR: I see dead people.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: All this adds to our consistent turmoil about religion, which has taken different emotional turns. Sometimes we're fearful and doubtful about religion, thus the figure of the sinful clergyman, thus the scarlet letter. Sometimes we apologize for people of the cloth and so create the figure of the battling priest, or the priest or nun or rabbi, who plays detective. Sometimes we make fun of religion. Remember the great Tom Lehrer, who sang about brotherhood week?
TOM LEHRER: (singing) Oh the Protestants hate the Catholics and the
Catholics hate the Protestants
ROGER ROSENBLATT: And Adam Sandler who gave a gentle dig at Jewish provincialism?
ADAM SANDLER: (singing) Here comes Hanukkah...
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Sometimes we embrace religion with the deepest devotion, sometimes with the deepest suspicion, usually with a little of both.
CHOIR: (singing) Oh beautiful for spacious skies for amber waves of grain...
ROGER ROSENBLATT: We've always gone this way, because the country is sort of a religion itself. And so we are always operating in a semi-mystical state of mind that includes belief and disbelief in ourselves, thoughts of heaven and hell, salvation and redemption, and the prayer of starting over again cleansed, baptized, reborn. America derives from one or another house of bondage. The hopes people have in the country have to do with their souls. No wonder those old boys separated church and state on a technicality. They may have sensed that the country did not need an established faith; it was an established faith full of all the beauty and trouble and ecstasy and doubt religion provides; and ready to throw a fit when anyone brings up the subject. I'm Roger Rosenblatt.