Thursday, March 4, 2010

“under God” as Identity Politics

3/4/2010—Jonathan Raban’s article about the Tea Party in the New York Review of Books contains the following description of the convention in Nashville: “We said prayers, recited the Pledge of Allegiance (with the words ‘under God’ pronounced as if they were underlined and in bold type), and clapped in time with the beat of country music… .”

Elsewhere, the article makes it clear that the movement is not particularly religiously-oriented, either in motivating goals (which have more to do with deficits and spending along with a stronger military than with any social issues) or in the affinities of its members (although there are many religious believers in the movement).

Rather, prayer, God and country music are cultural/political markers. They demarcate the movement as “ordinary Americans” as opposed to the elitists supporting President Obama.

Even secularists who oppose religious imagery in the public square understand this and so when I speak about religious language in the public square, they admit that they are willing to leave God-language alone. Certainly that is true as well of the Democratic Party, which would probably be willing to require its candidates to write “under God” 500 times before every election.

This is what happened to gun control, which is part of the reason that the right to bear arms will soon be constitutionlized everywhere. That does not bother me much, but constitutionalizing monotheism is another matter. I don’t want to see that. That would represent a real loss of freedom in America.

The choices are, genuinely fight for a secularized public square or reinterpret religious imagery so that it is not purely religious and can be present on that basis in public life. Ignoring the partisan use of God is not an option.

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