Wednesday, September 29, 2004

ONE NATION UNDER A GROOVE: This year’s legal controversy over the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was much ado about, well, two little words. The interesting aspect to me was this: The Bush administration, arguing for keeping “under God” in the pledge, claimed that it was an instance of ceremonial deism. A nod to history and tradition, with no real religious meaning. The phrase has been in there a long time; the whole country has learned it that way; let’s leave well enough alone. In other words, the atheist plaintiff clearly took the name of God more seriously than the government did.

Kenneth Briggs is a well-regarded veteran religion newswriter, and I thought this was a great column. It brings to mind the government’s lazy defense of God-in-the-Pledge. Americans invoke God the way schoolchildren recite the Pledge to the flag: by rote, drowsily.

A lot has been written this year about the role of religion in politics and public life, and the God Gap, and of how striking the U.S. is in its religious fervor. This kind of talk is way overdone. Americans like God in much the same way they like Big Macs and Coca-Cola and SUVs with American flag stickers: reflexively, superficially, out of conformism. It’s easier and more convenient to go with the flow on the subject.

When you read polling data about how religious this country is, how often we go to church, etc. – keep in mind that Americans tend to lie in these polls.

The consumer ethic dominates religion as it dominates every arena of American life. Churches that succeed do so by entertaining and pandering – giving the consumers what they want. Too many preachers are self-help gurus who avoid making demands on people’s consciences. The fastest-growing churches function like retail chains: opening outlets in demographically desirable spots, serving gourmet coffee in the lobby, offering reclining movie-theatre style seating.

The point being, enough of pundits with platitudes about our country’s faith and piety. Spiritually as in every other way, the average American is a flabby, lazy, selfish, smug moron.

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