Godlosing its religions?
By George A. Ricker
The theocrats of the Religious Right have succeeded in accomplishing something nonbelievers would not have thought possible, let alone attempted. They have divorced God from religion.
Thats right. In their zeal to get the God label plastered wherever possible in our society, the religionists apparently havent heard the rationale being used by judges, politicians and so on to accomplish the task. Most of these people, after all, agree with the American people that there ought to be a separation between government and religion. They also thinkthe Religious Rights dishonest version of history notwithstandingthat the Constitution requires that separation.
When challenged about making In God We Trust the official motto of Florida, as was done recently (it had been the unofficial motto for decades) or leaving it on our coins, the argument is always this really isnt about establishing religion, its just a recognition of our historical heritage. Apparently, God is no longer a religious concept. Its more in the nature of a brand name or an industrial trademark. The reason we keep slapping it on coins and buildings and web sites is because its an important symbol, one that evidently has nothing to do with anything real or anything religious.
Lets face it. No one with a working brain really thinks the government of the United States trusts in God. If it did, we wouldnt be spending hundreds of billions of dollars on national defense and hundreds of billions more on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So the phrase must be a meaningless expression in the minds of those who insist on putting it on our money and on our state seals, etc.
As for being one nation, under God, as our pledge of allegiance asserts, the notion is laughable. The majority of Americans who worship a god dont worship the same god. They certainly arent united by it. In many cases the god they worship isnt even named God.
As a matter of fact, when it comes to religions, there is no such thing as God. As David Eller points out in his book, Natural Atheism, there are only gods. With more than 33,000 denominations (according to the World Christian Encyclopedia, Oxford University Press, 2001) in Christianity, Christians can hardly claim to be worshipping the same deity. Just as there cannot truly be said to be a Christian religion but only Christian religions, there cannot be a Christian God but only Christian gods.
So the idea that putting God in the Pledge or on our money advances the cause of religions may be wrong after all. It hardly advances the cause of any religion to trivialize the bedrock concept of that religion and make it part of a slogan like God bless America, or In God We Trust.
An old saw proclaims that familiarity breeds contempt. As God the brand gets plastered on more and more public buildings and public web sites and the dissemblers who attempt to rationalize the practice continue to make the claim that the reference really isnt religious but historical, then religions eventually must either create a new brand name for their preferred deity or launch their own campaign to end the practice.
There was a time in the history of religions when the name of the deity was kept a secret, available only to practitioners and never pronounced aloud. The name of God, whichever name a particular god happened to go by, was a word of power invested with magical properties. The person who knew that name gained a certain amount of power with the knowledge, thus the names of gods were closely guarded by the religions who worshipped them.
Today, we dont believe such thingsat least, most of us dont. Nonetheless, it seems a strategic error for the religious to attempt to make the name of the god they worship so commonplace as to put it on a nations currency or on its public buildings. A God so aligned with commerce and the secular state must inevitably have less and less to do with any genuine religious sentiment.
So the dilemma facing those among the religious who view religion as a matter of the spirit and not a rhetorical device for political posturing is whether to invest their energy in reclaiming the central concept of that religion from its degradation to the status of a political buzz word or to invent a new concept to take the place of the old.
God is losing its religions. Will those religions attempt to reclaim it or replace it with something else?
The idea for this essay came from a piece by Dianna Narciso that appeared in the July, 2006, issue of Freely Speaking (the monthly newsletter of the Space Coast Freethought Association). It had the same title.
© 2006 By George A. Ricker