One Nation Under “God”?

One Nation Under God, Dammit!I find it funny that the coverage of yesterday’s hearing is radically different depending on which account you read. According to CNN, Newdow got slammed by the justices, who sounded like it was all they could do to keep from laughing him out of court. They make it seem like Newdow could barely get a word in edgewise. The Post, on the other hand, flips it around completely — it was the justices who couldn’t poke holes in Newdow’s case, leaving them with the tough choice of kicking it out on the standing issue (likely according to CNN, unlikely according to the Post) or trying to weasel their way into keeping the pledge without actually having any legal basis for doing so.

I’ll confess that I had serious doubts as to Newdow’s chances going in, but it sounds — at least according to the more comprehensive Post report — that he did a pretty bang-up job. I particularly love the exchange (which didn’t even merit a mention in the CNN report) following Newdow’s claim that the “under God” phrase was divisive. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist claimed that the law’s unanimous passage in 1954 didn’t sound particularly divisive to him, to which Newdow responded, “That’s only because no atheist can get elected to public office.” He was greeted with applause sufficient enough to force Rehnquist to threaten to clear the room to restore order.

Setting aside the legal issues at stake — which really are pretty damned cut-and-dried — I’m irritated as hell at the blanket assertions being made by the pro-“under God” folks, assertions which don’t actually hold up under scrutiny. First, that our forefathers believed our nation was, in fact, under God. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite is true. While most of them believed in a creator, they specifically did not believe that this new government was a product of “God.” The whole point was that this was a government of man, not a deity. It was therefore in direct opposition to the prevailing governmental concept of “divine right,” in which a supreme being authorizes rule. As a corollary to that, our leaders don’t have the excuse of saying that “God” is responsible for the decisions they make. No, you are not “blessed” by God anymore than anybody else. God isn’t making these decisions — you are. In other words, our government is fallible.

I also take issue with the assertion that “under God” is inclusive of other faiths besides Christianity. Maybe I’m taking an overly literalist stance, but that’s simply not true. The notion of referring to a supreme being as God — proper name — is exclusively Christian. The God of Abraham (who was, historically, a henotheist, not a monotheist) has a name: YHWH. It’d be pronounced “Yahweh” if it were pronounced — which it isn’t, since that would be “taking the Lord’s name in vain” (which, incidentally, is what that commandment means, not saying, “God dammit,” or any variation thereof). Instead, the word “adonai” is used in its place. Granted, most Jews have learned to live with referring to their deity as “God,” but I would argue that they really didn’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter. You want to survive, sometimes you have to assimilate. The Muslim faith, on the other hand, does not worship “God,” but “Allah.” Yes, they have the same root origin, but to imply that they’re the same deity is a little naive. Again, most mainstream Muslims wouldn’t take issue with it — but I wouldn’t count on hearing references to “God” in a mosque.


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