By Eric Jayne
About an hour after Alabama governor Bob Bentley was inaugurated on Martin Luther King Day, he delivered a speech saying that he would serve all Alabamans regardless of party affiliation or race. In the next breath, however, the governor indicated that anyone “who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior” is not his “brother” or “sister.” After receiving unfavorable news coverage
over his remarks, Governor Bentley publicly apologized two days later. But did he really need to apologize? If we recognize how much God is invoked and whored out in the United States we might be able to cut the Governor some slack and focus our energy on the more problematic bigger picture.
It doesn’t seem like an elected policy maker today can deliver a speech, participate in an interview or debate, or write a book without praising God—and by “God” I mean, specifically, the Judeo-Christian god character that is simply referred to as “God” with a capital “G”. Whether it’s Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin, or Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, virtually all elected policy makers explicitly confess their belief in God and present that belief as the most important virtue (if you want to call it that) they own that enables them to hold public office.
For our part, we (the voting citizens) accept their piety-pandering because virtually all of us were raised to faithfully believe in the same imaginary magical characters they believe in. There are of course some differences among denominations of which magical beliefs and ceremonial rites are most important. At any rate, a well advertised belief in God is the first step in getting elected, and as long as our collective citizenry demands our policy makers to be devoted to God, candidates for public office will praise “Him” as much as any given televangelist.
Besides the typical God-peddling politician there are plenty of other public endorsements of God that continue to marginalize non-believers from the national family of Americans. I will include just a few examples of these exclusionary endorsements that happen on a daily basis:
- Millions of school children (including my own) are led by their teachers every morning to proclaim that the United States of America is “one nation, under God.”
- I feed the vending machine at work dollar bills and coins issued by the United States government that remind me I’m not the “we” in the motto, “In God We Trust.”
- The United States Congress routinely opens the day’s business with a prayer, and my own representative, John Kline, is a member of the Congressional Prayer Caucus .
Don’t confuse my fact-telling with whining. This is just simply the way it is. Atheists, other non-believers, and even other theists are reminded almost every single day that they’re not entirely welcomed into the “family.” The burden to fight this rejection falls upon us atheists, secularists, and non-Judeo-Christian believers. No matter how daunting or hopeless it may seem, we must continue to speak out against the intrusion of God in our secular civic engagements. Public schools, for example, should encourage our children to pledge their allegiance to “one nation, under God” no more than they should encourage them to pledge their allegiance to “one nation, under SpongeBob SquarePants (at least SpongeBob comes across as more genuine and tolerant). We can write our local and national representatives, petition our local school board, write letters to the editor on government/religion separation, respectively discuss our position with our friends and family, and continue to participate in (and donate to) the Minnesota Atheists organization.
Have fun with your protest! Those of you with children can come up with different characters for your child to invoke for the Pledge of Allegiance recitation each day at school: “…one nation, under Scooby Doo”; or “…under the Hamburgler”; or “…under Spider-Man.” Have fun with it and nurture your freethinking child’s creativity.
Instead of falling victim to complacency, let’s identify and call attention to the discriminating and unjust public endorsements of a weird belief that many either conflate with basic national citizenship or recognize as a license for enhanced citizenship. Until we routinely and collectively reject the inappropriate invocations of God in our public institutions (which are funded by our tax dollars), Gov. Bentley’s apparent ecclesiastical decree seems to be on par with the ongoing and unconstitutional religion/government unification permeating throughout our civic institutions.