Copyright © 2004 Henrietta W. Hay
Seeking the Religious Center
April 2, 2004
Do we say "one nation under God" or "one nation indivisible" in the
pledge of allegiance? Do we allow gay marriage?
These questions and others of social significance have taken a huge
chunk of Congress' time this session and are definitely fueling the
culture war in this country. One might wish Congress had been more
concerned with issues of government, such as the war in Iraq, growing
unemployment, a budget deficit of $7 trillion , 44 million Americans
without health insurance. But no. President Bush is campaigning for
re-election seven months down the road, and he needs the social issues
of the Christian Coalition.
I generally stay off religious subjects, because I firmly believe each
American is entitled to his/her personal spiritual beliefs. We are not,
however, entitled by law to try to force those beliefs on anyone else.
But more and more religious issues are working their way into government
and the constitutional separation of church and state is being
threatened.The question of whether "under God" should be kept in the
pledge of allegiance has reached the Supreme Court. What is the place
of religion in government?
In practical terms, maybe the words don't matter all that much.
Reciting the pledge becomes routine for children, and for most adults
who are required to say it regularly. But philosophically it matters a
great deal. It is at the heart of the state/church issue. And the
conservatives take it very seriously. So seriously that the campaign of
hate is spreading. To be in favor of removing the phrase is to be a
traitor to our country, as one writer told me. And after a similar
letter, Anna Quindlen, a devout Catholic and a Liberal, writes, "When
did it first become gospel that only the Conservatives knew God?"
Author Susan Jacoby, in discussing what has happened in America since
9/11, writes "there has been a melding of religion and patriotism. The
insistence is that patriotism must be religious, and that to be
religious is to be patriotic." Are we pledging allegiance to the flag
or to God? My allegiance is to my country.
We have in this country a strong Religious Right. What we need is a
religious center, and that we have. To call it a Religious Left might
suggest intolerance, so I call it the Center. One organization which
represents that center is The Interfaith Alliance, an organization of
over 150,000 leaders and members of 70 denominations and other faith
traditions. Its purpose states: "The Interfaith Alliance promotes the
positive, healing role of faith in civic life and challenges intolerance
and extremism. . . .We stand for the participation in the political
process by people of faith, and against the view of the Religious Right
that one's political beliefs are the measure of one's faith. . . . . We
stand for inclusion and diversity in American society and oppose efforts
to sow discord and hate, especially under the guise of religion."
The Interfaith Alliance held a forum in March. Dr. Weldon Gaddy, its
president, said, "As the presidential campaign unfolds, we must keep in
mind that the oval office is the fulcrum point for American democracy,
not the chancel, not the pulpit for American religion
And Dr. Diana Eck spoke to Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry -- "We should say 'As
candidate for public office, I am running on our Constitution to be a
president for all the people, not just for the people of my religious
community. The word God is not in the Constitution and was not just a
mindless omission of our Founding Fathers.'"
Religion is often virtuous. Government is often competent. But
Religion and Government joined is almost always a total disaster. If in
doubt, look at the Near East.