I watched with dismay as Obama finished his speech to Congress on Tuesday Feb 24 with the now mandatory "... and God bless America" closing.
The founders of the U.S. were part of the rational Enlightenment movement of Europe. They saw the ravages of religious wars in Europe. They didn't want them in the U.S., so they wrote a Constitution that strictly separated Church and State. But religious groups have assiduously worked to break the separation. And Obama's words indicate that he too has fallen prey to this curious American disease. While Europe and other parts of the world are going post-religious, the US marches to a different drummer and allows religious ideologues to gather greater and greater political power.
When I was a kid I saw this first hand and rejected it then. I was in my senior year in high school in the U.S. when the group "Up With People" wrangled permission to hold an assembly. I was mortified that this obviously politico-religious group was given free reign to "evangelize" a public school under the guise of "strengthening our morals and politics". I created a furor when I refused to stand for the "Star Spangled Banner" as led by this group. Since my group had been called out of a 12th grade civics course the teacher led a discussion of the right to dissent in order to let the class vent about my actions. I was convinced that giving this group access to the school was wrong and believed it was funded by some Texas billionaire trying to shape young minds to his right wing political vision.
I have since learned that the group was funded by a Texas billionaire (at least not to my knowledge) but came out of a group called "Moral Rearmament" founded in the U.K. by Frank Buchman. A guy who made these quotes to the U.S. press in 1936:
- "I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler, who built a front line of defense against the anti-Christ of Communism"
- "…Human problems aren't economic. They're moral and they can't be solved by immoral measures. They could be solved within a God-controlled democracy, or perhaps I should say a theocracy, and they could be solved through a God-controlled Fascist dictatorship."
I do know that in the early 1970s when I saw Liza Mineli in Cabaret that what I had experienced in 1965 was the equivalent of the brownshirts touring German villages to sing "patriotic" songs.
The Up With People group are a direct descendent of the Moral Rearmament group founded by Frank Buchman. A little bit of Googling has led me to this assessment of Up With People by President Dwight D. Eisenhauer:
- A memo showing that in 1967, after seeing a performance by "Up With People", Eisenhower became concerned about their sponsor organization Moral Rearmament.
So... I feel justified in my gut level reaction to Up With People back in 1965/66.
To bring my story full circle... I had the same sinking feeling upon hearing Obama give his pat "God Bless America" closing on Feb 24, 2009 as I did to the slick Up With People performance in 1965/66. These is an ideological craziness creeping across America blighting it with views that ignore the Constitutional heritage of the country and the long struggle for religious liberty and for a civil society that is unblinkered by ideological blinders or political cant that papers over substantive issues. The Bush 43 "love of liberty" was political cant for "let my Wall Street Bankers free! Deregulate! Lower Taxes!". That was not the right to "life, liberty, and happiness" that the Founders of the U.S. had in mind. But sadly the same mindless cant of "God Bless America" is the cant of Bush 43 and the path to ideological destruction.
I'm a minority of one. I've always been on the losing side of political arguments. But over time I've been proved right. Sadly being right isn't good when harm has infested a society. Just as the current economic destruction has "proved" that opposition to the extreme "free market" ideology of Bush 43 was right. But it brings no joy. A nation, and a world, now must suffer what appears to be a decade of lost opportunity and unnecessary travail because of the greed of the elite and their embrace of a poisonous ideology of neo-liberalism with its mindless worship of "free" markets, deregulation, and "trickle-down" economics.
It is sad to see Obama, who early in his campaign did not wear the "mandatory" flag pin and who argued that wearing a symbol was not a substitute for patriotism, has now caved in and joined the herd in blind worship of mindless mantras such as "God Bless America". Sad. Truly sad.