I Call Bullshit

I’m sitting here listening to NPR’s coverage of the 9/11 memorial ceremonies. If I had a dollar for every time the official speakers at these official events has mentioned God or heaven or quoted a Bible verse, I’d be rich. The president himself led in prayer and read a Bible passage at the memorial for Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. What is this?

I was taught growing up that we live in a secular nation where Christian speech is persecuted. This is bullshit. After leaving my parents’ home, I found a surprisingly – and even officially – Christian nation.

Our state and national legislatures have chaplains and open sessions with prayer. “In God We Trust” is on every piece of money I touch, and our pledge declares that we are “one nation under God.” The current and previous president have both quoted from the Bible in official speeches, evoked God and faith, and repeated “God bless” at every event where they speak like a dogma. We are not supposed to be an officially Christian nation, but you know what? In practice, we are.

Now, I get that most Americans are Christians, and that Christianity is part of our national heritage, but isn’t the government supposed to refrain from endorsing any sort of religion? Isn’t that what freedom or religion is about? Beyond that, isn’t that the very foundation of freedom of religion? Great Britain has an established national church, the Anglican Church. We’re supposed to be different. The government is supposed to stay out of religion and let people pick what to believe for themselves. It’s not doing that.

As an atheist, sitting here listening to radio coverage of the memorials, I feel like I am not represented. I feel like I am somehow on the outside, somehow less American, because of my lack of belief. As government officials – my government officials – use official speeches to evoke a God I don’t believe exists, I feel alone. I feel left out and forgotten. What about Americans who do not believe, what about them? What about Americans who do not believe in the Judeo-Christian God, what about them? I don’t get it! Can’t they see that this only builds national unity by alienating those on the outside?

When my daughter starts school, I’ll have to deal with the whole pledge of allegiance thing. I’ll have to explain to my daughter that her nation – her nation - officially endorses belief in God. Sally will have to decide what to do. Will she stand and say the pledge, stand and say all but that phrase, stand and remain silent altogether, or sit and remain silent? I have heard stories of the phrase “under God” in the pledge being used to humiliate atheist students, or at the very least setting them up for accusations of being un-American. Official school prayer was banned in 1962 and 1963 because students outside of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition faced just these problems. If the pledge creates problems for Sally, and wants to sue to remove the words “under God,” I will do everything I can do to make this happen.

I look back on what I was taught about the persecution of Christians and the secular nature of our government, and I shake my head. It’s simply not true. The reality is that the government I had been taught was wholly secular in reality endorses belief in a God I don’t believe in, and is thus complicit in the building of a national identity that leaves me out entirely.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Update: Now they're playing traditional Christian hymns, at the official memorials.

  • Exrelayman

    Libby Anne, you have a stronger stomach than I. I am unable to keep watching. The ceremonies around 9/11 make me sick. The level of ignorance and superstition, and the political pandering to it is simply nauseating. Frighteningly, these people with this level of intellectual acumen outnumber and outvote us. Alas! Look into the 'personhood' referendum in Mississipi.BTW, I commented a bit harshly (but accurately) in response to Shadowspring, who seems a nice enough but mistaken person. I am a guest at your place and will honor your wishes if you desire that things be less confrontational. Am enjoying what you have to say.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Exrelayman – I don't have a TV, so I've just been listening via the radio on and off while cleaning up the kitchen and making a pumpkin cake. I finally turned it off. In this post I only talk about the separation and church bit that the 9/11 coverage got me to thinking about again, but my dislike of the 9/11 coverage goes way beyond that, as it appears does yours. The truth is, the terrorists did NOT attack America. They attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon – symbols of America's financial and military hegemony. So many Americans have no idea why so many people around the world dislike America, but the truth is, they have good reason. We see ourselves as a country of ideals and freedoms, but when it comes to our financial and military policy abroad, we're nothing but a self-serving bully. As for responding to other commenters, feel free to express your opinions and say if you think someone's wrong. I simply ask that everyone refrain from ad hominems and try to keep it at the level of a discussion rather than a debate.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03737088496139901541 Jude

    I have no interest in watching the 9/11 memorials. It's easier to avoid being offended that way. The decades-long funeral process we've been in and the changes (few for the better) in many aspects of our lives–well, sorry, I'm over it–beyond it–past it. Then you throw in religion-spouting politicians, and it seems that it could have meaning for few people–people who prefer form to substance, perhaps.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org Ophelia Benson

    I haven't been listening, but I certainly hear plenty of infuriating god-invoking day in and day out even without that.And don't get me started on the pledge…

  • Anonymous

    England is a secular country pretending to be religious. America is a religious country pretending to be secular. It's funny, when you think about it.J

  • http://openid.aol.com/finam87 Fina

    Well, here in Germany you see politicians attend memorial services etc. in churches as well.But you also see them attending such services when they are held in a jewish temple or an islamic mosque. Furthermore, those are not official government events – if a christian politician dies and gets a funeral at a christian church, then that's his private business. For events like 9/11, the churches hold memorial services as well in addition to the ones hosted by the government – and the latter are mostly free of religious references.Just for additional information, two things government does for religious groups in Germany: They have a constitutional right to religious education in schools (those classes get replaced by generic ethics classes for atheists), and the government collects taxes on their behalf (if you are member of a church, you will pay a few extra percent income tax which will then go to the church).Yet i would still rate Germany as more secular, both in society and government.Incidentally, i watched a memorial concert in New York. They played Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, which has religious content, but is hardly a religious hymn. Mostly i watched it because it's beautiful classical music. What do you think about something like that (aside from the fact that it is not part of government)?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Fina – Most old classical music has religious content. I see a difference between that and the traditional evangelical hymns of the 1900s, such as "There is Power in the Blood." Also, if you play religious music without singing the words, I have less problem. Heck, that's how I listen to most Christmas music! The tunes still mean something to me, but the words can be very triggering.

  • Anonymous

    Fina, in English you should call it a synagogue.As I've been told, while some Jews refer to the place where they worship as Temple, others find that usage upsetting because to them, there IS no Temple anymore after the destruction of the Second Temple, and nobody is doing sacrifices or anything like that. Synagogue is a nice, neutral term that everybody knows what it means and all "denominations" of Judaism use.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Yeah, I had the whole pledge of allegiance issue in school when I was a kid. I basically had a major problem with "under God" the moment I was old enough to have a basic grasp of concept of separation of church and state. Also, from very early childhood, I was very conflicted as to what my beliefs on the subject of God were (my parents didn't try particularly hard to push me in any one direction) and I didn't feel comfortable mentioning God so publicly when I always felt it was a very private subject. I stopped saying the pledge really early on, and I got very little trouble about it. The only time I got trouble was if I didn't stand. Generally, people were okay with my standing and being silent, but not sitting and being silent. Go figure. I pretty much accepted this compromise because I didn't want to use up all my rebellion points so early in the schoolyear. I needed them. :-P I grew up in a pretty conservative Catholic area too, so I wouldn't worry too much about Sally. There will be plenty of people backing her up and most people aren't going to want to make a big deal. I'm sure incidents of atheist students being humiliated with the pledge happens, but I don't think it's a widespread phenomenon. Remember, atheists are as human as Christians, and we humans like to flatter ourselves by thinking that we're the David standing against the Goliath, which can sometimes lead us to exaggerating a little. :-PAnd it's funny what you say about Christian music being triggering–ironic, because I've sung Christian music for years with no problem. I was a hardcore choir kid in high school and it's pretty hard to do choral singing without Christian music–and why would you want to? That's all the best stuff! I just don't have the associations with it that you do.Although, there was a time when I was younger when I felt conflicted about the Christmas concert. I loved to sing and I loved the music but was I some how betraying my ancestors or some such heavy, dramatic crap? lol. I finally concluded that music is for everyone and you can get out of it whatever you want–if Christians want to take a Christian message away from it, good for them but I am perfectly free to just take away the beauty of it and the joy of singing. Basically, my view on music is the one that that "shaming" video you posted is condemning–music is universal, it speaks to us all, who care about the words! hehe.

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