“God bless America.”
It’s a popular enough patriotic cliché. So popular, in fact, that most of America’s politicians can think of nothing better with which to end their speeches.
On Tuesday night’s debate, the Rollins College debate team repeatedly used this phrase as a conclusion to their arguments. Granted, they did so in an amusing, slightly satirical manner, and it seemed to have the desired effect on the audience. Yet, when Chang Zhao, a Rollins student arguing for the Chinese team, explained that she would not invoke God’s blessing on anything, since the Chinese government has no official religion (and neither does the U.S. government, by the way), the crowd was infuriated, with people bellowing, “For shame! For shame!”
The crowd’s objections brought me to the disturbing realization that certain people actually think that a particular old man in the sky favors a particular group of people with particular passports on a particular mass of land, so long as they honor him in a particular manner in a particular church with the particular donations. Worse still, as evidenced by this Winter Park crowd, some people consider it shameful to deliberately not mention God when talking about a topic that has little to do with religion.
What does “God bless America” mean, exactly? Are people conscious of what it implies, or do they simply spout out this cliché because it has the word ‘God’ in it, and therefore must be good? Perhaps God does not bless America – an un-American thought, to be sure, but one that I think is worth investigating.
“God blesses us!” Isn’t that what nearly every radical nationalistic and religious group says? As organizations such as Al Qaeda have demonstrated, with God, all things are possible. To justify, that is. Invoking God in the political sphere is dangerous, since it allows people to make all sorts of claims without supporting them with the appropriate evidence.
Another essential question to ask here is: whose version of God are we talking about? The God in “God Bless America” usually refers to the monotheistic Christian one, excluding many other groups of people: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, and, most blatantly, those with no religious affiliation, who make up nearly one fifth of American’s population, according to a 2012 Pew survey.
Finally, the ethnocentric sentiments behind “God Bless America” are far from moral. Yes, America is wealthier than many other parts of the world, but that doesn’t make Americans God’s Chosen Ones. This phrase places Americans on a laughable divine pedestal above other nationalities while ignoring the not-so-divine problems of disease, poverty, and homelessness that many American citizens continue to face.
Hopefully, I have not offended anyone too much. I’m all for the freedom of religion – I just don’t think religion should dominate politics, and when religion does produce logical fallacies, I don’t think that it should be above criticism. The blind, feel-good faith that “God Bless America” promotes is proud, illogical, and exclusionary. Unfortunately, most people do not acknowledge this fact. And to that, I say, “For shame!”