We are no longer a Christian nation. Some would say we never were, that our founding fathers were deists, not theists, and certainly not that increasingly politically incorrect animal known as Christian. We are still, however, a Christianized nation. Although each generation seems to move a little further off the mark, we are for the time being awash with a Judeo-Christian heritage generally, and a Christian one specifically.
Our elected officials, whether swearing or affirming, place a hand on the Judeo-Christian holy book, the Bible. Our laws, taken from the best of various codes throughout history, give more than a nod to the Decalogue or Ten Commandments in that it is, in our society, considered wrong to murder, steal, and lie. The Puritan work ethic of industry, frugality, and prosperity has not been liberalized out of the national conscience just yet, and most of us recognize what the phrase means, even if we do not consistently use it as a personal mantra.
We are a young nation, but in such a short time, we have seen incredible changes. We have fought for independence, seen the end of slavery, expanded from one coast to the other and beyond, exported our goods and services throughout the world. From a fledgling upstart to a world leader, the story of the United States of America has been an exciting one for all to read. And at no time in our history, has the acknowledgement of God been completely absent.
From the prayers of thanksgiving by the writers of the Mayflower Compact, to George Washington’s prayer toward the end of the Revolutionary War, to the Declaration of Independence, to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s D-Day Prayer, to the Serenity Prayer now used by thousands of self-help groups, to this month’s National Day of Prayer suggested prayer by Greg Laurie, we have as a nation not only known what it meant to pray but to whom our prayers were directed. We have, as a nation, acknowledged the existence of one Supreme Being, one God, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent.
My generation grew up in Sunday school and church, or in synagogue. We grew up with a brief prayer at the beginning of the school day. Our children, while they may have started out that way, began drifting as they got older. Their children may or may not have traditional religious training, and prayer has been formally taken out of the public school system.
Oh, there’s prayer – as they say, there will always be prayer in school as long as there are tests, and no law prohibits our thoughts. Yet. But the daily acknowledgement that there is something beyond what we find inside our textbooks and laboratories has been removed. Does this matter?
Certainly there has been a significant rise in crime, teenage pregnancy, violence in schools, divorce, All Things Bad, etc. since 1962, but hearing a short Bible verse and woodenly repeating the Lord’s Prayer was not the proverbial ounce of prevention. It was just a small particle of prevention, like the inclusion of “under God” in our pledge of allegiance…still, thankfully, allowed by our government, but an important part nevertheless.
In the third book of C. S. Lewis’ space trilogy, That Hideous Strength, the protagonist realizes that the very effort to quash all religious thought and practice proves its importance and validity. Otherwise, he surmises, why not just ignore it? If there is nothing to God or prayer or scripture, if it is truly foolishness and myth, why all the uproar? It made no sense. It still doesn’t.
Great evil has been done in the name of God, in the name of religions of all flavors. Christianity has not escaped this in the past nor in today’s America. Hatred and intolerance still hides behind the face of faith. The answer is not in distancing ourselves further, lest we be mistaken for those who twist and manipulate truth for their own purposes, but to edge ever closer to the truth so that the difference is clear to all.
Our Constitution mandates freedom OF religion, not FROM religion. It’s an important distinction. Should we bring prayer back to school? I fail to see how taking a moment of silence, in which those students of faith can center themselves privately, would be harmful. They would pray to God, Allah, Krishna, the Lords of Flatbush, for all anyone else knew, but it would be a tiny, tiny reminder that it isn’t all about them. That there is more.
Maybe it would help. Couldn’t hurt. Prayer has been proven (i.e. statistically, medically, documentably) to help physically. I believe our country, whippersnapper that it still is in the Bigger Historical Picture, could use all the help it can get.
If you would like to see prayer back “officially” in schools, fine – speak up, vote, write letters to the editor or a blog like this one. But don’t just complain and not be willing to do what you CAN do to share your faith. Don’t wail and gnash your teeth that schools are going to hell in a handbasket because they took prayer out, and then fail to provide godly training to your children and grandchildren at home.
And while we’re at it, since prayer is not currently, formally sanctioned in school, there is absolutely nothing to stop believers of all persuasions from adding more acknowledgement of God to their places of business. In North Carolina, the buckle on the Bible Belt, it is not uncommon to see placards with Bible verses in peoples’ yard or taped to cash registers.
Tiny particles of hope and truth. In some countries, that would be against the law, but not here.
Not yet, anyway.
(c) Ellen Gillette, 2013