July 4, 2006

"That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom"

Michael and Jana Novak have a nice piece in First Things, “Under God”—Mystic Chords...

...These two General Orders, [by General Washington, quoted in the article] for July 2, 1776, and July 9, 1776, echo like mystic chords in Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg. For Lincoln seemed to believe it would be very odd, indeed, if the first birth of freedom was achieved “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” and “under God,” while “a new birth of freedom,” wrested from “the last full measure of devotion” at Gettysburg, did not also begin “under God.” And so Lincoln, too, followed Washington in picking up the echo:
“. . . That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln reaffirmed this faith in God’s judgments as “true and righteous” in his magnificent Second Inaugural.

And Washington in his letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Savannah, after he became president, reminded the nation that “the same wonder-working Deity” whose name “is Jehovah” who had rescued the Israelites from Egypt was active in 1776 in “establishing these United States as an independent nation.”

To understand the public religion of America from its beginnings until now, it is essential to study the language, the conceptual structure, and the presuppositions about world order that quietly and “on deep background” formed the minds of Washington, Lincoln, and all successful leaders who have been able to touch most deeply the soul of the American people.

This same public religion, which is accessible to atheists and agnostics in their own fashion, should always echo in the minds of children, as in grown men and women, so that the spirit of liberty may thrive forever, beyond the power of any Caesar to add or to subtract...

"...and all successful leaders who have been able to touch most deeply the soul of the American people." I think that's exactly right. People keep coming up with all sorts of clever-Johnny arguments about how "separation of church and state" should mean public atheism and hostility to Christianity. But somehow Americans don't pay much attention.

And the real meaning of "separation of church and state" is obvious from Washington's words. He didn't endorse any particular church, not even a particular religion, such as Christianity, and was easily able to include Jews in his belief in Divine Providence. And, as the Novaks point out, even agnostics and atheists can participate in the belief that America is somehow singled out for great deeds. And many of them have in our history. The current deluge of anti-Christian propaganda is really leftist anti-Americanism at work...

Posted by John Weidner at July 4, 2006 9:18 AM
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