July 17, 2004


Where politics shouldn’t go (Susan Jacoby, July 11, 2004, Newsday)

Like most Americans, I responded to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with an immediate wave of anger and grief so powerful that it left no room for alienation.

Walking around my wounded New York, as the smoke from the ruins of the World Trade Center wafted the smell of death throughout the city, I drew consolation from the knowledge that others were feeling what I was feeling - sorrow, pain and rage, coupled with the futile but irrepressible longing to turn back the clock to the hour before bodies rained from a crystalline sky.

That soothing sense of unity was severed for me just three days later, when the president presided over an ecumenical prayer service in Washington's National Cathedral. Delivering an address indistinguishable from a sermon, replacing the language of civic virtue with the language of faith, the nation's chief executive might as well have been the Reverend Bush. Quoting a man who supposedly said at St. Patrick's Cathedral, "I pray to God to give us a sign that he's still here," the president went on to assure the public not only that God was still here but that he was personally looking out for America.

"God's signs," Bush declared, "are not always the ones we look for. We learn in tragedy that his purposes are not always our own ... Neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, can separate us from God's love. May he bless the souls of the departed, may he comfort our own, and may he always guide our country."

This adaptation of the famous passage from St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans left out the evangelist's identification of Jesus Christ as God - an omission presumably made in deference to the Jewish and Muslim representatives sharing the pulpit with the president.

Bush would surely have been criticized, and rightly so, had he failed to invite representatives of non-Christian faiths to the ecumenical ceremony in memory of the victims of terrorism. But he felt perfectly free to ignore Americans who adhere to no religious faith, whose outlook is predominantly secular and who interpret history and tragedy as the work of man rather than God. There was no speaker who represented my views, no one to reject the notion of divine purpose at work in the slaughter of thousands and to proclaim the truth that grief, patriotism and outrage at injustice run just as deep in the secular as in the religious portion of the body politic.

According to a religious identification survey by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, more than 14 percent of Americans - a much larger minority than any non-Christian group - describe their outlook as "entirely or predominantly secular." There are more secular humanists than there are observant Jews or Muslims - but one would never know it from the makeup of supposedly ecumenical civic rituals that are ecumenical only for those who believe, to paraphrase Bush, that God is at the helm of our country.

Bush's very presence in the pulpit represented a significant departure from the behavior of other presidents in times of crisis. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not try to assuage the shock of Pearl Harbor by using an altar as the backdrop for his declaration of war and Abraham Lincoln, who steadfastly refused to join any church even though his political advisers urged him to do so, delivered the Gettysburg Address not from a sanctuary but on the battlefield where so many soldiers had given "the last full measure of devotion."

The merger of religion and patriotism is especially dangerous in wartime, because it leads naturally to the conclusion that God is on our side.

Bad news ma'am, Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR read y'all heathens out of the Revolution, Civil War and WWII also:
The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies (In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776)
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Abraham Lincoln: First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1861)
Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.

By the frame of the Government under which we live this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief, and have with equal wisdom provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals. While the people retain their virtue and vigilance no Administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can very seriously injure the Government in the short space of four years.

My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you in hot haste to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it. Such of you as are now dissatisfied still have the old Constitution unimpaired, and, on the sensitive point, the laws of your own framing under it; while the new Administration will have no immediate power, if it would, to change either. If it were admitted that you who are dissatisfied hold the right side in the dispute, there still is no single good reason for precipitate action. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it."

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln Second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1865)

AT this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

The Gettysburg Address (Nov. 19, 1863)
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Pearl Harbor Speech, December 8, 1941
To the Congress of the United States

Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with the government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

This morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounding determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 17, 2004 12:27 PM

People like her really need to get over themselves. Am I a believer? No. Do I recognize that the overwhelming majority of people are and they take comfort in their faith? Yes. I am not self-centered enough to think it is somehow a slight to me. Besides, what would one say to comfort someone like her in a time of grief?

Posted by: Rick T. at July 17, 2004 1:11 PM

"Well, luckily since we don't have souls they'll not be missed. Matter was just rearranged."

Posted by: oj at July 17, 2004 1:28 PM

Mr. Judd;

She's an egostical idiot who is upset because Bush didn't cater to her particular group of the moment. That type is impervious to facts.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 17, 2004 2:02 PM

OJ, the the President might well have stated "Well, luckily since we have souls they'll not be missed. Eternal Spirit was just substituted for matter."

She may be egotistical, but so are those of OJ's sentiments, who believe that their faith put themselves above others.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 17, 2004 2:11 PM

I suspect there is nothing Bush could ever do or say, on any subject, to please her. What next?

Posted by: genecis at July 17, 2004 2:49 PM


Not above. Just different. If she wants a secular state she's in the wrong country.

Posted by: oj at July 17, 2004 2:56 PM

After Russia was attacked in June 1941 (once Stalin came to his senses, such as they were), he spoke of fighting for the Motherland. He did not speak of fighting for Marxism or the Politburo. Perhaps this woman would have tried to correct him, also.

Posted by: jim hamlen at July 17, 2004 10:52 PM

I didn't pay any attention to the civic rituals, so the fact that Bush may not have thrown me a bone doesn't bother me.

Orrin's exclusionary views will come back to haunt his children, should they remain believers.

I was amused, last week, to read an AP analysis of the split among Christians in the South (Third World South) and the US/Europe. It pointed out that the underlying argument of Christian doctrine has always been that it is everywhere and always the same for everybody. (That this is not factually correct is irrelevant.)

The split between the 'conservative' or traditional South (over, eg, homosexual marriage) and the modern of 'liberal' religion appears to be profound.

We know what that means. Heresy hunts, followed by murder of heretics.

The late 21st century is going to be a time of trial for Christians, at the hands of other Christians. Like the 16th century.

Better to start makin' friends now, Orrin. You're gonna need some.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 18, 2004 12:22 AM


If only. Unfortunately we've all become so soft now that every heresy is allowed, most encouraged.

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2004 12:50 AM

On the subject of Lincoln, I just finished "April 1865" by Jay Winik, and I highly recommend it, as it's quite a thrilling history.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at July 18, 2004 2:04 AM

I second Barry's endorsement. It's a terrific book that recounts how the war was not just fought by giants, but brought to a conclusion by them.

Posted by: Peter B at July 18, 2004 5:44 AM


But then whiffed. The failure to genuinely Reconstruct the South and to do something equitable with the freed slaves cost us one hundred years of misery and moral blight.

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2004 9:11 AM

OJ, what you said indicates that you see unbelievers as having no grief or sorrow at the passing of life. You are being willfully ignorant of the nature of secular sentiments just to highlight the superiority of belief.

I read the transcripts from the presiden't prayer at the service at the time, and I was deeply moved. What Susan Jacoby is missing is that prayers are at their core expressions of the longings of the human heart, which all people share, believers and unbelievers. She shouldn't have dismissed them or distanced herself from them because of their religious language. The differences of faith are not as important as our common bond as Americans. She is as guilty of religious exclusionism as people like OJ, if she expects others to deny their faiths for the purpose of national unity.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 18, 2004 1:12 PM

Jay Winik's "1865" was terrific. Wiffing the peace was the fault of short-sighted, vindictive and demagoguing politicians. Certainly not Lincoln, Grant or Lee.

Posted by: Tom C, Stamford,Ct. at July 18, 2004 1:23 PM


Yes, but you're religious, which is why you were moved. She isn't, which is why she was offended.

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2004 1:30 PM

The split Harry is so concerned about coincides with the rise of secular humanism. The so-called "modern" version is "Christian" in name only in the sense that it's proponents are simply trying to do away with the fundamental tenets of Christianity, namely, the concepts of sin and redemption. The "Christians" Harry speaks about are modern secular humanists who are attempting to re-make Christianity into a value free, feel good belief system where everything is relative. Not to worry, Harry. Hordes of orthodox Christians will not be swarming across the border in search of humanists to slaughter. I know of no rational Americans who describe themselves as traditional Christians who wish to force their views on everyone else, only to have their voices heard and their votes matter. Secularists, on the other hand, use the courts to disenfranchise those who disagree with them. Muslims and secularists are the only ideologists I am aware of who are concerned with controlling all aspects of state power.

Posted by: Tom C, Stamford,Ct. at July 18, 2004 2:16 PM

I am a bit confused by her use of the word "secular". She implies that the set of people who are "secular" is disjoint from those who are "Christian". It sounds like she is using "secular" as a synonym for "atheist", which means that she is claiming an awful lot of people believe the same things she does who would be pretty surprised were they to find that out.

Posted by: brian at July 19, 2004 1:19 AM

No OJ, I was moved because I am an American and a human being.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 19, 2004 11:03 AM

As you note, that doesn't suffice.

Posted by: oj at July 19, 2004 2:42 PM

Tom, if you'd grown up with me, you'd know lots of Christians who wish to impose their superstitions on the rest of us.

Orrin is incorrect. US Christianity is rather a milk-and-water thing compared with our ancestors, who were zealous to murder and rob over obscure points of doctrine that even they did not understand.

I was not suggesting, though, that the traditional Chistians were coming after the secularists, at least not at first. First, there will be the matter of cleansing the true faith.

I believe a lot of secularists (and those few atheists) thought of progress as meaning, in large part, the dying out of religious wars.

They're wrong.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 19, 2004 3:27 PM


It's both milk and water and the great Purge is coming? If you're going to comment could you at least try to make sense.

Posted by: oj at July 19, 2004 3:38 PM

OJ, when have I indicated that?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 19, 2004 4:35 PM


"I read the transcripts from the presiden't prayer at the service at the time, and I was deeply moved. What Susan Jacoby is missing is that prayers are at their core expressions of the longings of the human heart, which all people share, believers and unbelievers."

Unless you mean she isn't human.

Posted by: oj at July 19, 2004 4:42 PM

Being human is a sufficient condition to be able to identify with the yearnings of other human beings. It doesn't mean that you will. You have to be willing to overlook differences.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 19, 2004 5:59 PM

You have to share the yearnings, which you do and she doesn't.

Posted by: oj at July 19, 2004 6:16 PM

Orrin, it takes only one side to run a heresy hunt.

The huntees will either go like lambs or lions. But they'll go.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 19, 2004 9:22 PM

I thought the hunters were all soft?

Posted by: oj at July 19, 2004 9:46 PM

The hunters from the South are not soft. The religious murders in, eg, Nigeria or Sudan demonstate that.

The huntees in the North may not provide much sport.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 20, 2004 4:15 PM


No wonder your sleep is so troubled--fearing Nigerian Christians are coming for you and all.

Posted by: oj at July 20, 2004 4:47 PM

They won't be coming for me, they'll come for you.

It's the Nigerian Muslims who'll be coming for me.

The greatest practical benefit of being a secularist is not having to take part in religious wars, unless attacked.

I know it sounds a bit far out to imagine the 21st century will be like the 16th for Christians, but, as you say, progress is not guaranteed, and when it comes to religion, what goes around comes around, and not only for Hindus.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 20, 2004 9:44 PM

Did they have a Council or something and divvy us up? The mainland to the Christians; islands to Islam?

Posted by: oj at July 20, 2004 11:32 PM