The Raving Theist

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The Godless Generation?

December 1, 2008 | 12 Comments

USA Today religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman blogs today on how America’s Greatest Generation didn’t pledge ‘under God’. Before reading her piece, keep in mind exactly what “religion reporter” means, particularly one who writes for a national newspaper: it means a religion-hating, left-wing atheist. In Ms. Grossman’s case, such leanings are apparent from the title of her blog, which is “Faith & Reason: A conversation about religion, spirituality and ethics.” In my experience, the juxtaposition of such words signifies that the author believes that “faith and religion” are the enemies of “reason and ethics,” and that a “conversation” is needed to convince the readers that some empty, relativistic “spirituality” is best.

Ms. Grossman’s analysis does not disappoint:

The Rev. George M. Docherty, whose sermons inspired the addition of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, died on Thanksgiving.

Coverage of his death — and Pearl Harbor Day coming up Dec. 7 — remind me that ‘under God’ didn’t enter the pledge until after World War II, after the oft-called Greatest Generation had proved its values.

These men and women who fought overseas and sacrificed on the home front all grew up with a passion for their country but none pledged to God every morning facing the flag when they were school children. It wasn’t essential to the formation of their character, evidently.

When I read about civic battles today to add the name of God or a Ten Commandments to every public event or venue, I wonder: What is the desired effect to adding — or blocking — this?

Do you have to say ‘God’ everywhere to know God? To develop good values?

Grossman’s implication that the Greatest Generation was a Godless Generation is unfounded, to put it mildly. There may have been atheists in foxholes, but they were hardly the majority. The absence of the word “God” from the pledge prior to 1954 doesn’t prove that religion was irrelevant to the formation of character before then. Families attended church regularly, and they “pledged to God” before breakfast, before lunch, before dinner, and before bedtime. As today, many children attended private religious schools or supplemented their public school education with religious training, and even those who attended public schools exclusively frequently found themselves indoctrinated upon walking through the door at home. The phrase “In God We Trust” had appeared on the currently since the 1860s, and even the public schools conducted Bible readings for nearly a decade after 1954. And in rallying the Greatest Generation to battle on December 8, 1941, President Roosevelt prayed that “we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.”

So in many ways people did say ‘God’ everywhere, whether or not the word was yet present in the traditional ten-second schooltime recitation. One could argue that its later, uncontroversial inclusion in the pledge was an affirmation of the nation’s pre-existing religiosity, rather than an attempt to impose faith on the secular masses.

What is important to note is that Ms. Grossman is not simply advocating church/state separation, an issue on which even religious people are divided. Her essay does not seriously address that issue at all, notwithstanding her throwaway reference to “civic battles.” Her ultimate target, as demonstrated by her ultimate questions, is the connection between God and goodness, between a nation’s thorough immersion in religion and the direction of its moral compass.


12 Responses to “The Godless Generation?”

  1. Adam
    December 2nd, 2008 @ 8:33 pm

    Well said. “Under God” was added in 1954 with the “purpose [of] contrast[ing] this country’s belief in God with the Soviet Union’s embrace of atheism.” Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 25 (2004).  It was not needed prior to that time, simply because it was believed to be understood. 

  2. Professor Chaos
    December 5th, 2008 @ 12:10 pm

    “Grossman’s implication that the Greatest Generation was a Godless Generation is unfounded…”

    I don’t think that was her implication in the least bit.

    (Good to see you, RA.  Hope you’re back.)

  3. Choobus
    December 5th, 2008 @ 12:32 pm

    surely “faith or reason” would be a more appropriate title.

  4. Eva
    December 5th, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

    wow! glad to read your raves!
    (i just wish they were more like the old raving atheist….)

  5. nkb
    December 5th, 2008 @ 12:46 pm

    I completely disagree with your interpretation of her comment.

    I believe she is arguing that the absence of “under God” in the Pledge had no effect on the patriotism, moral values and formation of their character, so what purpose does it serve now (outside of marginalizing those that don’t believe in the Judeo-Christian deity)?

    If the phrase were removed, would all our children grow up to be immoral, homocidal maniacs?

  6. Andrew
    December 8th, 2008 @ 10:38 pm

    Welcome back to the blogosphere.  Will you be updating the Basic Assumptions on your site, or do you still stand by them?

  7. ravingatheist
    December 9th, 2008 @ 7:29 pm

    Chaos: She might easily have said something like “the greatest generation was worshipping God day and night, but they turned out fine even though they didn’t additionally have to say “God” in the pledge when they went to school.”  But it wouldn’t have made any sense, because her ultimate thesis is that the constant worship of God isn’t necessary to the formation of character.   If she has an objection to the forced nature of the God-pledge she doesn’t mention it, or indicate why it would be any worse than the forced prayers at home.

    I am back, but moreso after January 1st.

    nkb:  She never says anything about marginalizing non-believers, or articulates any other objection to the God-pledge.  Again, if her thesis is that God-worship is unnecessary to character, it only hold up if people weren’t God-worshipping prior to 1954.

    Eva:  Just add “not” to the beginning of each post and you’ll have everything you want (minus the obscenity).

    Andrew:  The truth of the assumptions (or of anything) does not turn on whether I “stand by them.”   Indeed, if I were to stand by them it would lessen any force they had, as the focus would shift to my authority rather than their meaning.

    Choobus:  Don’t call me “Shirley.”

  8. Annie Banno
    December 9th, 2008 @ 8:44 pm

    “Choobus:  Don’t call me “Shirley.””


    Just thinking of you today, for some reason. Hope you’re well.

  9. Andrew
    December 9th, 2008 @ 9:11 pm

    As I’m sure you damn well know, RA, I wasn’t asking because I consider you an authority on the subject.  Your assertion doesn’t change the facts?  No shit!

    I was asking because I’m curious about whether your opinions have changed on the subject.  You weren’t shy about proclaiming your opinions on that and many other subjects for years.  And you’re still apparently willing to make snide remarks about a columnist being “religion-hating.”  Yet you don’t have the simple courage to say “no, I am no longer an atheist” or “yes, I am.”

  10. Lily
    December 12th, 2008 @ 2:17 pm

    “I am back, but moreso after January 1st.”

    Terrific news!

  11. nkb
    December 17th, 2008 @ 10:58 am

    The comment about marginalizing non Judeo-Christians was my own opinion, I wasn’t trying to imply that this was the author’s point.

    Whether or not people before 1954 were religious or not is a moot point.  The only argument she is making is that the inclusion of “under God” in the pledge serves no purpose in terms of building character or morals.

    Do you believe the phrase has any effect?  If so, please share with us what impact it has.

  12. nkb
    December 17th, 2008 @ 11:00 am

    I agree with Andrew, and I am also curious about whether you plan to update the Basic Assumptions.

    Do they still reflect your worldview or not?  If you are no longer an atheist, what purpose does it serve to keep it unchanged?

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