Sick and Tired of ‘God Bless America’

Feb 5, 2016

Photo credit: Credit Alec Soth/Magnum Photos

By Susan Jacoby

The population of nonreligious Americans — including atheists, agnostics and those who call themselves “nothing in particular” — stands at an all-time high this election year. Americans who say religion is not important in their lives and who do not belong to a religious group, according to the Pew Research Center, have risen in numbers from an estimated 21 million in 2008 to more than 36 million now.

Despite the extraordinary swiftness and magnitude of this shift, our political campaigns are still conducted as if all potential voters were among the faithful. The presumption is that candidates have everything to gain and nothing to lose by continuing their obsequious attitude toward orthodox religion and ignoring the growing population of those who make up a more secular America.

Ted Cruz won in Iowa by expanding Republican voter turnout among the evangelical base. Donald J. Trump placed second after promising “to protect Christians” from enemies foreign and domestic. The third-place finisher Marco Rubio’s line “I don’t think you can go to church too often” might well have been the campaign mantra. Mr. Rubio was first christened a Roman Catholic, baptized again at the age of 8 into the Mormon Church, and now attends a Southern Baptist megachurch with his wife on Saturdays and Catholic Mass on Sundays.

Democrats are only a trifle more secular in their appeals. Hillary Clinton repeatedly refers to her Methodist upbringing, and even Bernie Sanders — a cultural Jew not known to belong to a synagogue — squirms when asked whether he believes in God. When Jimmy Kimmel posed the question, Mr. Sanders replied in a fog of words at odds with his usual blunt style: “I am who I am. And what I believe in and what my spirituality is about, is that we’re all in this together.” He once referred to a “belief in God” that requires him to follow the Golden Rule — a quote his supporters seem to trot out whenever someone suggests he’s an atheist or agnostic.

The question is not why nonreligious Americans vote for these candidates — there is no one on the ballot who full-throatedly endorses nonreligious humanism — but why candidates themselves ignore the growing group of secular voters.

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12 comments on “Sick and Tired of ‘God Bless America’

  • I have yet another reason to disapprove of God Bless America. It is rude. It is commanding god to give special favour to Americans for no particular merit.

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  • There are probably people going to tired of the in-your-face Pope blessing Manchester! – Time for some more atheist bus adverts!!
    A mobile “confession unit” on board a double-decker bus is to tour across Greater Manchester and Lancashire.

    The “Mercy Bus” has been hired by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salford to reach people who do not go to church.

    Starting at Salford Shopping Centre, it will visit shopping centres, prisons, homeless centres and housing estates every Saturday until Easter.

    The bus received a Papal blessing recently when one of its priests, Fr Frankie Mulgrew, met the Pope in Rome.

    “Mercifully” spreading guilt to all our RC sheeples – particularly captive ones who can’t run away or may be embarrassed to refuse!

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  • I have several of Susan Jacoby’s books here on my shelf and I will say that I just love her work. Her book Freethinkers was the first book I’d read on history of the secular US. Blew my mind. After that I found The God Delusion and the rest is history. She’s an important author for secularists of all stripes. She has a new book out and is coming to Boston for a book signing which pleases me greatly because I’ll have my entire stack of her other books ready and waiting as well as the new one.

    Here are the details of her book event (for my fellow Bostonians) and a blurb about the new book.

    Everything that follows is from the events page of the website Harvard Book Store Cambridge, MA

    March 3, 2016
    7:00 PM
    Harvard Book Store
    1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

    This event is free; no tickets are required.
    Harvard Book Store welcomes SUSAN JACOBY, author of eleven previous books, for a discussion of her latest work, Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion.

    About Strange Gods

    In a groundbreaking historical work that addresses religious conversion in the West from an uncompromisingly secular perspective, Susan Jacoby challenges the conventional narrative of conversion as a purely spiritual journey. From the transformation on the road to Damascus of the Jew Saul into the Christian evangelist Paul to a twenty-first-century “religious marketplace” in which half of Americans have changed faiths at least once, nothing has been more important in the struggle for reason than the right to believe in the God of one’s choice or to reject belief in God altogether.

    Focusing on the long, tense convergence of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—each claiming possession of absolute truth—Jacoby examines conversions within a social and economic framework that includes theocratic coercion (unto torture and death) and the more friendly persuasion of political advantage, economic opportunism, and interreligious marriage. Moving through time, continents, and cultures—the triumph of Christianity over paganism in late antiquity, the Spanish Inquisition, John Calvin’s dour theocracy, Southern plantations where African slaves had to accept their masters’ religion—the narrative is punctuated by portraits of individual converts embodying the sacred and profane. The cast includes Augustine of Hippo; John Donne; the German Jew Edith Stein, whose conversion to Catholicism did not save her from Auschwitz; boxing champion Muhammad Ali; and former President George W. Bush. The story also encompasses conversions to rigid secular ideologies, notably Stalinist Communism, with their own truth claims.

    Finally, Jacoby offers a powerful case for religious choice as a product of the secular Enlightenment. In a forthright and unsettling conclusion linking the present with the most violent parts of the West’s religious past, she reminds us that in the absence of Enlightenment values, radical Islamists are persecuting Christians, many other Muslims, and atheists in ways that recall the worst of the Middle Ages.


    “Susan Jacoby turns her feisty brilliance on the history of religious conversions, famous and infamous, simultaneously giving us a history of religious intolerance. Her combination of intellectual rigor, vigor, erudition, and integrity makes Strange Gods wonderfully lively and enlightening.” —Rebecca Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex

    “The modern wave of secularist books has seen no author more historically erudite than Susan Jacoby. Immensely learned, yet with a lightly witty style, she smoothly surveys the whole phenomenon of religious conversion, from ancient times to our own. The section on slavery in America is especially moving, giving the lie to the myth that abolitionism was primarily motivated by religion. And—a blessed bonus—she has no truck with that pretentious gimmick favoured by so many historians, the historic present tense.” —Richard Dawkins, author of Brief Candle in the Dark

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  • I see the Vatican is still trying to muzzle critics of the “blessings” it has conferred on the young – even critics on its own commission – which apparently – according to one of its own members, has a brief to advise – not investigate or judge!

    An outspoken British member of a Roman Catholic commission on sexual abuse has refused to quit, saying his treatment by the Vatican is “outrageous”.

    Peter Saunders, who as a child was abused by priests, said he would stay and only discuss his position with the Pope – the man who appointed him.

    The commission earlier voted for Mr Saunders to “take a leave of absence”, saying he was difficult to work with.

    Mr Saunders has been highly critical of the commission, set up in 2014.

    Responding to a Vatican statement about his leave of absence, Mr Saunders was quoted by Reuters as saying in Rome: “I was never told in advance of any such statement.

    “I find it outrageous that I was not told, much less that the statement occurred before I had had any time to reflect on what I might do next.

    I have not left and I’m not leaving my position on the commission. I was appointed by His Holiness Pope Francis and I will only talk to him about my position.”

    He added: “For me, as a survivor, the commission is a disgrace… They believe that child abuse is behind us, but it is in no way behind us.”

    The papal commission earlier passed a no-confidence vote against Mr Saunders, saying he was a “campaigner” and talked too much to the media.

    One commission member – speaking on condition of anonymity – told Reuters news agency that the panel was “deeply committed to the protection of children”.

    But the member added that the panel’s brief was to advise – not investigate or judge.

    The commission – made of 17 members – was established to help Pope Francis establish “best practices” to tackle a series of sex abuse cases that have hit the Roman Catholic Church around the world.

    The Vatican has been accused of “systematically” adopting policies allowing priests to sexually abuse thousands of children.

    Pope Francis has said that dealing with the issue is vital for the Church’s credibility, and that “sanctions” must be imposed against perpetrators.

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  • from the article above

    “God bless America” has become the standard ending of every major political speech. Just once in my life, I would like the chance to vote for a presidential candidate who ends his or her appeals with Thomas Paine’s observation that “the most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason.”

    Just once in my life…Maybe it will happen.

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  • @ Laurie
    If there is a God (and yes, I know there isn’t) it doesn’t give a fuck about this country or any other country. Sick of this bullshit. You’re right. God Bless America, my ass.
    That writer (Jacoby), who I had never heard of, sounds like a very good historian. What’s her best book?
    P.S. I left you a comment and a great video (Town Bloody Hall) on the NECSS thread.

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  • Susan Jacoby thinks and writes with commendable clarity, so I’m surprised that she didn’t mention what was written on the original Seal of the American Constitution: E pluribus unum.

    Now there’s a worthwhile motto!

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  • Laurie

    I understand.

    Mailer finished up well, gives a good speech after Diana Trilling, then says “fuck you” to the whole audience, says something funny, gets a huge laugh, then thanks everyone for an “incredible evening.” After that he reportedly drove off w/ Greer. They had an argument, and that was that.

    I won’t recommend a Mailer book as I know you have a long list in front of you, but if you ever want a recommendation let me know.—I’ve read them all.

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  • Although not concerning religious belief or non-belief, I would highly recommend Susan Jacoby’s “Never Say Die – The Myth & Marketing of the New Old Age”

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