Deity reference deleted

Posted: Mar 25, 2004 12:00 AM

Excerpted from a public-school history textbook sometime in the future:

... so the Pilgrims came to America, motivated by a religious vision. As the Mayflower Compact put it, they undertook their voyage "for the glory of [deity reference deleted], and advancement of the Christian faith." They agreed to "solemnly and mutually in the presence of [deity reference deleted], and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic."

Later, the Great Awakening in the first half of the 18th century was, in the words of historian Paul Johnson, a "proto-revolutionary event," helping to create an American national consciousness. The minister Jonathan Edwards was a seminal figure in the awakening. He could preach fire and brimstone, as in his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an [angry deity reference deleted]." But he also taught that [deity reference deleted]'s love was available to all in such tracts as "[deity reference deleted] Glorified in Man's Dependence."

In the revolutionary generation, America had such gifted leaders and events transpired in such a felicitous way that one writer concluded "an [heavenly body reference deleted] rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm." At Valley Forge, George Washington exhorted his troops: "The signal instances of providential [word deleted, due to unnecessary capitalization] which we have experienced and which have now almost crowned our labors with complete success, demand from us in a peculiar manner the warmest returns of gratitude and piety to the [indirect deity reference deleted] of all Good."

The founders were by no means all traditional Christians. Thomas Jefferson famously was a [Deist reference deleted], believing only in a vague [deity reference deleted]. But Christianity crucially informed their views on freedom of conscience. The separation of church and state in the Constitution was meant to prevent the establishment of a state religion, not to erase faith from the public square entirely. Indeed, for the longest time such a project was unthinkable, so intertwined was religion in the American experience.

In a classic expression of religiosity, Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, "If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of [deity reference deleted], must needs come, but which, having continued through [third person possessive deleted] appointed time, [third person pronoun deleted] now wills to remove, and that [third person pronoun deleted] 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 [deity reference deleted] always ascribe to [indirect object deleted]?"

American presidents continued to make such references, even as late as the presidency of George W. Bush. Bush told the nation after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, "Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that [deity reference deleted] is not neutral between them."

A sea of change occurred in 2002 when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the phrase "under [deity reference deleted]" in the Pledge of Allegiance was an unconstitutional establishment of religion, even though kids uncomfortable with it could opt out. The plaintiff in that case, who didn't believe in [deity reference deleted], argued his case successfully before the [expletive deleted] Supreme Court. The Supreme Court surprisingly upheld the 9th Circuit, thus completing a long slide toward active hostility to religion in American life.

Nobody realized just how far this line of jurisprudence would go. Eventually it became impermissible to mention [deity reference deleted] in publicly funded schoolbooks, since such references might unconstitutionally make atheist students feel uncomfortable by confronting them with the benign influence of religion on American history and with the fact that many admirable American historical figures had believed in [deity reference deleted].

Where the aggressive secularist trend will end is impossible to predict, or, as the expression used to go, "[deity reference deleted] only knows." ...