Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The history of our "Christian nation" is a lot more recent than you think

From the NY Times:
[T]he founding fathers didn’t create the ceremonies and slogans that come to mind when we consider whether this is a Christian nation. Our grandfathers did.

Back in the 1930s, business leaders found themselves on the defensive. Their public prestige had plummeted with the Great Crash; their private businesses were under attack by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal from above and labor from below. To regain the upper hand, corporate leaders fought back on all fronts. They waged a figurative war in statehouses and, occasionally, a literal one in the streets; their campaigns extended from courts of law to the court of public opinion. But nothing worked particularly well until they began an inspired public relations offensive that cast capitalism as the handmaiden of Christianity....

Accordingly, throughout the 1930s and ’40s, corporate leaders marketed a new ideology that combined elements of Christianity with an anti-federal libertarianism.
And it links strongly to Eisenhower:
Uncoupling the language of “freedom under God” from its Christian libertarian roots, Eisenhower erected a bigger revival tent, welcoming Jews and Catholics alongside Protestants, and Democrats as well as Republicans. Rallying the country, he advanced a revolutionary array of new religious ceremonies and slogans.

The first week of February 1953 set the dizzying pace: On Sunday morning, he was baptized; that night, he broadcast an Oval Office address for the American Legion’s “Back to God” campaign; on Thursday, he appeared with Mr. Vereide at the inaugural National Prayer Breakfast; on Friday, he instituted the first opening prayers at a cabinet meeting.

The rest of Washington consecrated itself, too. The Pentagon, State Department and other executive agencies quickly instituted prayer services of their own. In 1954, Congress added “under God” to the previously secular Pledge of Allegiance. It placed a similar slogan, “In God We Trust,” on postage that year and voted the following year to add it to paper money; in 1956, it became the nation’s official motto.

During these years, Americans were told, time and time again, not just that the country should be a Christian nation, but that it always had been one. They soon came to think of the United States as “one nation under God.” They’ve believed it ever since.
So rather than being white-bread and boring, it turns out that the 50s were quite radical.  

And we're still paying for it.


PseudoPiskie said...

I remember when Under God was added to the pledge. I didn't like it. Still don't.

JCF said...

If you watch many old movies (say, early 30s to early 50s), you'll hear characters speak against religion (specifically Christianity---assumed to be Protestant Christianity) in ways you STILL (in the "secular" 21st century) couldn't get away w/ today.* Religion in the mid-20th just wasn't a sacred cow (as it were). That happened later---esp as part of the Cold War. Ironically, the African-American *Christians* in the Civil Rights Movement were being called "Communists", at the same time they were practicing the Gospel better than most in the U.S. ever had!

[* NB: Not to be confused w/ the occasional Fundamentalist-mocking movie: I'm thinking of the comedy from about 10 years ago, "Saved!" Ricky Gervais, anti-theist, also makes anti-theist movies---but he's an @sshat so I'm not propping him here. >;-/]