Guest post by Salty Current on the “ceremonial” God

Originally a comment on Help keep God’s name in America!!

Apparently, [In God we trust] was named the national motto by Eisenhower in 1956. It was challenged in 1970 and the case made it to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The decision was very similar to today’s – it was fine because “It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise….” They quoted an earlier decision: “Short of those expressly proscribed governmental acts there is room for play in the joints productive of a benevolent neutrality which will permit religious exercise to exist without sponsorship and without interference. …”

This is even worse than today’s given that it had been made the motto just 14 years prior (after a couple of centuries of “E pluribus unum” as the unofficial motto) and for what I understand was the express purpose of declaring the US a religious/theistic country in opposition to the godless Communists. That is in no way neutral and has quite a bit to do with the establishment of religion, as these wingnuts recognize.

But it also shares the same problem as the Greece decision: If the motto or the prayers are “merely ceremonial” or traditional exercises, the response to people’s reasonable sense of exclusion and their opposition to the practice would be to change or end their use. It would not be “Let’s take this to the highest courts!” The fact that these decisions are being made by high courts itself destroys the claim that we’re talking about mere ceremony or tradition.




  1. says

    The fact that American Talibangelicals are the ones pushing this “ceremonial deism” manure is actually rather funny.

    1. They end up saying — publicly and repeatedly — that their beliefs are empty gestures devoid of all possible religious meaning.

    2. They ignore the fact that Christianity was sustained for its first three centuries because of martyrs who refused to participate in the ceremonial deism of the day. Offering incense to Jupiter and the various tutelary deities of Rome was not an act of religion, after all, just an act of civic participation and loyalty to the law.

    And the idiots have their heads so far up their behinds that they are incapable of realizing these things.

  2. says

    Absolutely. Nailed it.

    This is particularly fun:

    Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise….”

    How does this religious phrasing become “patriotic”? Seem like there is a whole boatload of unexamined assumptions behind “In God We Trust” somehow being patriotic which automatically (in fact, completely circularly) negate the “it’s OK cuz it’s just patriotic” argument.

  3. Sastra says

    Excellent post.

    On June 14, 1954, by act of Congress, the words “Under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance with President Eisenhower explicitly declaring the religious purpose of that legislation. “From this day forward, millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our Nation and our People to the Almighty,” said Eisenhower.

    “Ceremonial Deism” my ass.

    “What then of the honest atheist? … He cannot deny the Christian revelation and logically live by the Christian ethic, and if he denies the Christian ethic, he falls short of the American ideal of life.” (Rev Doherty, in sermon that inspired adding “Under God” to the Pledge)

  4. Blanche Quizno says

    “What then of the honest atheist? … He cannot deny the Christian revelation and logically live by the Christian ethic, and if he denies the Christian ethic, he falls short of the American ideal of life.” (Rev Doherty, in sermon that inspired adding “Under God” to the Pledge)

    The Puritan Rev. John Cotton acknowledged that forcing people to go through the motions, especially unwillingly, made hypocrites of them. But the Right Rev. Cotton understood that even hypocrites have their uses:

    The Massachusetts colony was organized in towns. The church con­gregation of each town selected its minister. Unlike the thinly populated, extensive settlement of Virginia, the clustering in towns was ideal for having the minister and his aides keep watch on all the inhabitants. Although the congregation selected the minister, the town government paid his salary; in contrast to the poorly paid clergy of the Southern colonies, the salary was handsome indeed. Out of it the minister could maintain several slaves or indentured servants and amass a valuable library. The minister—himself a government official—exerted enormous political influence in the community, and only someone whom he certified as “godly” was likely to gain elected office. The congregation was ruled, not democratically by the members, but rather by its council of elders. Also highly important was the minister who functioned as “church teacher,” specializing in doctrinal matters.

    Since only church members could vote in political elections, the require­ments for admission became a matter of concern for every inhabitant. These requirements were rigorous. For one thing, the candidate had to satisfy the minister and elders of his complete adherence to pure doctrine and of his satisfactory personal conduct. And, once admitted, he was always subject to expulsion for deviations in either area.

    To the saints (Puritans) and their leaders, any idea of separation of church and state was anathema.

    God does nowhere in His word tolerate Christian States to give toleration to such adversaries of His truth, if they have power in their hands to suppress them . . . He that willingly assents to toleration of varieties of religion his conscience will tell him he is either an atheist or a heretic or a hypocrite, or at best captive to some lust. Poly-piety is the greatest impiety in the world… To authorize an untruth by a toleration of State is to build a sconce against the walls of heaven, to batter God out of His chair.

    And so the Puritan ministry stood at the apex of rule in Massachusetts, ever ready to use the secular arm to enforce its beliefs against critics and false prophets, or even against simple lapses from conformity.

    One of the essential goals of Puritan rule was strict and rigorous enforce­ment of the ascetic Puritan conception of moral behavior. But since men’s actions, given freedom to express their choices, are determined by their inner convictions and values, compulsory moral rules only serve to manu­facture hypocrites and not to advance genuine morality. Coercion only forces people to change their actions; it does not persuade people to change their underlying values and convictions. And since those already con­vinced of the moral rules would abide by them without coercion, the only real impact of compulsory morality is to engender hypocrites, those whose actions no longer reflect their inner convictions.

    The Puritans, however, did not boggle at this consequence. A leading Puritan divine, the Rev. John Cotton, went so far as to maintain that hypocrites who merely conform to the church rules without inner conviction could still be useful church members. As to the production of hypocrites, Cotton complacently declared: “If it did so, yet better to be hypocrites than profane persons. Hypocrites give God part of his due, the outward man, but the profane persons giveth God neither outward not inward man.”

    One requisite for the efficient enforcement of any code of behavior is 1: always an effective espionage apparatus of informers. This apparatus was supplied in Massachusetts, informally but no less effectively, by the dedicated snooping of friends and neighbors upon one another, with de­tailed reports sent to the minister on all deviations, including the sin of idleness. The clustering of towns around central villages aided the network, and the fund of personal information collected by each minister added to his great political power. Moreover, the menace of excommunication was redoubled by the threat of corollary secular punishment.

    Informal snooping, however, was felt by some of the towns to be too haphazard, and these set up a regular snooping officialdom. These officers were called “tithing men,” as each one had supervision over the private affairs of his ten nearest neighbors.

    One Puritan moral imperative was strict observance of the Sabbath: any worldly pleasures indulged in on the Sabbath were a grave offense against both church and state. The General Court was shocked to learn, in the late 1650s, that some people, residents as well as strangers, persisted in “uncivilly walking in the streets and fields” on Sunday, and even travelling from town to town and drinking at inns. And so the General Court duly passed a law prohibiting the crimes of “playing, uncivil walking, drinking and travelling from town to town” on Sunday. If these criminals could not pay the fine imposed, they were to be whipped by the constable at a maximum rate of five lashes per ten-shilling fine.

    To enforce the regulations and prevent the crimes, the gates of the towns were closed on Sunday and no one permitted to leave. And if two or more people met accidentally on the street on a Sunday, they were quickly dispersed by the police. Nor was the Sabbath in any sense a hasty period. Under the inspiration of the Rev. John Cotton, the New England Sabbath began rigorously at sunset Saturday evening and continued through Sunday night, thus ensuring that no part of the weekend could be spent in enjoyment. Indeed, enjoyment at any time, while not legally prohibited, was definitely frowned upon, levity being condemned as “inconsistent with the gravity to be always preserved by a serious Christian.”

    Kissing one’s wife in public on a Sunday was also outlawed. A sea captain, returning home on a Sunday morning from a three-year voyage, was indiscreet enough to kiss his wife on the doorstep. For this he was forced to sit in the stocks for two hours for this “lewd and unseemly behavior on the Sabbath Day.”

    Not only were nonreligious activities outlawed on Sundays, but attendance at a Puritan church was compulsory as well. Fines were levied for absence from church, and the police were ordered to search through the towns for absentees and forcibly haul them to church. Falling asleep in church was also outlawed and whipping was the punishment for repeated offenses.

    THIS is the “religious freedom” the Puritans sought in fleeing England for the New World – the freedom to freely impose Christian tyranny on others to whatever extent they wished. Sounds quite similar to a modern Muslim theocracy, doesn’t it? There truly is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

    I, for one, am VERY HAPPY that the Puritans are now extinct.

  5. Blanche Quizno says

    @3 – Sastra, when young French nobleman Alexis de Tocqueville was visiting the US in the early 1830s (shortly after the French Revolution), he noted that, in the US, Christianity had a peculiar character. There were many different sects of Christianity, which were protected from persecution by the government. But since they were all Christianities, there was a certain fellow-feeling that stemmed from at least all having the same basis for ethical/moral conduct.

    There was little room for innovation, because how could one person ever consider his own opinion to be superior to everyone else’s combined opinions? Even two heads are better than one, after all. So, as he put it:

    [It is] very difficult for a man to believe what the mass rejects and to profess what it condemns.

    As the author explains,

    Ironically, Americans paid for their membership in public opinion’s church with true religious freedom, that is the freedom of noncomfority. Eschewing argument and persuasion, the majority compelled belief “by some mighty pressure of the mind of all upon the intelligence of each.” Resistance to this pressure, which entered into the very depths of the soul, was virtually impossible.

    In Tocqueville’s America, however, there was “only one authority, one source of strength and success, and nothing outside it.” Although the majority didn’t banish or burn heretics, it silenced them more effectively by ostracism. Luther himself, Tocqueville notes, probably would have been denied a hearing under these circumstances.

    Despite the high level of religious activity, he found “less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion” here than in any other country familiar to him. Ironically, the same democratic forces which fostered enlightenment rationalism and Protestant sectarianism threatened in the 1830s to “confine the activity of private judgment within limits too narrow for the dignity and happiness of mankind.” Americans also paid a steep price in happiness for their worship of equality. Traditional Christians repressed “a crowd of petty passing desires” for the sake of salvation and could be happy in their faith even if not prosperous, enlightened, or free. Tocqueville’s Americans, in contrast, were prosperous, enlightened, and free, but not really happy. “A cloud habitually hung on their brow,” he observed, “and they seemed serious and almost sad even in their pleasures.” In his mind, this restless melancholy was due largely to a virtual abandonment of otherworldly hopes.

    “A man who has set his heart on nothing but the good things of this world is always in a hurry, for he has only a limited time in which to find them, get them, and enjoy them. Remembrance of the shortness of life continually goads him on. Apart from the goods he has, he thinks of a thousand others which death will prevent him from tasting if he does not hurry. This thought fills him with distress, fear, and regret and keeps his mind continually in agitation…”

    The Christian spirit of freedom ultimately led Americans unconsciously to worship public opinion when private, rational judgment proved incapable of satisfying their metaphysical needs. While the Christian spirit of religion no longer acted independently on the American soul, its residual influence on public opinion left the country, at least in appearance, the most Christian nation in the world.

    And that’s how we are where we are.

    You can read some of it here:

  6. says

    @4: I, for one, am VERY HAPPY that the Puritans are now extinct.

    Are you sure about that? Because I’m seeing lots of banner ads here for the “Puritan Hard Drive”, which appears to be an e-collection of Puritan and Reformed literature. The ads are ugly, and some of the testimonials are so over-the-top they read like parodies thereof. Good for a chuckle, at least.

    Hope they’re paying mondo bux to FTB ;-).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *