Earlier this summer, President Donald Trump said in a speech and via Twitter that Americans worship God and not government. The crowd, both in the flesh and in cyberspace, responded with cheers of agreement. But is this assessment correct?
I am inclined to answer this question in the negative. A look across the political landscape reveals many people in America worship at the altar national government.
The Lincoln Memorial serves as one of the clearest examples of this national government worship. While everyone is aware the monument exists, how many know what the inscription behind his figure says? It reads: “IN THIS TEMPLE AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN IS ENSHRINED FOREVER.”
The use of the term “temple” is illustrative. A temple is defined as follows by Dictionary.com:
“An edifice erected as a place of public worship; a church, especially a large or imposing one.”
This monument was erected for people from around the globe to behold the larger than life image of Abraham Lincoln, not a god, but a mere man, a man who prosecuted a war against a sovereign nation in an effort to collect taxes. The true motivation for the “Civil War” has been obfuscated, as even notable historians proclaim it was motivated purely by the desire to end slavery. The truth no longer matters. We have a feel-good justification for the deaths of over 800,000 Americans, and the inversion of our federal system of government.
The Lincoln Memorial is certainly large and imposing, and the behavior of visitors is indicative of the type of worship that would take place in a church. Here we have a government-erected monument to the individual responsible for the very government we have today – a system where the states are subservient to the whole. Lincoln receives homage for his role in now ushering in the powerful centralized national government that was rejected outright at the Philadelphia Convention.
Look at the architecture prevalent in Washington, D.C. – the buildings are impressive and imposing. Even outside of the nation’s capital, one can identify federal buildings rather easily. They stand out in the local communities, larger and more imposing in appearance than buildings that surround them. This is one means by which the presence of a national overlord is felt. It is subtle, but it is certainly there.
If you don’t think Americans worship government, just consider the response to some football players’ refusal to stand for the National Anthem. The outcry by “patriotic” Americans was feverish. What started as an issue between the NFL and its employees reached a point where people were threatened with bodily harm if they showed “disrespect” by failing to stand.
The root-cause of the controversy got buried under the raw emotionalism that came to the forefront during this debacle. The cause was the federal government’s use of tax dollars to promote patriotism at sporting events. The program originated at the Pentagon, as part of a recruiting program from the Department of Defense.
What started as a policy to promote military recruitment has surreptitiously evolved into a full-blown liturgy of national worship. Social mores now demand you stand and pay homage to the “nation” at every single sporting event. Football games have become a church of nationalism.
We are being duped into honoring nationalism under the premise of patriotism. George Orwell wrote an article distinguishing the two in 1945, and the sentiment is every bit as relevant now as it was then:
“By NATIONALISM, I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”
These pregame rituals generally include honoring veterans, often focusing on those killed or wounded in combat. Paying respect to veterans is something I have no problem doing, I am a staunch supporter of veterans’ causes and have raised my children to show their respect as well.
But when we confuse “nationalism” with “patriotism,” we fail to ask important questions. Why are these fallen heroes being sent into harm’s way in the first place? At this point, is it not important to wonder why our government engages in wars that have resulted in insurmountable debt, and countless lives lost? Our freedoms are being lost, not protected. Yet the government shamelessly props up these individuals in the name of patriotism and shames us if we fail to stand. Its tactics reflect neither liberty nor freedom of conscience.
But more fundamentally, we need to ask: Are we honoring the fallen? Or are we inadvertently paying homage to the entity that sent them to their demise? Are we honoring a system that seeks to protect our particular way of life, our values, or are we confusing patriotism with honoring a government that seeks expansion, both at home and abroad?
If it is the latter, is the cost worth it?
The Pledge of Allegiance also facilitates national worship. It is a favorite of conservatives in part due to the clever insertion of the words “Under God” – added during the Cold War to differentiate America from Communist Russia. The problem is, however, that the Pledge was written by avowed socialist Francis Bellamy in an attempt to indoctrinate people into favoring a central government in direct contravention of our founding principles.
“One nation…indivisible…” The United States are neither.
This takes us back to my first example, the Lincoln Memorial. Bellamy wrote the Pledge to eradicate the memory or America’s Revolutionary legacy. Rather than celebrate the principles held dear during the War for Independence, the Pledge serves to indoctrinate a population into accepting a strong, central government. This government was created by, and was intended to remain subservient to, the states. The states were also intended to serve as the ultimate “check” on federal power.
The Tenth Amendment reiterated that the powers not delegated to the general government were to remain with the states, but thanks to the Reconstruction-era Fourteenth Amendment and its erroneous application of the Bill of Rights to the states, what was once a system of consent of the governed, has become a system of government by an unresponsive legislative branch, an executive led in effect by an elected king, and a federal judiciary made up of politically appointed lawyers that reign supreme over both of the other branches of government and the states. Add to that the countless agencies that rule over the people, run by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats. This centralized, nationalized system has effectively stripped the people of all means of self-governance.
Sadly, most Americans have embraced this national system. They turn to the federal government to solve virtually all of their problems – to keep them safe, to educate their kids, to provide medical care, to run the health insurance system, and to “help people when they are down.”
Meanwhile, people cheer when federal judges create “rights” out of thin air and then flex their muscles to impose their will on the once sovereign and independent states. The Constitution does not delegate the authority to define marriage to the Congress. No problem. The Supreme Court simply declared marriage was no longer a matter for the states – this without an Article V convention or a constitutional amendment. They just did it. Worshipers of national government insist this opinion, affirmed by five unelected justices, now stands as the law of the land. Another “law of the land” is Roe v. Wade – resulting in 56 million murdered unborn babies, and counting. The Pledge of Allegiance faithful have yet to reconcile this tragedy with their claim that the United States is a nation “under God.”
Trump was wrong. Many people in America do worship in the church of government – specifically the national government. We see the sacraments all around us. We feel the sting should we blaspheme. And we witness the power wielded by the god people have created.
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