In God We Trust

by John Mark Reynolds [author, academic]

President Obama will take the oath of office on a Bible as is customary. There will be prayers at the swearing in as has always been done and he will ask for God’s help in doing so. He is right to do so.

His actions are only controversial amongst the sad souls who are so sheltered and delicate that the actual costumes and beliefs of the nation shock them out of their bubble. Of course, one tries to be polite, but they are very easily offended. The mere sight of a Christmas crèche on public land can ruin their day. Since we are not willing to flush traditional American patriotic songs from our ceremonies, it really will be impossible to do.

Should we stop singing God Bless America? Should America stop asking God to shed His grace on us? Will the Battle Hymn get rid of the “hallelujah?”

It would require totalitarian force to separate traditional American patriotism from any mention of the Divine!

The just pleas for accommodation by secularists, who should not be forced to sing or to pray, can turn into tyrannical demands that silence the religious majority from living out their beliefs in the public square as they always have done.

A healthy family tries to meet the needs of all its members. Even the desires of one family member should not be ignored. Imagine the family member, however, who decided he or she does not like the way things have been done in the household. The other family members politely listen to what he has to say, but decide that the old ways are good and important to them.

A good family cannot find itself dominated by the eccentric demands and imagined offenses of one of its members.

The harm done by traditional religious ceremonies to secularists is non-existent. If secularism is true, then it does nothing but affirm a tradition of the Republic. It is difficult to imagine the harm in praying to a non-existent God and old forms are comforting. An atheist is not being excluded from a ceremony when he does not agree with every aspect of it anymore than Republicans are excluded from the festivities when they disagree with some aspect of the speech made by the new president.

We are mostly a religious people in a religious nation and when we celebrate religion will be a natural part of the party. Unless someone is forced to pray with the President, it is difficult to see the damage when our religious president-elect decides to pray.

Secularists need to be better members of the American household. They have chosen to adopt a minority position that is at odds with the overwhelming theism of the American experience. That position should be tolerated and when well argued respected, but there is no reason that our ceremonies have to be neutered when we politely disagree.

It is extremism in government that is dangerous and Americans have rightly decided to reject theocracy and total secularism. We have chosen the more difficult middle way between the two dangers and it is has served us well for over two hundred years.

President Obama embraces that position, as do most Republican and Democratic leaders.

As most Americans know from personal experience and best reason secularism is false, therefore, the good done by traditional religious ceremonies is great. God exists and it is good for human beings to acknowledge the facts in their ceremonies. Denying reality is, in the end, not a good move for any culture. The humbling fact that even the most powerful man in the world will acknowledge the limits of human power is refreshing.

Our rights, as the Declaration says, come from God and not government. Our fundamental personhood came from the Creator and not from the state or impersonal nature. A few Americans disagree with those basic American ideas and nobody should persecute them as a result. If they win elections, they should be allowed to hold ceremonies that reflect their beliefs.

It is only polite, however, to acknowledge the Jewish and Christian roots of American ideas. The very words engraved on the Lincoln Memorial make no sense if they are read without Biblical and religious knowledge.

Even though I will not agree with all his policies, like all patriots I am going to rejoice in the ceremonies of the day. I am going to celebrate the peaceful transition of power, the working Constitution, and the wonderful symbolism of an African-American president. I will not agree with some of the things he says or does, but that will not take away from my happiness as an American.

Mr. Obama soon will be my president. As head of government, I will pray for him daily and honor him. When he acts as head of his party, I will act as the loyal opposition. Like all Americans, I am delighted that Mr. Obama is acknowledging the religious traditions and roots of our nation.

Here is hoping my secular friends will not be too offended if on this happy day they listen to the choirs sing the National Anthem and sum up most of our feelings:

Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation! / Then conquer we must, when our cause is just, / And this be our motto: “In God is our trust” / And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


copyright 2008 John Mark Reynolds

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Biola University.His personal website can be found at and his blog can be found at

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