Secularizing Religious Patriotism

Humans use a variety of mediums to express thoughts, ideas, messages, and a variety of other things.  Music is one that every culture across the globe relates to.  Catchy tunes help us remember the message, which is why commercial jingles are so popular.  On national levels, we’ve been exposed to music to help us develop patriotism and retain loyalty.  This is similar to the way religions use music to cement their relationship to their congregation.  What happens when the two combine?  People become convinced that religion and national loyalty must be one and the same.

anthemOur national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, does not seem to have an overtly religious tone, unless you sing through the last verse.  Most people don’t realize that the anthem has four verses; usually they only play the first verse at sporting games and military events.  The last verse goes like this:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it 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!

All five military service songs have religious references and passages.  The Marines “guard Heaven’s scene,” “God only knows” how the Airmen survive, the Army expresses “faith in God,” the Navy references the “gold of God’s sun,” and the Coast Guard places “its faith in Thee.” Every service member has memorized at least one verse of their service song, and while they may not consider them to be religious songs, they do reinforce the idea that the military is a supporter of religious tones and propaganda.  That America is populated by an extremely large religious population is without doubt.  But we are a nation of many; diverse, different, and varied.  It doesn’t take much to remove the religious connotations from the music we listen to, and use to promote our nations and our servicemembers.

This little girl in Canada managed it flawlessly.  She substituted the word “Please” in place of “God,” and the song still made perfect sense to the listener.  It didn’t take away from the impact of the message in their National Anthem, it made it stronger.  A simple word substitution makes it an all inclusive song of Canadian patriotism.

In the MAAF office, there are differing opinions. Rose says, “We could take a lesson from South Park.  Yes, South Park.  Cartman figured it out.  Simple word substitution.  See what I mean by watching the video here.

It’s easy enough to change words.  In the Marines Hymn, change Heaven to Global.  The song still works.  In the Air Force song, change “God only” to “no one”.  Coast Guard’s song could change “thee” to “we.”  Simple little words, but a nontheist approach that makes military service more friendly to all, rather than some.  Some of you will say that the songs as written are historic and traditional.  We don’t buck tradition.  We have a couple hundred years under our dress uniform belts, but it’s time.  Over the last decade alone the United States armed forces have seen seen many major shifts of culture.  We’ve seen the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, changes in the Army’s regulations on religious accommodation, and a Navy Humanist Chaplain applicant.  This country is slow to change, but it makes the right moves to be all inclusive.  Freedom from religion needs to be included; removing religious icons, verbiage, and references from our National songs and literature is a strong step in the inclusive direction, further separating Church from State.”

Jason says, “Changing words can be a good option, like saying the original secular pledge, the one that won World War II and didn’t have ‘Under God’ dividing our one nation. In many cases, that might not be feasible. In some cases, it may even be seen as petty. In my view, these old songs are artistic expressions that represent patriotism that has been very often mixed up with and co-opted by religious elements. These occasional religious expressions in our patriotic art can be reminders of progress, from what was to what can be better. Talking about God and Heaven reminds me of the how our nation and even humanity has progressed from a monoculture of old beliefs to a diversity that includes nontheistic and naturalistic beliefs and values. Rather than rewriting the history, we can acknowledge that that time was very much dominated by religion and we can benefit by celebrating diversity in the future. The Founders new this best. The Declaration of Independence talked of a Creator. The Articles of Confederation talked of the Great Governor of the World. Those were replaced by our current Constitution which mentions no god and only mentions religion to prohibit a religious test for public office (like the chaplaincy). And expanding on that concept, the Founders further separate religion and government in the first clause of the first amendment to our Constitution. The Founders set the example creating ever-more secular governance from which we still benefit today.”

We want to hear your thoughts on this issue.  Sound off in the comments below!

3 Responses to Secularizing Religious Patriotism

  1. As a Canadian atheist feminist, I have often been annoyed by our anthem’s lyrics. “True patriot love in all OUR SONS command” should be “in all OF US command”. While that girl changing “GOD keep our land / Glorious and free” to “PLEASE”, that still assumes a plea (prayer?) to a deity. I would prefer the exortation “LET’S keep our land / Glorious and free”. It is up to us all, isn’t it?

  2. Good ideas.: In us we trust. … One nation, under law, indivisible…. Instead of “God bless America” at the end of every political speech, one could say? ???? what? your suggestions:

  3. Mediums? You mean the people who believe dead people speak to them? Or perhaps you mean “media”.

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