The Washington Post is busy printing “opinions” but today’s editorial seems to go over the wall.

A psychologist who once was an ordained minister disdains standing for “god bless America” during ball games. Why?

But being pressured to stand up at a baseball game for a song that’s essentially a prayer seems, well, un-American.

The rest of the psychologist’s essay is a bit disjointed: it’s hard to figure out if he objects to “praying in public” or objects to any civil ceremony.

But since my “progressive” facebook friend and her friends are interpreting it as attacking their favorite “straw man”, i.e. white Christians of the Republican persuasion, I assume he is trying to show his hatred of the religious right, whoever they are supposed to be.

This surprises me, since Congress,  led by Tom Daschle, sang this very song on 9-11, so it’s not exactly a political song.

The essay is poorly written (which is why I am surprised that the Post bothered to print it) but it’s ignorance goes beyond lack of logical structure. There are a few historical errors and linguistic misunderstandings in his essay.

Problem one: ignorance of the English Language. The phrase “god bless” or “bless you” is an old fashioned way to say “thank you”.

If God bless America is a prayer, then it is a prayer of thanksgiving, not a prayer of petition. But essentially you could substitute the words “Thank you America” and it would have the same meaning.

The second problem is that he shows a disdain for any public shows of faith by any or all, even when this is spontaneous and voluntary.

I love this country and don’t want to live anywhere else. But being pressured to stand up at a baseball game for a song that’s essentially a prayer seems, well, un-American.

So sit down and keep quite.. Big deal. I am an old lady and sit down all the time at church. People stare. No problem.

But of course, someone stared at him, so he is angry. How dare they!

Essentially, he is attempting to censor any expression that he interprets (incorrectly here) as disapproval, but more seriously, he is using this disapproval as a reason to censor music he dislikes, even at a private venue where most people agree to it.

Which brings us to the third problem: he claims to want to censor speech in the name of others who don’t believe in God, or at least if the deity is one he doesn’t worship.

This “god” business — how (and whether) we conceive of the divine — is messy, even in our houses of worship. At a ballgame, where most of us have come to root for the Nats, it just doesn’t fit. We shouldn’t make a grand assumption that we’re all of one belief.

Ah, but the song “god Bless America” doesn’t make that assumption that everyone believes in a deity: as I pointed out, it only makea the assumption that everyone is thankful for living in a free America.

And that is the point of the song.

You see, the song was written by Irving Berlin, way back in 1917.

His family had fled the pogroms of Russia, and the song was a song of thanks for a country where he was given freedom, both economic and religious, to live his life  without worrying that anti Semitic crowds would attack his family in  the middle of the night.

The song became especially famous during World War II, when Americans were fighting a monster who made the Czar’s pogroms look like a Sunday school picnic.

So the psychologist, who is using a popular song to bash his favorite “straw man”, i.e.  evil Republican “christians”, is actually refusing to sing a song written by a Jewish Democrat and immigrant.

In our great country, each of us has the right to his or her own religious beliefs, and we celebrate our nation’s diversity and plurality. My deeply held and sincere religious beliefs just don’t countenance this ritual.

But the point of the song is that he is not thrown into jail or executed for saying so, but neither does he have the right to stop others from singing if they chose to sing.

That, not the censorship that he recommends, is what America is about.

I am sadly reminded of a line in the book by Maria Von Trapp (0f Sound of Music fame), where her children complained about censorship of music after the Nazi take over of Austria.

“We can’t sing Mendelsohn because he is Jewish, and we can’t sing Bach because it mentions the name Jesus”. (Yes, I know Mendelsohn was a Christian, but Hitler considered him Jewish).

First we censor “god bless America”, and next we refuse to let our choirs sing Jesu Meine Freude, for fear of hurting someone’s feelings?
Finally, despite his experience as a psychologist and pastor, the author seems blissfully unaware of sociology, including the importance of ritual and reverence as part of making a civil society.

This is discussed in detail in Dr. Woodruff’s book on Reverence, a forgotten virtue, but essentially ALL cultures have such ceremonies, even non monotheistic ones like China or ancient Greece.

Yet public prayer has always been part of America.

When a priest, minister, rabbi, or imman says a prayer at a public event, you are not being insulted because you don’t like his deity.

Nor does your respectful silence mean you are one who joins in his belief system. No, as Woodruff points out, you are respecting the person saying that prayer, and respecting his freedom to do so.

This is a ritual that enforces the idea of freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

Nor is this idea limited to the United States:  Which is why Pope John Paul once kissed a Koran and respectfully stood (but did not join) while various non Catholic and even non Christian prayers were offered at the meeting of world religions at Assisi a couple years ago.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines.

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