In response to reader TW's comment from a couple of posts ago: this one.
Where to start, on the relationship between church and state in America? To begin, it is probably useful to say exactly what "church" I'm talking about. By far the most prevalent church in the U.S. is that of what I'll call the American Civic Religion. The American Civic Religion (ACR, for short) is not -- to say the least! -- based on the New Testament, in terms of its theology in general and its soteriology in particular. The ACR seems loosely based on the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, as interpreted by the strict principle that God grades on the curve, and that a heavenly destination is assured, as long as I can identify a reasonable number of people who sin more spectacularly than I do (Hitler is useful for this purpose) and rich people who buy fewer Girl Scout cookies than I do (Martha Stewart bats well in this spot in the lineup). In the ACR, everybody is like an American driver. Almost every American driver describes himself as a better-than-average driver; similarly, in the ACR, almost everyone is convinced that he's a better-than-average person. And since God, like a kindly high-school teacher, grades on a generous curve, no one who's better than average has anything to worry about, in terms of lakes-o-fire vs streets-o-gold.
The "A" in ACR is very important. To the extent that we learned our ACR catechism (by osmosis, more or less) in the government schools, we worship a composite deity, which I'll call "Godduncountry." We don't consciously think of him by that name, or in that way; but that's who we, as a matter of practical fact, believe in. If you're as old as I am, you can remember how the teacher, in the early elementary grades, started out the school day by leading the class in recitations of the Lord's Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. It was a basic assumption of life, for all of we young catechumens in the ACR, that the reason why America was manifestly the Greatest Country in the World was that Godduncountry was on our side, while the Russkies and Chicoms and Krauts and Japs were having to make do with Marx and Mao and Adolf and Hirohito. And obviously they weren't much of a match for Godduncountry.
Godduncountry was the explanation for what might otherwise have seemed prohibitively unlikely: that we just happened to have been born in the only country in all of human history that was, always had been, and always would be completely in the right about everything. Well, maybe that's not quite fair; there seemed to be some grudging acknowledgement that Indians had been treated a little shabbily, and the African slaves may have had a complaint coming, too. But those injustices were safely in the past, and those who had actually perpetrated them had already gone on to their eternal reward. We could afford to be big about these things. After all, nobody's perfect, and even those slaveowners and Injun-hunters had still been above-average people, and Godduncountry grades on the curve, right?
I interrupt this post now to hope that I'm not sounding too smug about the ACR. I have no reason to be; after all, I've spent the large majority of my life as a faithful son of the ACR, serving Godduncountry gladly. But I was wrong to do so.
The trouble with Godduncountry is that he's an idol. He isn't really there. We made him -- not so much with our hands as with our thoughts. And the real God, the living God of the Bible, is not an enthusiast for idols. As He said in Exodus 20, verses 2-7:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
It is, I think, entirely bad enough that children in the government schools are made (more or less) to recite the so-called "Pledge of Allegiance," the work of a socialist and Baptist minister in 1892. It is and was intended to be political propaganda (" ... one nation, indivisible ..." is obviously a position on secession, the propriety of which the Founders took for granted). But, even more invidiously, it is a pledge of allegiance. Ultimately, how many allegiances can one person give? Only one. The only way we can bear a Biblical allegiance to God, and to the flag "and the Republic for which it stands" is if we somehow know, in advance, that the two can never conflict. God and country must be one and the same: Godduncountry. The thing is patently ridiculous. Can anyone look at the history of the USA, or any other nation, and see an identity of that nation with the God of the Bible? The biblical God is unchanging. But, according to our laws, right and wrong are in a continual state of change; they flow freely -- mostly downhill, of course.
The recitation of the Pledge is an act of worship to the idol Godduncountry. And when my church displays the Stars and Stripes up front, in what is supposed to be a service of worship to God, and we're asked to recite the pledge to an idol ... well, I get a little hot about that. I need to be elsewhere, if that really must happen.
C.S. Lewis, in one of the Narnia books (The Last Battle), writes of a deception in Narnia in which the Christ figure, Aslan the lion, is merged with a demonic false god called Tash. The Narnians are assured that all modern, enlightened thinkers know that Tash and Aslan are just two names for the same god, whom they call "Tashlan." When the real Aslan turns up, he's not amused. I'd just as soon that Tashlan -- or Godduncountry -- stayed out of my church.