'Under G-d' Is Engraved on Our Hearts

Religious conviction is--and has always been--central to the American republic.

This story first ran on Beliefnet on June 27, 2002.

That a court would rule the Pledge of Allegiance as being unconstitutional because it contains the words `under G-d' is something that I might have expected, perhaps, when I lived in Europe. Everyone knows that religion is essentially dead in Western Europe. Even in Italy, ground zero of Catholicism, where I traveled last week to launch the Italian edition of

Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments

, nearly all the authors I met told me that they were atheists. In Italy there is no scandal concerning pedophile priests because the populace cannot summon enough passion for their own Catholicism to even profess outrage.

But the secret to the United States that so many others just don't understand is that it is a deeply religious country. If you miss the fact that faith is almost endemic in the American mindset, then you have missed the country completely. That's what Paul Johnson so insightfully captured in

History of the American People

, in which he shows that America's unparalleled expansion had everything to do with a religious fervor never seen in the annals of the world. Just look at concepts like "manifest destiny" where virtually every American leader

believed

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that this country was destined to expand to the Pacific. Johnson even maintains that this irrepressible American faith was even brought to bear on American marketing, to wit, Coca Cola being plugged as "the

real

thing."

More importantly, of course, it served as the basis for Jefferson's pronouncement in the Declaration of Independence that no man need be subservient to a despot like George III since "all men are created equal.they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." The belief in G-d is also what inspired so many righteous Christians to become abolitionists and to undo the subversion of that hallowed principle of freedom by the evil of slavery.

When I served as rabbi of Oxford University for eleven years, I found myself constantly on the defensive about religion. If people liked me, they told that they did so

despite

the fact that I was a rabbi. Indeed, several of the chaplains of the Oxford Colleges were, unbelievably, staunch atheists. But I have discovered that here in the United States my non-Jewish friends expect me to be a rabbi and to offer them Jewish wisdom. It's the part of me they enjoy the most.

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