Sunday, September 23, 2007

Why Should God Bless America?

At a conservative Christian Value Voters conference a church choir sang "Why Should God Bless America?," a parody of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." The new version asks why God should bless us when we deny that he exists by banning public school prayer and legalizing abortion. The Values Voters received it with thunderous applause.

Steven Benen of the liberal Talking Points Memo (linked above) imagines that a liberal parody of "God Bless America" would draw the ire of conservatives for messing with an American classic.

There is, though, a liberal answer to "God Bless America" - not a parody, but an alternative vision of God's relation to the United States. This alternative, Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land," was originally titled "God Blessed America for Me."

I embrace both Irving Berlin's and Woody Guthrie's vision of what America owes God, and thank them for writing two of the three greatest hymns of our civil religion (the third being "America the Beautiful.")

My gripe with "Why Should God Bless America?" is that its theology is backwards. The Values Voters expect God to bless America if we would just choose to follow a few rules. This view of God is too small, too tit-for-tat, while their idea of human goodness is way too optimistic for this Calvinist. Irving Berlin, by contrast, is asking God to stand beside America and guide America because we are not capable, without providential assistance, of choosing the right path.

The Values Voters want God to sign a contract with America. The grand old hymn asks, in grateful supplication, for God's blessing and help.


Janet said...

Good points.

Fitz said...

I think my favorite is America the beutifull

I think this line is particularly appropriate in our current time.

America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

Stushie said...

perhaps someone should write an American version of William Blake's "Jerusalem" which includes the phrase 'dark, satanic mills"