Rick Wagner Column January 15, 2009

Narcissism may drive opponents of religion as much as atheism

I saw a news headline the other day that seemed appropriate for our own area: “Government Calls Lawsuit to Prevent Religious Prayer at Inauguration Nonsensical.”

The lawsuit is one filed by perennial God hunter Michael Newdow, who has tried to have part of the Pledge of Allegiance declared unconstitutional, the phrase “in God We Trust” removed from our currency and, in 2001 and 2005, tried to prevent the presidential oath of office from containing the words “so help me God.”

It may help jog your memory to remember that Mr. Newdow filed the Pledge of Allegiance case on behalf of his daughter in California. His standing and concern suffered a setback when a court dismissed his lawsuit on the grounds that he did not have custody of his daughter.

Like the old Timex watch commercials, Michael can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’. He is back for another round of sparring with the courts over Mr. Obama’s swearing-in ceremony and the offending reference to God.

Some may recall that the oath of office is contained in the Constitution, but the phrase “so help me God” was legendarily added by George Washington at his first inauguration. One might be safe in assuming that President Washington had some insight to the principles of the founding of the republic when he decided to reference a supreme being. If he didn’t, there were plenty of people within earshot he could ask.

But this sort of history means little to the turbulent grinches who are so intent upon removing any reference to God from public meetings, Christmas displays and monuments. They seem to miss the point that the reason this symbolism seems to be everywhere, is because it is interwoven into the texture of society. 

This is precisely the reason prayer has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in connection with the opening of Congress and various local governmental bodies.

The fact courts have relegated prayer at public meetings to be a matter of mostly historical, rather than religious, significance is hard for these hardy crusaders against religiosity to note, given their reluctance to see anyone more important than themselves.

In hearing Mr. Newdow — I should say Dr. Newdow, as he is an emergency room physician and a lawyer — interviewed recently about whether or not he had ever asked for God’s help in the emergency room, I began to understand the problem. His irritation at the insinuation that he would ask for any help from a supreme being was palpable and probably
unfortunate. After all, I think most of us in an emergency situation would like all the help we could get, and what does it hurt to ask?

What hurts for people like Newdow is the idea that there’s someone more important than themselves. Believing that there isn’t seems less like being an atheist and more a victim of narcissism. Indeed, the rage some seem to feel at the mere mention of religion, particularly by public officials, no matter what the context, seems outsized to the offense. 

Most Americans believe that so long as there is no coercion, no establishment of a state religion or preferences for its adherents, asking for a little divine help is not a bad thing. But the frenzied howls of a vocal minority can easily cow some in public office, who think it’s just easier to go along with the loudest complainers.

This philosophy has reduced the Grand Junction City Council members to simply standing silently before their meetings when preachers don’t show up. If we could stretch that moment of silence out for another two hours, we might see some improvement in city government, but it wouldn’t help or hurt the cause of religious freedom.

Sadly, much of the criticism we see appears in the form of anonymous postings by critics sporting cybernetic nom de plumes and launching ad hominem attacks on public officials and those who disagree with their point of view.

For those who are willing to put a name to their viewpoints, I give them credit for their willingness to take a position and argue a differing point of view. For the rest, perhaps a little prayer is in order.


Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong, which can be reached through the blogs entry at GJSentinel.com. 


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