Millions across the United States recite this phrase in their Pledge of Allegiance. Most Western nations share the ideal of living under God's guidance. We know the right words. But how do we measure up to them in practice?
For many years, the United States has defined itself as "one nation under God"—a phrase in its Pledge of Allegiance that millions of schoolchildren have learned since the 1950s. A recent Gallup Poll revealed that more than 90 percent in the U.S. claim to believe in God; in fact, almost 70 percent say that religion is an important part of their lives.
Last May, U.S. News & World Report ran an article on "Faith in America," observing that there are more churches, synagogues, temples and mosques per capita in the U.S. than in any other nation on Earth. Yet, for all of the talk about religion, it seems that the greatest religious value in America is the value of tolerance, rather than the pursuit of truth.
The article noted: "More than three in four Americans believe all religions have at least some elements of truth—even though few say that they know much about religions other than their own. And nearly 70 percent think spiritual experiences are the most important part of religion. 'If one's religion is more about individual identity than doctrine or creed, it's a lot easier to be tolerant,' says Egon Mayer, a sociologist at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. [A recent Gallup Poll] says that the high degree of religious tolerance reflects, in part, 'not only a lack of knowledge of other religions, but an ignorance of one's own faith.' In some polls, Mayer says, 'you have professing Christians saying, "Yes, Jesus is the only way" and also "Yes, there are many paths to God." It's not that Americans don't believe anything, they believe everything'" (USN&WR, May 6, 2002).
In his final New Testament epistle, the Apostle Paul wrote about this same attitude and outlook: "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away" (2 Timothy. 3:1–5)!
Yes, throughout the Western world we find a "form of godliness." Like many of the English-speaking nations, the United States conducts itself as a "religious" nation, though favoring no one religion. But how do its citizens actually live from day to day? Do they live by the Ten Commandments, or by the sad list of qualities Paul mentioned? Despite a form of godliness, rebellious nations deny the power of that godliness by ignoring God's authority to teach mankind how to live.
In the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy, the people of the U.S. experienced a great upsurge in patriotic display and rhetoric. The subject of God even found its way into public discourse, to a degree unprecedented in the recent past.
But what most people really want is a "teddy bear" God—a deity with whom they can "cuddle up" for comfort, rather than a God who loves them enough to tell them how to live. Do we want God to tell us how to worship Him? How to treat our families? How to treat our fellow man? No! Most of us want to worship God in whatever way makes us most comfortable! We desire a "form of godliness"—church buildings, religious symbols and easy talk about "spirituality." But we deny God's real authority over our lives!
The U.S. may call itself "one nation under God," but, like so much of the Western world, its actions—its rampant disobedience against God—show the hollowness of those words. Thankfully, true Christians can buck this trend and obey God individually, even while praying for sorely needed national repentance.
—John H. Ogwyn