Maybe I don’t get out enough, but I’d never stumbled across any American newspaper writer who wrote an article to take exception with the use of the phrase, “God bless America.” Turns out that that enduring expression is not off limits for at least one writer whose views find fault with its use by American politicians.
One of the main problems regarding the writer’s concerns about “God bless America” is that its use has become a platitude. A platitude, as you probably remember from your vocabulary-learning school days, is defined as a remark or statement that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.
Referencing facts, Irving Berlin originally penned the lyrics and wrote the music to God Bless America in 1918 but adjusted the song’s lines in 1938 followed by songstress Kate Smith singing it for the first time as part of her Armistice Day broadcast on November 11, 1938. It was a glorious hit that made its way into the hearts of millions of Americans where it has resided ever since while the song’s title, a kind of brief benediction you might say, is commonly used to end America’s political speeches, usually, but not exclusively, those of U.S. presidents.
The writer of the newspaper piece Why should ‘God bless America?’ cites an author and college teacher, Donald K. Kraybill, who’s known to be an Anabaptist, a person who believes that baptism must take place after a person’s earned it, not when a person is a newborn baby. His Christian roots, too, are Anabaptist and the Protestant Revolution, dating back to the 1500s. Kraybill supports fundamentalist Christian views that do not allow the use of scripture or any interpretation of it to be liberalized or casually used in what’s believed by him, and those who believe along side him, to be a bastardized platitudinous form.
According to advice from those who want the use of ‘God bless America’ to be a ubiquitous application, referencing every nation and all earthly beings, it is wrong to use the phrase exclusively in application to the U.S. and Americans. They do have a point as, after all, Berlin had lived through the First World War and was anticipating a world conflagration in 1938; so, he revised his 1918 version in hope the song might inspire all parties in the world to live in harmony. His wish, as we know, went unfulfilled.
Yet, the whole matter at issue in the article, Why should ‘God bless America?,’ strikes me as rather silly and without justification as our nation was founded as a secular not ecclesiastical country and that condition protects us from radical impositions from those who don’t like the way some of us conduct our lives and what we say in appreciation of what we perceive as our blessings. In other words, those Americans who use ‘God bless America’ in any form should be applauded for loving their country not ridiculed because the use to which they put the phrase does not please America’s religious zealots.
It’s truly sad, even contemptuous, that a newspaper writer would reprimand anyone for how he uses the phrase God bless America. The phrase speaks for itself to represent what is finest in the United States: that we can believe whatever we wish to believe as our beliefs are preserved and protected in the U.S. Constitution. Further, God bless America encourages Americans to think positive thoughts about their land. Then, too, use of it can be of reassuring psychological value and mean a great deal to those whether religiously inclined or not do not go by the dictates of an evangelical Kraybill or his newspaper-writing suurogate.
(Gene H. McIntyre’s column appears weekly in the Keizertimes.)