The word, worship, derives from Old English, originally an expression of the value — the worthness — of the thing so described. In British usage, mayors and other officials of the city are traditionally addressed as Your Worship, which in many cases is an exercise in wishful thinking. Here in America, some among us like to gather up titles. As I child, I was surprised while watching news programs to hear someone who was the current secretary of this, that, or the other department being called governor, since the person had resigned from that position to take up one in the president’s administration. This was my introduction to the ranking of honorifics.
At the Values Voters Summit this year, the right-wing terrorist occupying the federal building on Pennsylvania Avenue declared that we worship God, not government. He and many of his followers are likely unaware that when his speech gets translated into Arabic, it will say that we worship Allah, that being the word in that language for the same concept. While fundamentalist Christians complain when this is pointed out, but the deity of the western monotheisms is the same being, coming out of the same mythological context and even the same linguistic family.
But let’s explore the claim that he made. In practical terms, a quarter of Americans, according to a study done by the Pew Research Center, do not identify with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religion. And the number of such nones is on the rise. Now admittedly, the survey found a small number of adherents to other religions. The nones came in at 22.8 percent, and they aren’t necessarily atheists, but instead are people who don’t wish to claim membership in any organized group of belief.
Still, Trump’s assertion that Americans worship God — presuming that the reporting didn’t insert a capital letter where one was not intended — is wrong. One out of every four is an other. And legally, what he said isn’t correct, either. The only mentions of religion in the Constitution are to say that we can’t require by force of law that a candidate for public office be a believer and that we are free to believe what we wish, but that no religion will be the official one of the nation.
How much does Trump believe what he said? The evidence of his life and of his actions while in office suggest that once again, he was pandering to the gullible — or the writer of his speech was. How much Trump understands what he’s doing is a worthy question. Whoever convinced him to select Mike Pence as a running mate may have had in mind the horror that good Americans feel over the potential imposition of a theocracy in this country and saw the former governor of Indiana as a solid insurance policy against impeachment. We are laboring between the Scylla of the Christian Taliban and the Charybdis of nuclear war, one of the worst disasters that this country has experienced.
I say this without being hyperbolic. The Civil War was an existential crisis, a moment in which we had to decide if we were going to be a nation based on Enlightenment humanist values of individual rights for all or an aristocracy designed to bless the favored few. The Great Depression challenged us to accept that government has a role to play in the promotion of a working society, and the Second World War and Cold War were times when we fought against ideologies that are antithetical to democracy — and at times in those conflicts, we violated our own principles from time to time.
But now, we’ve brought ourselves to a place in which we are our own enemy. The contradiction at the heart of democracy is that such a system can vote itself out of existence. It’s up to the participants to decide if that will be the outcome.
The name of the conference that Trump spoke at, Values Voters Summit, makes the assumption that those of us who don’t agree with the religious right wing have no values, or at least none that we use to guide our political choices. This is a lie that cannot be allowed to go without response. No, we don’t worship government. We understand that it is a necessary tool. We also don’t support compelling agreement in belief. Liberal values are equal rights and equal opportunities and cooperation to promote human learning and achievement. It’s up to those of us who hold those values to stop the Republican push toward theocracy and fascism.
My novels and non-fiction, along with a Modern English version of Chaucer’s The Parliament of Fowls, can be found here.