Thanksgiving reminds us that Americans are still a people of great faith

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It’s almost a bromide that “America is a religious country.” Anyone who doubts that has never celebrated Thanksgiving! 

While it is true that Americans seem to be drifting away from organized religion, faith still remains strong and nearly universal. The thermometer approaches 98.6 when it comes to the percentage of folks who believe in God, in His providence, and in eternal life with Him. 

Exhibit A is Thanksgiving. Even the crustiest “secularist,” who may never have been inside a church, bows his head, closes her eyes and whispers a word of gratitude to the Lord on this holiday. No other country on the planet has such a traditional, hallowed, treasured ritual of praise as we do on Thanksgiving. Poll after poll shows it to be our most popular holiday. (That word itself comes from “holy day.”) 

Now, I bring this up because scorn of religion is on the rise at the so-called high levels of culture – media, academia, government and entertainment. For them, religion is at best a superstition relied upon by weak, unenlightened people, at worst a toxic, corrupt, divisive force in a progressive society. 

I worry about this, sure, because I am a pastor, but also because I am an American. Our Founders, to a person, considered faith essential for the republic, and agreed with the father of our country that this grand experiment in democracy could not survive unless built upon a foundation of belief. 

Even the crustiest ‘secularist,’ who may never have been inside a church, bows his head, closes her eyes and whispers a word of gratitude to the Lord on Thanksgiving.

Through most of our history, culture has viewed religion in a benevolent way, something to be celebrated and promoted. As President Dwight Eisenhower remarked, “Everybody should have a religion, and I don’t care which one it is.” 

We citizens are shrewd in recognizing that our laws and policies should be neutral when it comes to religion. The “separation of church and state” has been beneficial for both. 

Timothy Dolan, former president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is the cardinal archbishop of New York.

My apprehension is that now we’ve moved from a benign or neutral view of faith to one downright antagonistic. It seems chic now to exclude people of belief from any place in the public square. Our faith, we’re told, is something that we can practice inside our respective houses of worship, but we musn’t dare attempt to put it into practice out in “the real world.” 

Thus can the state legislature and governor of California brand Father Juniper Serra, canonized a saint by Pope Francis, a racist and a murderer; thus can promising legislation to give massive subsidies for health care, education, and child care be limited, sadly, only to government agencies, prohibited to faith-based groups; thus can city officials flaunt the law requiring COVID testing and vaccines to be given to all school children and ban those services to religious schools; thus can the “free exercise of religion,” numbered first in the Bill of Rights, be annulled as faith-inspired services are told they must disobey their consciences if they expect to avoid litigation; thus can worship at our mosques, synagogues and churches be chilling termed “nonessential” while nail salons stay open. 

Lyndon Johnson commented, “Religion is like a beehive! Admire it and leave it alone to flourish, and you’ll get a lot of good honey; stick your hand into it and you’ll be stung.” 

Our hands are better folded in prayer this Thursday when, as grateful citizens of this “one nation under God” who relish as our motto, “In God we trust,” ask that “God bless America,” as faith remains a constant, celebrated and cherished feature of America.  

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