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It is, of course, painfully easy to mock. It is terrific but sort of lazy (I admit) fun to jab at the tragicomic American definition of God as irritable grandpa-child who cares far too much about what happens at nauseating political conventions, gun shows, children’s beauty pageants, ad nauseam.
It requires a bit more compassion to understand that most Americans, like most of the world, are simply desperate for any sort of meaning, any sort of simple understanding amidst all the madness, war, and the lack of education. And therefore even just the mention of “God” on the dollar, in the national credo, in another insipid political platform, this somehow gives a hint of stability, a shared mythology, to an otherwise impossible and terrifying world.
It’s a little tricky to unpack, but sometimes it must be acknowledged: There exists in the American mythos this fragile, long-abused idea that when you buy a gun, or a beer, or a Chinese-made pair of Levi’s using a piece of tattered green paper with the word “God” on it, that it actually means something, that underneath it all there’s this tiny, microscopic hint of divine glue holding it all together, somehow.
It’s sort of charming. It’s sort of wonderful, this delicate notion of spiritual connectedness that’s been mauled to death by capitalism and politics and buried beneath a million layers of churlish ignorance and fear of Other so rampant and sad, many Americans are terrified to leave their hometowns, much less visit another country and see how the rest of the world rocks the divine wow.
Nevertheless, it’s there. Behind the Fox News witlessness, underneath the insulting political platitudes, despite organized religion’s furious attempts to kill it with dogma and sneering patriarchy, lies a certain sweetness, a cultural naiveté borne of a deep and inescapable desire to know, to understand our place in the cosmos, even just a little, even if it means sacrificing the radically self-realized spirit to some bland and politicized whole.
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s not all that sweet after all. Maybe it’s one of the sadder, more debilitating aspects of the modern American condition, given how it’s no secret that organized religion, conservative politicians, marketers and megacorps alike love nothing more than to prey upon the poor and the less educated, anyone desperate for structure and divine meaning, but not quite willing or able to figure it out for themselves.
This is why the Republican cause is so frantic to invoke God as much as possible. “God” implies there’s some sort of explanation, impossible though it may be for pathetic and sinful humankind to understand. Invoking a bitter, judgmental God you can never really access (much less fully embody yourself) brings wobbly balm to those who live in fear of a complex and impossible world, those who feel everything is out of their control.
Hey, at least Angry Republican Grandpa in the sky has it all figured out, right? At least I don’t have to think too much, look too deeply in the mirror, or listen to that nagging, deep-down voice telling me nothing’s really as it seems, right? I mean, whew.