(Sitting Out) God Bless America

Irving Berlin, composer of God Bless AmericaThere is an opinion column by a Methodist minister named James P. Marsh in The Washington Post, titled “Why I Sit Out ‘God Bless America.'”

Explaining his discomfort with the song, he states:

I imagine that the God I believe in isn’t interested in dispensing special nationalistic blessings. (Or, perhaps more to the point, blessings for our bullpen, error-free fielding and sufficient run support.) When we ask for blessings to be bestowed only on “us,” we are in danger of seeing ourselves as set apart from the world. Faith is global, and one nation doesn’t get any more or less of God than any other.

Amazing.

It honestly never occurred to me that in praying for God’s blessing on America, I was praying that He not give his blessing to any other nation or people. What a strange way of perceiving prayer. There is nothing in the lyric of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” that condemns any other nation or people. By extension, if one prays to God to bless one’s own family, is it implicitly a prayer to God to curse everyone else’s family?

The other major part of his concern over the song and the habit of singing it at certain baseball parks is, I believe, expressed in these lines:

Not everyone in our nation or at the ballpark shares the same beliefs. From which god are we asking these blessings? What does the good secular humanist or atheist do during this song? Are we to assume that all deities will be in concert for those who believe in more than one?

Mind-boggling. Remember, this is an issue simply about standing for the song, along with everyone else in the ballpark. No one is going to be admonished for not singing along. I can honestly say that were I attending a cricket match in India and were there an interlude when everyone around stood for the singing of a song to various Hindu deities, I would not hesitate to stand, not as my expression of belief in those deities, but as a simple gesture of politeness and respect for the company I was in. To my mind it would cost me nothing merely to stand. (Kneeling, naturally, would be a very different matter.)

That a Methodist minister in the United States in 2013 would maintain that praying for God to bless America is implicitly praying for God’s abandonment of all other nations is quite astounding enough. But that such a one would get so wrapped up in his strange reasonings that he would also utterly forget the simple value of being polite (and he would assume that others do also) truly takes the cake.


Once in a while you may read something that makes you stop, inhale sharply and wonder about how dramatically different can be the perception of another person regarding something that seems so simple, so straightforward. I suppose that it is a salutary lesson, and so I must thank James P. Marsh and The Washington Post for it today. And in Tiny Tim’s words, God bless us, every one.


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