On February 7, 1954, Dr. George Docherty preached a sermon titled “Under God,” to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s 150th birthday. In introducing his sermon, Dr. Docherty stated the following:
“But the true strength of the United States of America lies deeper, as it lay in Sparta. It is the spirit of both military and people – a flaming devotion to the cause of freedom within these borders. At this season of anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, it will not be inappropriate to speak about this freedom, and what is called the American way of life.”
Dr. Dochtery, himself an immigrant from Scotland, gave his sermon in the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C. This was the same church Abraham Lincoln worshiped in. Sitting in the Lincoln Pew that morning was the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Drawing from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Docherty focused on two words that captured his attention and defined for him the original reference point of the American way of life. Building to a climax in his sermon, Docherty declared:
“What, therefore, is missing in the pledge of allegiance that Americans have been saying off and on since 1892, and officially since 1942? The one fundamental concept that completely and ultimately separates Communist Russia from the democratic institutions of this country. This was seen clearly by Lincoln. Under God this people shall know a new birth of freedom, and “under God” are the definitive words.”
Within three months, the United States Congress had acted to incorporate the words Under God in the Pledge of Allegiance.
In 1993, I was writing my first book, Bill Clinton: You’re No John F. Kennedy. I wanted to include Dr. Docherty’s sermon in my book, and so called him to ask permission. Not only did he grant it, he sent me his autographed biography, I’ve Seen the Day. In that book, I came across this interesting reflection on the events that transpired after he gave that sermon. He wrote::[i]
“I still consider my reasoning to be valid, but the times should have overruled my philosophical arguments as irrelevant in light of the greater issues at hand. … As such, the new Pledge unfortunately served as one more prop supporting the civil religion that characterized the institutional Christianity of the fifties.”
In other words, something had changed such that the words “Under God” no longer served as the definitive characteristic of the American Way of Life, as it had in Lincoln’s day. What had happened?
That is the topic we’ll turn to in my next blog post. This is the second in a series of posts I intend to write on the general topic of what I call The Unraveling. To read the first, please CLICK HERE.
This series is based on an essay that I have written which you can find at www.wisejargon.com/docs/theunraveling.pdf. In that essay I lay out my thoughts as concisely as I can, with a full series of references endnotes (28 for those with a scholarly bent). In this series of posts, I wish to expand on the original essay, and make it easier to digest via social media.
I also wish to invite a discussion on this topic. To do so, please see my posts at DISQUS.
It’s time that all of us work together to reverse course, and return to that which originally defined the American way of life.
[i] Docherty, George M. (1984) I’ve Seen the Day, p. 160. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI.