We’ve all heard the phrase, “One Nation Under God,” but do we know where it started and what it really means, and does it have any relevance to American life today, or is it just some trite saying made up by some old white men, that is totally meaningless in today’s “progressive” society? In the answer to these questions we find the solution to our nation’s most current and pressing issues.
Let’s first take a look at where it started.
Though the phrase, “under God” can be found in many of the writings of our founding era, we can make particular note of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address where he dedicated a burial place of fallen soldiers to a new birth of freedom, “under God.” Here’s an excerpt:
“…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Then, in 1954 the phrase “under God” was added to our Pledge of Allegiance after President Eisenhower was inspired to do so by a sermon he heard in church.
Next, we can go to the motto stamped on all our coinage, “E Pluribus Unum” or “Out of Many, One.” This first appeared on the great seal of the United States in 1782. It has since been one of the traditional mottos of our land.
From these two ideas we get the ideal—One Nation Under God.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
The word “nation” signifies a group of people. According to dictionary.com: “a large body of people, associated with a particular territory, that is sufficiently conscious of its unity to seek or to possess a government peculiarly its own. The idea that we are one nation suggests that we are a group of people that identify as Americans. It is that name, symbolized by one flag that unites us.
Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech to the Knights of Columbus in New York City at a time when many were migrating to the U.S. from Europe, (Oct. 12, 1915). Roosevelt said:
“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all.”
This is just as true of the man who puts ‘native’ before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French (or African, or Hispanic1) before the hyphen. Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance. But if he is heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as anyone else…The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities…”
The idea that we identify as one people above all others does not negate our cultural or ethnic differences, but it makes those differences subordinate to the unity we find as Americans committed to the ideals expressed in our founding documents.
Abraham Lincoln reminded us, and world history confirms the Biblical truth that a house divided cannot stand. The term “Balkanization” has been entered into our modern lexicon to describe what happens when this unity is lost. The natural state of societies is in fact, Balkanization or “tribalism.” The fact that we have progressed as one nation for over four hundred years is the exception, not the rule, and in that regard, we are, in fact, an exceptional nation.
Foreign enemies like China and Russia whose systems are antithetical to liberty understand what Abraham Lincoln noted as a young man, that this nation will never be conquered by an outside force; if we fail as a nation it will be because we have committed national suicide.*
The “American” banner must be the banner we rally around. The American identity must be the one we all identify with. We must be “one Nation, not many nations or groups, or tribes.
The phrase “Under God” has been part of our nation’s DNA from its very founding. The signing of the Mayflower Compact was the first time in world history that a nation was formed by mutual agreement of free people. In that first organic document, the new arrivals stated why they came here: “For the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian religion.” Throughout our history, it has always been a given fact that our liberties have derived from God’s laws. In that sense, we have always been “under God,” accountable to Him and responsible to live according to His instructions as we come to understand them in the Holy Bible. Even Thomas Jefferson, one of the least religious of our founders warned us when he said,
“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
Thomas Jefferson recognized that we must remain, “under God” if we are to continue as a nation of free men and women. We may debate what it means to be under God; we may debate what God’s will is for us; we may debate how His laws should apply to modern life, but we dare not debate whether we are, in fact, under God and subject to His sovereignty unless we are ready to surrender our liberty.
So there you have it. The answer to so many of our nation’s ills. It is the answer to our racial and ethnic strife. It is the answer to our sexual and moral confusion. It is the way to continue to grow into that more perfect union envisioned by our founders. So let us raise the banner of our unity above the banners of our diversity, reaffirming once again, that we are One Nation Under God, and we will find that peace and prosperity promised to us by the Author of life himself so that we may pass it on to the next generation.
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.”—Psalm 33:12
* Young Men’s Lyceum