CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Irving Berlin's
"God Bless America" is one our nation's great patriotic tunes, a song that is a marvelous celebration of the small and large mysteries of our national character. It shimmers with a sacredness, a flag-waving spirit without any mention of bombs bursting in air or terrible swift swords. It stirred our souls and raised our spirits during the darkest days of World War II. And again after 9/11, when Senators stood on the Capitol steps and spontaneously sang the words, "God Bless America" to rally their shocked and stricken countrymen.
Now the Christian right has stolen that beautiful tune, the enlightened hymn that has given Americans strength to confront a restless and sometimes hostile world. The uplifting poetics have been rewritten into something darker -- the lyrics have been changed to say America lacks the qualities of blessedness, that this kind-hearted, generous, freedom-loving nation deserves only mercy as a sinful, wretched, vile land.
The new words show no reverence or joy for the homeland. They fail to see any goodness or greatness in everyday life in the United States, a basic goodness that is America's best quality, the quality of home, sweet home that looms so large and shines so brightly. No, the Christian right sees this:
"Why should God bless America?
She's forgotten He exists
And has turned her back on everything
That made her what she is.
Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sins and heal our land."
Plunderbund has caught the choir of the Springfield Church of God on YouTUBE singing every verse of the revised right wing version. They conjured up a sinful landscape at a Values Voters conference earlier this week in Fort Lauderdale. They knocked their country, the greatest and kindest and biggest-hearted on Earth. They sang out like fools bowing before a golden calf that America "has turned her back on everything that made her what she is."
By uttering that verse, the right shows it cannot find the heart of America with a lifetime of looking.
Yes, America has its flaws and faults. But the good things of life in America far, far outweigh her flaws and faults. This is a nation that spends billions on the sick, and invests billions more to find cures, that has even curbed the biblical scourge of leprosy. This is a nation that spends billions feeding the world -- and debates whether it should spend more. This is a nation that has spilled its own blood in distant deserts, spilled it willingly so far on a mission intended to bring stability and freedom to the Middle East. And yes, Americans have the right to question that mission, or stop it altogether.
The church choir sang of the wickedness of a nation that allows complete freedom of worship -- all denominations and sects can follow the dictates of their faith. This is the nation where millions yearn to be, where humanity has found sanctuary from dictators and despots and Inquisitors, where all seek the opportunity to live freely in the plain light of day.
God has blessed America. He stands beside her. It's the land that I love.