America was founded mostly by people who were motivated by religious faith. And throughout our history we find this uneasy but deep connection between religion and the state.
It took some time for our founders to get there, but eventually they recognized the need to write into the Constitution a protection of religious freedom and a prohibition against the establishment of a state-sponsored faith.
And yet many of our national songs or hymns are marinated in religious language and concepts.
This weekend is a good time to think about all of that because it was on Feb. 3, 1832, that a young Baptist seminary student named Samuel Francis Smith wrote the words to "America," also known as "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."
The last verse is particularly steeped in religious thought:
Our fathers' God, to thee, author of liberty, to thee we sing; long may our land be bright with freedom's holy light; protect us by thy might, great God, our King.
Even our official national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," when you get to rarely sung later verses, is steeped in faith. Here's verse four:
O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov'd homes and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
None of this means that in this increasingly pluralistic religious country we should be encouraging governmental promotion of religious texts or, heaven forbid, that we should adopt anything like the flag shown here today. But it does mean that our history is soaked with religious thought, language and motivation, and you can't understand America if you don't understand at least that.
* * *
HOW TO WATCH THE SUPER BOWL WITH FAITH
And speaking of America's religious heritage, there is the national religion of football. Religion News Service offers this guidance for how Christians might want to approach the game and whether God cares. If God really does care, I'm going to be pretty disappointed in God.