It is hard to take this cliché literally when it is uttered by public officials in the U.S., after a tragedy such as last Monday’s knife-attack on students at Ohio State University. Interviewed on CNN, politicians, police and others in positions of responsibility feel obliged to make such politically correct statements, whether they are believers or not. But it is doubtful that even believers among them would actually take time out to pray for the victims – and – as they do not forget to add, their families (how touching ! Sorry, but they are seeking popularity, if not votes. OK, OK – some of them may be sincere, but they ought to find a less hackneyed, more credible way of saying it.)
This real or feigned religiosity is essentially an American phenomenon. Whatever their personal convictions, public figures in most other countries would never make such an explicit reference to religion in similar circumstances. But in the U.S. religion is omnipresent. For example, “prayer breakfasts” (!) feature clergymen who open an early morning political gathering with the “Saying of Grace”, which is in fact a discourse ostensibly addressed to God but in fact promoting and praising the politician who is the guest speaker. When said speaker has delivered his spiel to the assembled businessmen, after the OJ, coffee, donuts and danish, it will almost certainly end with “God bless America”.
Eulogies at funerals, especially in military cemeteries, are positively drenched in sentimental expressions of piety, meant to reassure people that though the corpse is dead its “soul” is not, to make people “feel good” about the deceased’s death as well as . . . their inevitable own, and to create a sense of shared values, the first of which is “In God We Trust”.
Donations collected at prayer-breakfasts and other political rallies will not include the one-dollar greenback, which bears this national Act of Faith. No one would dare put anything less than a $20 note in the basket. Fifties and hundreds are more common. When I attended such early morning rituals in the States (at one of which, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the guest was the Vice-President of the United States, Spiro Agnew !), I could not help thinking of priests on Sunday who tell people they prefer “silent” collections – too many people offer coins, which are hardly worthy as offerings to promote the “good works” of the Church. But the businessmen who fork out a fifty at a political prayer-breakfast often think they are being generous in offering a five at Mass. No doubt they feel there is a better R.O.I. (Return on Investment) investing in politics than religion. I can’t blame them.