Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
Some believe that the United States is held together by a common creed. What marries our “pluribus” to our “unum,” they argue, is a common commitment to a shared "American idea."
I am not so sure. Americans may agree on certain values such as “liberty” and “equality” but we disagree fiercely about what these keywords mean and how to weigh one against the other.
What holds us together are rituals.
As I observed in my book "The American Bible," Americans come together - like rabbis in the Talmud - to argue about our core texts, trying to divine what Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” might have to tell us about affirmative action or what King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” might have to say about the separation of church and state. And as long as that argument is civil and informed, it serves to unite the nation.
Another rite of our republic is the election itself, where we put our arguments on the table and let the voters decide. But this ritual is only unifying if both sides accept the outcome and manage to be gracious in both victory and defeat.
Last night we saw a lot of gloating from ebullient Democrats. We also saw an ungracious loser, in Donald Trump, who as the scales were falling from the eyes of Romney supporters tweeted: "We can't let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!"
But in the key players in this election — President Obama and Gov. Romney — we saw something else. We saw men who, for the moment at least, put country above party.
Especially in recent years, it is easy to see the United States as a house divided, a nation of culture warriors denouncing their political opponents as enemies of the state. But woven throughout U.S. history is a great tradition of conciliation that has sought to calm what George Washington referred to as the “mischiefs of the spirit of party.”
In an era in which many citizens referred to their respective colonies as their “countries,” Patrick Henry rose before the First Continental Congress in 1774 and declared, “I am not a Virginian — I am an American.”
After his victory in the bitterly fought election of 1800, an electoral college tie broken only after 35 ballots in the House, Thomas Jefferson struck a note of bipartisanship in his first inaugural address. “We are all Republicans,” he said. “We are all Federalists.”
In 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, Lincoln concluded his first inaugural address with: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”
Closer to our own time, there is Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, pledging his allegiance not to blue states or red states but to the United States. And there is George W. Bush, after the closest and most contentious presidential election since 1800, saying in 2000, “Our nation must rise above a house divided. ... Republicans want the best for our nation. And so do Democrats.”
Early Wednesday morning morning, we saw the unifying spirit of this great tradition of conciliation in the words of Romney and Obama.
“At a time like this," Romney said in his gracious concession speech, "we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work.”
He added that he was looking to Democrats and Republicans alike “to put the people before the politics.”
In his acceptance speech, which he addressed to his “American family,” Obama referred to the United States as “one nation” and “one people,” a country where “it doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight.”
But he also lauded our political diversity, referring to the arguments we have not as a mark of our division but as “a mark of our liberty.”
Obama thanked those who worked for his re-election and those who worked to elect his opponent. Then, returning to the signature theme of what many still see as his signature public utterance (his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech), he concluded: "We remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”
A few years ago, an Indian economist wrote a book called "The Argumentative Indian." You might imagine that this book would be a lamentation on how the tremendous diversity in India is driving that nation apart. Instead it is a celebration of a political tradition that not only exhibits intellectual diversity but embraces its argumentative nature as a strength.
I see the United States in a similar light. Our arguments and our elections bring us together, but only if those arguments are civil and the winners and losers on Election Day remember that the reason we vote is not to coronate one party but to govern an increasingly diverse country.
I am not naive. I know that things are going to get nasty again, probably sooner rather than later. Republicans are already arguing that this election was not a mandate, and Democrats are already insisting that it was.
But when we find ourselves back in the muck and mire of petty partisanship, when our politicians once again mistake anger for strength, it is good to remember these brief, shining moments when, as John F. Kennedy once put it, "civility is not a sign of weakness" and our common life seems more important than the "mischiefs" of our parties.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
An now for some reality. How are we going to pay off our $16 trillion debt? Said election did nothing to solve the problem. Even Romney had no answers.
One great starting point is to get rid of all religions putting the money currently spent supporting these outdated beliefs towards paying off our national debt.
There never were and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam and therefore no more koranic-driven acts of horror and terror LIKE 9/11.
– One trillion dollars over the next several years as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will end.
– Eighteen billion dollars/yr to Pakistan will stop.
– Four billion dollars/yr to Egypt will end.
There were never any bodily resurrections and there will never be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!
– The Mormon ti-the empire will now become taxable as will all Christian "religions" and evangelical non-profits since there is no longer any claim to being a tax-exempt religion.
– the faith-based federal projects supported by both Bush and Obama will be eliminated saving $385 million/yr and another $2 billion/yr in grants.
– Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:
Abraham and Moses never existed.
– Four billion dollars/yr to Israel saved.
– All Jewish sects and non-profits will no longer be tax exempt.
Total debt paydown: $ one trillion twenty-nine billion in one year alone !!! Now we are getting somewhere.
Well, what we should do. To solve the debt. situation. is tax churches and mosques and ah...you know the temples. so that's a log. right there. Then legalize pot and tax the sale Of the pot. And you know...we have a start.
Oh and i forgot.....more cowbell !
Portho is a pos
So is the Romney loss a blow to the Mormon cult?
I actually see it as a win for them in many ways, and I suspect it is another harbinger of doom for Evangelicals.
There is another force vying for the cash of simpletons, and I suspect the shall be putting a dent into the coffers of the Protestants for some time.
Does anyone have a total cult count?
A breakdown of both houses, and which belief systems lost or gained represenatives?
yes, this election cycle was a big win for the LDS Church. It has legitimized them more than anything else since their acceptance of monogamous marriage.
Even the Billy Graham Evangelical Association stopped calling them heretics. (It's amazing how payola works.)
The result is that they are now effectively a religion of equal standing with other Christian sects. Mitt Romney (and his donors) accomplished at least that much for his church.
LOL – Now you're trying to make elections a religion too! Well, they do beg for money like churches...
Ancient Egyptians appeased their heathen gods by sacrificing fruits, vegetables and animals. I would be against human sacrifice however.
Ancient Prostitues appeased their pimps by masterbating with fruits, vegetables and animals.
HOMM, calling other peoples gods heathen is totally disrespectful. Your (judeo/christian) god is an abomination of the peaceful spirit.
Single tips bonus:50 kiss, 100 booby kiss, 200 pussy kiss. Highest tip squirt show and anal.
In past lives, various forms of fasting and flagellation or self-flagellation have been used to appease God.
I practice self-flatulation all the time. Sometimes I share with other too!
I am going to vote for Obama. I feel he is far more qualified than Romney. Hope there is a good turnout!
Hey Christians, I found your god! It is at the museum of who gives a fuck located up my ass.
Once again the military has spoken.
The counties by many of the major army bases have voted majority Democrat. Just like last time.
Fort Bragg, NC; Fort Benning, GA; Fort Carson, CO; and Fort Jackson, SC as just examples.
God will surely punish our great nation for giving the heathen Kenyan four more years. Superstorm Sandy was a warning and the people did not listen. Superstorm Sandy was only the tip of the iceberg.
God will surely not punish our great nation for giving the Kenyan four more years. Superstorm Sandy was a warning and the people listened. Superstorm Sandy would have only been the tip of the iceberg.
The hurricane was the tip of an iceberg. Brilliant.
Superstorm Sandy, a warning?
To elect Romney?
Or to elect Obama?
How do you tell?
Ya it was a warning, for states to stop squandering their levy money, and use it for what its freaking for,levies.
Christian parents, Muslim parents, Jewish parents, Mormon parents and and parents of Eastern relgions. You are all child abusers and should be punished by fine or imprisonment or both. Stop the mental abuse. Let your children be free to think and discover.
E Pluribus Unum isn't a creed. It is our national motto. Just because some religious freaks in the 50s decided that we needed another one doesn't make that any less important. If anything it makes it MORE important. We are a secular nation, period. We are NOT a nation under god. We are a nation of people and states united for a common good. We are literally a many become one.
As soon as we can get rid of these silly fairy tales we can finally move forward as a human race and embrace the age of reason.
You cannot use logic on fundamentalists. Their version of reality does not conform to the laws of physics or relativity.
So ... after a nice concession speech from Mitt Romney, and a nice speech from our President, what do Boehner, McConnell and Cantor say?
McConnell was anything but concilliatory and ready to work with the Democrats in the senate. He signed the Norquist pledge and is up for reelection at the 2014 mid-term.
The Republicans in Congress need to do their jobs and govern – for the people, NOT the party.
They need to stop being the party of "no".
The fillibuster needs to be an exception, not a daily practice in the Senate.
The Norquist pledge needs to be revoked.
We need to return to 'Government of the people, by the people, for the people' instead of the Republicans' recent version: Government of the people by thralls of the lobbists for the 1%" which needs to end NOW!
The House and Senate Republicans have control of this and they need to be responsible to the nation – not the special interests like the Koch Brothers.
Return to? 'Government of the people, by the people, for the people'
Perhaps I misunderstood, but almost half of the people voted for the other guy.
Of course, but in principle, government functions (or not, as the case may be) for all of the people – not just the ones who voted for those in office.
Me II, "almost" only counts in Horse shoes, Hand Grenades and Thermo-nuclear devices. Just because a number of states now have skewed numbers of representatives in the House thanks to being required to count the Illegal Aliens living there (while denying them everything else), those same individuals will do whatever they think they must to deny the will of the people to find solutions. Their idea of Compromise is for the Democrats to come over to their way of thinking, not to sit down and hammer out differences and embrace similarities. While Democrats are willing to cut programs, until Republicans show any willingness to disobey their master, Grover Norquist, there will be no compromise.
Not that I agree with the GOP tactics, but one could argue that Obama set the tone for compromise with Affordable Care (Obamacare). That was pretty much a party line railroad vote.
One could argue that the Dems idea of compromise is complete control of both houses... anything less just allows Repubs to obstruct their "compromise".
@Joe from CT, not Lieberman,
So the representatives in congress shouldn't pay attention to the 'almost' half of their consti.tuents that voted the other way?
"We won, you lost." eh? Nice compromise.
in 2008 candidate Obama ran on the issue of health care for all. It was an election promise and he kept it.
The people of the United States gave him a mandate – the presidency, the senate and the house. He exercised the mandate and kept his promise. This was not an example of "railroading" legislation. The idea that anything was "railroaded" was a fabrication of the GOP who tried to stop the will of the people and their marketing wing – Fox News.
Politics should be the art of the compromise – you give and you get. Republicans refused to engage in the productive path. When high ranking congressional Republicans state that their mission is to make a President a one-term President, they are putting politics before the people. That is not what they were elected to do.
Ever since 2008 Republicans have been unwilling to compromise. They have been the party of "no". This has exaccerbated the polarization we see. Yesterday the people rejected this approach. Not by much, I'll grant you.
Mandate? 52.9% of "the people" gave him a mandate. He is the President of all the people not just those who voted for him.
I would suggest that any time you need a super-majority in order to get your bill passed you're not working in a bipartisan manner. (wasn't that another 'mandate' by 'the people' or promise, "unity over division"?)
it takes two to tango. The GOP said "no".
I find it interesting that if you choose a red or blue state and look at each county in the state the blue counties have large cities while the red ones are more rural. Obama was elected by people who live in our large cities. I wonder what makes people who live in large cities more liberal than those who live in more rural areas, or what makes folks who live in more rural areas more conservative?
at the risk of being overly simplistic, people in rural communities (let's just say farmers) tend to be more self-sufficient and self-reliant. City folk have to live together. That is the essence of your question.
Rural bumpkins with no sense
In the pre-internet days, folks in rural areas were also less likely to be exposed to multiple political sides of issues in their media.
Here is one major interesting note for you. Prior to the late 60s, Southern Whites were more likely to be Democrats while Southern Blacks were more likely to be Republicans. This tended to reflect the way the South had been since the end of Reconstruction. After Nixon introduced his "Southern Strategy", the old Dixiecrat wing of the Democratic party went Republican, in retaliation to LBJ's Great Society, Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation. Because of this, Southern Blacks started gravitating more towards the Democratic Party as the national organization appeared to be more welcoming to the Black vote than the Republican party had become.
Thanks to the anti-intellectual strain of the Republican Party (started in the 50s as a reaction to Adlai Stevenson) their party regulars started paying less and less attention to all sides of an issue, and encouraged their people to see everything in terms of black and white (not necessarily in a racial way). They found fresh ground with John Birch Society, the Galt Society, the Ku Klux Klan and other right-wing, anti-intellectual organizations, opposing things like national education standards.
Also, those "self-reliant" farmers mentioned appear to be more than willing to accept Federal payments for agreeing to not grow certain crops, or to limit their yields to acceptable levels, instead of allowing the market to determine yield and price. And if they were as self-reliant as claimed, why would just about all of them purchase "crop insurance" from the Federal Government, like my ex's step-father (a good Republican)?
Nice theory, but it has no relation to reality. Obama won in the rural states of Iowa, MInnesota, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Colorada, and New Mexico. It's really really hard to think of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont as anything but rural.
Moreover, 79% of the American population lives in urban areas, and only 21% in rural areas. That isn't even close to the vote tally.
You simplify too much.
Anyone else think the ti tle of the article falls into the duh category?
Actually, I thought is was inaccurate. A "rite", to me, usually indicates a ritual to symbolize something, but in actuality does nothing., usually religious in nature.
Elections are the basic work of we citizens, it is the evidence of our collective choosing. It is not symbolic and not religious (other than a general reverence and solemnity).
However, I do agree with Prothero's respect and honoring of the civility with which our country make its tough decisions.
My "rite" is for you to shut the hell up. Already. It is 2pm, can't anyone get any sleep here?
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
There is only one honest impulse at the bottom of Puritanism, and that is the impulse to punish the man with a superior capacity for happiness.
We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.
The worst government is the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.
The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.
As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. (Achieved in 2000, repeated in 2004)
A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in.
Prayer changes things
Prayer failed miserably yesterday. Only dopes would say nope.
Apparently, Mormon prayers do not.
Mormons are not Christians so their prayers are in vain . More than that prayer was not an election issue as poor leadership is Gods curse on a nation. There can be no failure of prayer as in fact most Christians did not vote having either an anti- Christ cultist or baby murdering, pansy endorsing Muslim to choose between.
tbt. You twist yourself in knots trying to justify your clearly ridiculous position. What part of god's will don't you understand? Or is it really that god does not exist and therefore has no power to do the things you say?
Christian Mourdock . . . got his ass handed to him for his good Christian comments on God's role in rape pregnancies.
Good Christian Akin . . . got pummelled because of his freakish Christian views on rape and pregnancy.
Two states passed gay marriage.
Prayer failed yesterday. You can continue to play your denial game, but it won't help. Your prayer theory failed miserably yesterday.
"Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
"Salvatore" degenerates to:
"Douglas" degenerates to:
"truth be told" degenerates to:
"Thinker23" degenerates to:
"Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
"another repentant sinner" degenerates to:
"Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
"tina" degenerates to:
"captain america" degenerates to:
"Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
"Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
"just sayin" degenerates to:
"ImLook'nUp" degenerates to:
"Kindness" degenerates to:
"Chad" degenerates to
"Bob" degenerates to
"nope" degenerates to:
"2357" degenerates to:
"WOW" degenerates to:
"fred" degenerates to:
"!" degenerates to:
This troll is not a christian.
You are a loser, yesterdays results were just another proof and truth be told, actually truth be made up, that goes for you also. LOL Hahahaha.
Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.
An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.
@truth be told
Intresting that your self proclaimed anti-christ managed to carry all the bible belt states and did so not because they embrace Mormons but because they are hypocrites whose beliefs are shallow and cheap available to the highest bidder. You and your peers are a disgusting lot, bigotry is not dead in your souls. You make real christiams cringe to call you brothers and sisters.
Read and learn REAL Christians did not vote.
And we hope that all you REAL Scots . . . Christians continue to not vote. Good choice. Good thinking.
The evangelicals are having a hard time understanding and accepting equal rights and that their God has nothing to do with other people's freedoms.
Given a choice between an anti – Christ cultist and a Muslim abortionist and pansy supporter most evangelicals chose an option to not vote.
Ralph Reed says otherwise:
"Ralph Reed, the leader of conservative group the Faith & Freedom Coalition, planned a Wednesday morning press conference to release his data about what he called the enduring influence of “values voters.”
“Preliminary evidence is they turned out and they voted heavily for Romney,” Reed said in an e-mail message Tuesday night."
Check your math, or check your propoganda
Evangelical voter turnout was HUGE. Looking like the highest ever.
Once 2016 roles around, and the candidates are most likely both white, the Fundies will crawl back under their bloody altars and be lost into the sands of history.
This election was the DEATH of the movement, and you know it.
The status of ralph reed has been a matter of some debate between legitimate Christians for some time now. Poor leadership is Gods curse on a nation and if nothing else this election was a race to the bottom.
well I have to agree with you there. Ralph Reed may not have been convicted of a crime, but morally bankrupt might be a useful adjective.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.