Are Americans a religious people? Most of them claim a belief in God, so perhaps that means that the answer is yes. However, one might reasonably conclude that this belief extends only to the limits of their own desires and activities, and is not so much binding as advisory. Oh, there is a Commandment against adultery, for example, but that has limited application, and pertains principally to the primitive people to whom it was given. Lying is wrong, absolutely. If you work for the government, however, your work is so important, and so beneficial to the people, that lying may be necessary to accomplish it, and thus can be a positive good when prudently employed. So perhaps Americans are not so much religious, as tolerant of religion insofar as it presents no obstacles to their actions.

What cynicism! It dawned on me the other day at Church that Americans are, in fact, profoundly and deeply religious.

The Catholic liturgy contains many feasts dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. On any of those days, you are apt to hear, in the sermon, reference to Mary’s "Yes." When suddenly confronted with an angel, who announced that she would have a son, who would be called Son of the Most High, Mary must have been puzzled, if not frightened. And because she "knew not" man, her pregnancy would come about by her being "overshadowed by the Holy Spirit." What could that mean? Her mind must have raced with worrisome concerns, including thoughts of the ridicule that might be heaped upon her when she was found, a single teen-age girl, to be with child. Her faith, however, overcame her fears. "Be it done unto me according to thy world." This was Mary’s "yes," and it is presented to us often as a model for Christian behavior. We are, like Mary, to place ourselves in voluntary subjugation to the will of the Deity, placing our lives in His service. And that is precisely what Americans do, although not in service to Him, but The State.

Consider their behavior: Although a hard-working people, Americans turn over a substantial part of their earnings to him who must be obeyed. They subjugate themselves to his will. At a deserted intersection they stop until a red light turns green, because that is what he orders. When told to do so, they will leave home and family and go wherever directed, and do whatever told, including killing people, or being killed, if need be, to accomplish his purpose. They will avoid people they would like to mingle with, and associate with those they would rather avoid, when they perceive it to be his will that they do so. They will not transport gasoline in unapproved containers because it displeases him. They will pay any workers that they may hire according to his guidelines, and see that the workplace conforms to his preferences. Although he had nothing to do with the production of any good, any profit from the sale of that good will be shared with him: it is his will. Any thoughts may be broadcast freely, but according to his guidelines, of course. Do not water your lawn on days when he forbids it.

Mr. Modern American, like Mary, has given his "yes" to the deity. Oh, it’s not that old guy with the white beard on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel! That was OK in its time, but this is the 21st century, for Pete’s sake! People were superstitious in those days; today people are practical, rational, down-to-earth realists who recognize the simple logic of bending one’s knee to one’s fellow man if he’s elected or appointed. And it doesn’t matter if Mr. Modern American didn’t actually vote for him, or for the person who appointed him: one doesn’t question these things in giving one’s "yes" to a demand for unquestioning obedience. It was OK back then to give one’s life to the service of an invisible God who demanded that we love one another, and expected us to do it. Today, however, we have real honest-to-goodness guys in expensive suits who expect us not only to love our fellow men, but to prove it by sending them billions in aid of one form or another. Now THAT’s a deity! And modern Americans have given him their heartfelt "yes!"

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.