Here’s one thing Presidents Bush and Obama have in common: both had the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” featured at key points in their presidencies. But how did a song with such clear sectional roots become an “American hymn”? As we commemorate the Civil War, the song’s history sheds light on key aspects of who we are as Americans.
When Barack Obama addressed the “Trayvon Martin ruling” Friday, he did more than offer his “thought and prayers” to the family of Martin, applaud them for their “incredible grace and dignity,” and narrate a history of racial surveillance that often leaves African Americans frustrated and even afraid. The president did more than acknowledge that the democratic judicial system had done its work, urge demonstrations to be peaceful, and call for close evaluations of “stand your ground” laws.
Obama took a moment where the nation was viciously debating its most cherished values through the death of a child and cast a vision for a better future through other children.
In the opening scenes of World War Z, a news montage assaults the viewer. Clips document epidemics, wolves, global warming, reality television, pundits and others forms of dangerous nature. They evoke a world in seeming decline, in which one pivotal moment could lead to the global disaster from which we might not recover. Chaos and inevitable decline set the tone for the film.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s marriage decisions, debates about the effects on religious groups have dominated the religious blogosphere. “Gay marriage fight now becomes a religious liberty fight,” claims the headline of one Washington Examiner column. Behind such headlines lies a far less univocal history, and no doubt a much more complicated present reaction among religious communities. From this perspective, the fight for marriage equality has always been deeply engaged in religion.
Along with fireworks and barbecue, the fourth of July has traditionally been an occasion for speeches that blend thanksgiving for military sacrifices with some appeal to divine favor for America. Last year President Obama continued this tradition with his speech from the White House.