Yesterday (June 6th) was the 68th Anniversary of the historic allied D-Day invasion of Normandy.
For a fascinating glimpse into how much has changed in the United States since that time (the course of but one lifetime), one can review FDR’s speech to the Nation given on June 6, 1944.
I have reprinted the speech in its entirety below.
What is striking to someone of our era is how overtly religious FDR’s speech is. Indeed, it is a prayer – and a fairly traditional one at that.
I am curious as to why so much has changed since that time. How could a nation reared in such an environment come to accept such a particularly sharp turn toward secularization in but a generation?
In my post on “For Greater Glory,” I raised similar questions. How could so thoroughly Catholic a nation give birth to a government that proceeds to declare war on the Catholic Church? I have long believed that such violent reactions against the Catholic Church in predominantly Catholic countries can be explained, in part, by the closeness with which the Church was associated with the government and ruling classes (see, e.g., France, Spain). Opposition to the government and ruling classes spills over into opposition to the institutional Church.
But such an explanation would be inapplicable to the situation in the U.S.
Over the same period of time, racism (at least in its overt forms) has become taboo, but there are explanations for this. The undeniable (and televised) injustices visited upon blacks in the Deep South certainly played a large role here.
Again, I do not see any parallel explanation with regard to shifting religious opinions.
So what motivated the fairly seismic shift away from religious expressions in the public square? What did religion “do wrong” between 1944 and our present day? If anything, organized religion was on the right side of history in the minds of most people for most of this era: it opposed the Vietnam War, and supported Civil Rights.
[FDR’s speech now follows.]
My Fellow Americans:
Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt – June 6, 1944