President Biden’s inauguration ceremony was full of symbolism and imponderables. Tension in the air dominated the empty mall as thousands of National Guard troops surrounded the Capitol. The scene was marked not with somber solemnity but nervous inquietude in the face of a divided nation.
One curious observation about the ceremony was its profoundly religious overtones. From beginning to end, the speakers invoked God. They invoked the Christian God and none other. For a secular government that does not officially recognize God, this presidential inauguration called upon God unapologetically. For those who rabidly proclaim the separation of Church and State, the religious note firmly fused to this civil ceremony must have seemed unconstitutional.
Surrounded by Christian Imagery
The new president surrounded himself in Christian imagery as he began his term. He appeared at Mass in Washington’s St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Later, Father Leo J. O’Donovan III, a Jesuit priest and former president of Georgetown University, delivered the inaugural invocation. Rev. Silvester Beaman, the pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Del., gave a benediction. After the new president’s speech, Garth Brooks sang “Amazing Grace.”
During his speech, President Biden made Christian references that were more than just passing comments. He cited Saint Augustine with a simplified version of his definition of a people, quoted Scripture, and led the small crowd in a minute of silent prayer for America and those who died of COVID. The new president spoke about his “sacred oath before God.” He swore using an old family bible. Like all political speeches, the address ended, asking that God bless America and the troops.
From a historical perspective, the inaugural ceremony was not uncommon. American inaugurations have always been profoundly religious and Christian. Traditionally, politicians have turned a blind eye to what some might consider constitutional issues and satisfied the desires of an America that even today remains deeply religious.
Nevertheless, this inauguration with so many religious overtones was different because of three contradictions. Perhaps the tension in the air in part reflected these contradictions. In the emptiness of the mall, there was no sensation of blessings celebrated by all. The militarized zone manifested none of the trust that is so fundamental to religion.
Invoking God Yet Ignoring His Law
The first of the contradictions was that the inaugural ceremony participants constantly invoked God. Yet, everyone knows that this new administration, spurred by its most radical supporters, will solemnly ignore God’s Law as summarized in the Ten Commandments. It is no secret that the Biden campaign platform was the most anti-Christian program ever proposed in an American general election.
President Biden is at odds with Divine Law in key areas like procured abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and the LGBTQ+ agenda. Moreover, he has pledged to advance these causes more than any other president. In addition to these Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Commandment issues, the radical left has promised to push the president and the country toward an ever more socialist position, involving the Seventh and Tenth Commandments. Many Catholics fear government regulations will soon prevent them from practicing the Faith (which touches on the First and Third Commandments).
Thus, in the face of an agenda that looms threateningly upon the horizon, there is cynical contradiction in these invocations—a Second and Eighth Commandments issue. All should invoke God. Yet can those who invoke God while ignoring His Law expect to be heard? Indeed, what can the nation expect with these invocations if it heads further down the path of sin and iniquity?
Liberal Imagery Does Not Attract
The second contradiction was why those subscribing to a liberal agenda did not use liberal imagery at the inauguration. It would have reflected their views more accurately. Indeed, 2020 was a year filled with such liberal imagery and symbolism. However, there were no BLM symbols or rainbow flags at the Capitol.
If the liberal agenda is so attractive, then the inauguration should have been a celebration of every leftist cause and ideal. It should have been a “woke” repudiation of tradition, imbued as it is with “systemic racism.”
Yet all the traditional symbols and Christian invocations remained in place because they touch the American soul so profoundly. Secular society invokes no benevolent God. Its idols are the cold and frenetically intemperate gods of materialism, individualism and technology. The deities of political correctness are cruel and unforgiving.
The return to tradition only highlights the bankruptcy of liberal ideas. They do not and cannot capture the imagination of the American people.
Finally, the continued use of the religious invocations only proves that these supplications are effective and true. They reflect centuries of Christian worship in which God aided those who called upon Him. Such traditions endure because most Americans have experienced God’s bounty and mercy.
Thus, the invocations at the inauguration ceremony have their foundation in reality. The secular creed tries to turn them into formulas and conventions that have little meaning. In this reduction to empty words, practiced by both left and right, America has lost its moral compass.
This is not a judgment upon the individuals making the invocations but of the context in which they took place. America is a sinful nation and cannot expect God’s mercy without repentance and observance of His Law, regardless of who asks.
The inauguration lesson is that those who ignore God’s law cannot expect unity, the theme of the presidential address. There will instead be the discord, silence and tension symbolized by the empty mall guarded by troops.
There is an implicit acknowledgment on the left that the use of Christian imagery is attractive and powerful. It reveals the radical left’s weakness since it can never have ideals and imagery that can compare to those informed by the Catholic adoration of Almighty God. It cannot expect to receive His bounty and mercy unless it follows His Divine Law.
The religious inauguration also points to the strength of those who still believe and trust in God. Americans must return to God. If they do, they will find out, by direct experience, how faithful Jesus is to His promise: “Seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matt. 6:33).