This history reminds us that our public religion is, in large measure, an invention of the modern era. The ceremonies and symbols that breathe life into the belief that we are “one nation under God” were not, as many Americans believe, created alongside the nation itself. Their parentage stems not from founding fathers but from an era much closer to our own, the era of our own fathers and mothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers. This fact need not diminish their importance; fresh traditions can be more powerful than older ones adhered to out of habit. Nevertheless, we do violence to our past if we treat certain phrases — “one nation under God,” “In God We Trust” — as sacred texts handed down to us from the nation’s founding. Instead, we are better served if we understand these utterances for what they are: political slogans that speak not to the origins of our nation but to the specific point in its not-so-distant past. If they are to mean anything to us now, we should understand what they meant then.