Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs was more positive; he diplomatically suggested that the crowd was celebrating the miracle of those who survived.
Presidents are the leading spokesmen for the American civil religion. In times of war, sorrow and tragedy, they are expected to address the nation and find the proper words to unite citizens. The presidents usually turn to the Bible to express their sentiments, as Obama did twice in his speech in Tucson:
Scripture tells us:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, "When I looked for light, then came darkness."
As George W. Bush did in his speech responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11:
Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a Power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23:Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.
As Bill Clinton did in his speech responding to the bombing in Oklahoma City:
Let us teach our children that the God of comfort is also the God of righteousness: Those who trouble their own house will inherit the wind.
As St. Paul admonished us, Let us "not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
It embodies the lesson of the Psalms -- that the life of a good person is like a tree whose leaf does not wither.
Right now, religious services--especially Christian ones--still provide the models and sources for the American civil religion. As the nation, especially the young generation, becomes less religious, however, we need new models for public ceremonies. Today or tomorrow a pep rally may capture the positive spirit of the American people more directly than a traditional church service that appeals to Christian scripture.
If giant foam fingers suggest that America is #1in lending a hand to the victims of the Tucson tragedy then why not encourage the new civil religion to flourish?