American Idol


”If you don’t believe in any religion and don’t fear the Day of Judgement, at least be FREE in this world.” – Imam Hussain (AS) [Biharul Anwar, Vol. 45, pg. 51]

      To get at the heart of what makes a society unique it is helpful to examine its collective reverence, or put differently, what they as a people hold sacred. Given the unique American experience that does not limit its populous to any one origin or religion, what binds the nation’s collective zeal is its reverence for free institutions and democratic values, or what I will call a ‘civil religion’. The phrase “civil religion” is, of course, Rousseau’s from chapter 8, book 4 of The Social Contract, but if we examine the reverence given to the American political system it will become apparent that this ‘religion’—there seems no other word for it— blurs the distinctions between church and state; in so many ways the state is the church.

     To many it may seem absurd to assert that democracy could be worshiped and held sacred, but the question itself calls on the argument of what actually constitutes a ‘religion’. Indeed, some of the world’s main religions lack a deity so it’s not unfounded that a set of principles can form the core of a faith, although Americans, mostly Christian, have a deity and do not claim to ‘worship’ the tenants of their political system. But where, then, does our concept of bona fide religions end, and our understanding of civil religion begin? Irrespective of what we commonly call a religion or what Americans may claim, the ideals of the forefather ‘demigods’, and the collective zeal Americans hold for such things as the Constitution, clearly demonstrate the religiosity of the state beyond what we may call patriotism.
James Madison and Alexis de Tocqueville, amongst many others, argued that American reverence, in addition to religion, also included ideas about democracy and property. Tocqueville wrote:

“The greatest part of British America was peopled by men who, after having shaken off the authority of the Pope, acknowledged no other religious supremacy: they brought with them into the New World a form of Christianity which I cannot better describe than by styling it a democratic and republican religion.”

Where government ends, and where religion begins is not a new question. Locke, whose ideals held great influence upon the founding fathers, stated:

“by the pretenses of loyalty and obedience to the prince, or of tenderness and sincerity in the worship of God; I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion, and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other.”

While Locke saw the need for religion in a steady government, other influential Enlightenment figures like Voltaire thought religion, especially Orthodox Christianity, was useless to the well being of a government. It can not be dismissed that while Locke was no doubt influential, so were thinkers like Voltaire and Rousseau, and arguably more so along the lines of religion given the similar beliefs they held with many of the forefathers. Voltaire, for example, accompanied his close friend Benjamin Franklin on April 4, 1778 to Loge des Neuf Soeurs in Paris, France to become an initiated Freemason.

     Jean-Jacques Rousseau recognized the unavoidable religious character of law and society in chapter 8, book 4 of The Social Contract, and like Voltaire, deplored the influence of Christianity and Christians on government: “no State has ever been founded without a religious basis [but] the law of Christianity at bottom does more harm by weakening than good by strengthening the constitution of the State.” The problem, Rousseau admits, is that a state and society without religion is impossible. That religion, however, cannot be Christianity because if it is “gospel” (pietistic) it is counterproductive to state interests, and if it is “pagan” (virile) Christianity it is subversive of the state. Rousseau’s solution to this alleged problem is to replace Christianity with a civil religion, “a purely civil profession of faith, of which the Sovereign should fix the articles, not exactly as religious dogma, but as social sentiments without which a man cannot be a good citizen and faithful subject.” That is, since civil government without religion is impossible, and Christianity is counterproductive to or subversive of civil government, the state should have its own self-serving religion for utilitarian purposes.

     But how influential were such ideas on the ‘demigods’ that formed the government of the United States, and did they share such convictions? Educated eighteenth-century Americans commonly believed in reason as a liberator from the history of repressive religion and tyrannical government. This idea won widespread acclaim, was especially fashionable at American colleges, and displaced Orthodox Christianity at Harvard and Yale. In one way or another these religious trends influenced most of the political leaders who designed the new American government. We know that most of them were Deists like Voltaire and Rousseau, and many Freemasons. Their Deism was notably different than Christianity with its view that reason, rather than revelation, should be the basis of any belief in God, and that God would not intervene in His creation. Deists believed that the Bible bore every sign of human counterfeiting or alteration, and was rampant with magic, superstition, irrationality, per-scientific thinking. It is further notable that Freemasonry was a strong influence to many of the era’s influential Deists including Washington, Franklin, Hancock, Hamilton, Lafayette, even Napoleon, and as long as members believed in a Supreme Being, it stressed the principle that men should worship according to their own conscience. Even though Deism is not common today, some of its principles are still continued in the United States in the Masonic order, and presidents and other influential political figures in American history have retained Freemason influence.

      Statements from the founders affirm that their views were consistent with these popular trends. Thomas Jefferson, for example, although he admired the morality of Jesus, did not think him divine, nor did he believe in his miracles. In a letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787, he wrote, “Question with boldness even the existence of a god.” In a letter to Ezra Stiles Ely, June 25, 1819, he wrote, “You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.” John Adams wrote in his A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America [1787-1788]:

“Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretense of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.”

In 1785, James Madison, regarded as the ‘Father of the Constitution’, wrote in his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments:

“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. . . . What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.”

     Other founders were notably anti-Christian in their beliefs. In 1784 Ethan Allen published Reason; the Only Oracle of Man that dismissed the doctrines of Christianity, but perhaps one of the most outspoken American Deists was Thomas Paine, the famous revolutionary author of Common Sense. “The religion of Deism is superior to the Christian Religion. . . . It believes in God, and there it rests. . . . it avoids all presumptuous beliefs and rejects, as the fabulous inventions of men, all books pretending to revelation.” Although many founders denied organized religion, Paine’s The Age of Reason went so far as to state: “Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity.” “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my church.”

     It would stand to reason that such anti-Christian sentiments would compromise the reverence Christian Americans hold for such founders, especially those from the religious right that have asserted that Christianity is the national religion, and have even proposed constitutional amendments to recognize the sovereignty of Christ. It would seem reasonable, but Americans that hold strong convictions about Christianity are often ardent proponents of civil religion as well. Ronald Reagan, for example, referenced Thomas Paine in the close of his “Evil Empire” speech he delivered to the National Association of Evangelicals: “One of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine, said, “We have it within our power to begin the world over again.” We can do it, doing together what no one church could do by itself.”

     An understanding of the founding fathers religious views helps clarify how their concepts of God were carried over into civil religion. Their words and actions, especially the first few presidents, set the tone of the civil religion as we have come to know it, but Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, and other founding fathers with the exception of a few radicals like Tom Paine, never intended to substitute or displace Christianity. Benjamin Franklin wrote in his autobiography:

“These I esteemed the essentials of every religion; and, being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, tho’ with different degrees of respect, as I found them more or less mix’d with other articles, which, without any tendency to inspire, promote or confirm morality.”

The formation of an American civil religion, therefore, is not as clear as the case of the French Revolution that actually attempted to set up an anti-Christian civil religion that has since displaced many traditional Catholic symbols with the symbolism born of 1789. Indeed, the symbol of God is as central the practice of American civil religion as it is to Judaism or Christianity.

     Though much of this civic faith is derived from Christianity, it is clearly not Christian itself. For one thing, Washington, Adams and Jefferson never mentioned Christ in their inaugural address; nor have any of subsequent presidents, although not one fails to mention God. Futhermore, the watchmaker image of God cast in Deism changes in civil religion due to His active interest and involvement in history, with a special concern for America. In Jefferson’s second inaugural address he said: “I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life.” In Washington’s first inaugural address he said:

“It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of man more than those of the United States. Every step by which we have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token providential agency….

The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained…. The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

And Washington’s Farewell Address, although it may have been written by Hamilton, is explicitly religious:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man ought to cherish and respect them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

     Although the mention of God is central to civic religion, the religious sentiments of the founders successfully kept formal religion out of the formation of the new government. For starters, it is interesting that the Constitution does not have a single mention of Christianity, God, Jesus, or any Supreme Being. There are only two references to religion and they both use exclusionary wording. The 1st Amendment’s says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . .” and in Article VI, Section 3, “. . . no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The Treaty of Tripoli from the same era provides further insight to the secular nature of the United States. Article 11 states:

“As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

     James Madison, like Voltaire and Rousseau, reveals in Federalist Paper 10 that he too was weary that the zeal of the people could bring strain upon the government:

“A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for per-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”

Zeal, properly channeled, he concludes, “according to the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being republicans, ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit and supporting the character of Federalists.” Madison, in Federalist 25, calls for “sacred reverence which ought to be maintained in the breast of rulers towards the constitution of a country.” This Rousseauean view was not shared by Madison alone. Benjamin Franklin noted the need for what he called “public religion” in his writing on Education of Youth:

“History will also afford frequent, opportunities of showing the necessity of a public religion, from its usefulness to the public; the advantage of a religious character among private persons; the mischiefs of superstition, and the excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern. History will also give occasion to expatiate on the advantage of civil orders and constitutions; how men and their properties are protected by joining in societies and establishing government; their industry encouraged and rewarded, arts invented, and life made more comfortable; the advantages of liberty, mischiefs of licentiousness, benefits arising from good laws and a due execution of justice. Thus may the first principles of sound politics be fixed in the minds of youth.”

     As the founders of the nation passed on, a new generation of Americans stepped forward to carry on with the spirit of the revolution. Deism was influential in the Americas from about 1725 through the first several decades of the nineteenth century, but by the time Thomas Paine died in 1809 it was in clear decline. Part of its decline came from its lack of emotion common to traditional religion and communal faith. It further suffered in the wake of the violent French Revolution and Napoleon’s conquests in Europe, and was eventually displaced by Orthodox Christianity in Europe and America alike. The foundation for civil religion, however, was well established.

     American Clergy preached the Revolution as an extension of America’s religious commitments. President Kennedy would uphold this rhetoric in his inaugural address with the statement: “And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forbears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.” Another prevalent idea that found its way into civil religion was the Puritan analogy between America and Israel as “the covenant people of God”. In 1630 Governor John Winthrop called the Massachusetts Bay Colony a “city upon a hill,” a phrase to be reiterated centuries later by Ronald Reagan who referenced the United States as a “shining city on a hill.” President Johnson said in his inaugural address:

“They came already here—the exile and the stranger, brave but frightened—to find a place where a man could be his own man. They made a covenant with this land. Conceived in justice, written in liberty, bound in union, it was meant one day to inspire the hopes of all mankind; and it binds us still. If we keep its terms, we shall flourish.”

     Abraham Lincoln provides one of the best examples of civil religion. He was private about his beliefs and respected the beliefs of others, yet never formally joined any church. While such lack of Christian expression would usually compromise a president’s reception as a wholesome American, he was so outspoken about his civil religion that his Christian resolve was not questioned until after his death. He referenced George Washington, for example, in a way we might expect clergy to reference biblical prophets: “Washington is the mightiest name of earth- long since mightiest in the cause of civil liberty; still mightiest in moral reformation.” Lincoln also employed moral arguments and commonly drew upon biblical verses including “a house divided against itself,” or “And this too shall pass away.” In his Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield he proclaims, “Let reverence for laws, be breathed . . . in seminaries . . . preached from the pulpit, . . . in short, let it become the political religion of the nation.” “Laws,” he said, “should be religiously observed.” The “scenes of the revolution . . . In history, we hope, they will be read, of and recounted, as long as the bible shall be read.” These ideals founded, what he called, “the temple of liberty.” “Let those materials be molded into general intelligence, sound morality, and, in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws.”

     The preservation of these sacred ideals were referenced by Lincoln time and time again, notably in the Gettysburg Address, the most famous speech in American history. Lincoln assured that the union’s fortitude to prevail would effectively baptize the nation in its ‘born again’ dedication to the ideas conveyed by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.” The obvious blemish to the sacred commitment America had to these ideals was its history with slavery, although this too was eloquently addressed by the president in his second inaugural address:

“If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

     Lincoln became one of the symbols of civic religion himself. Before the Civil War, civic religion focused mainly on the Revolution as the sole challenge America overcame to establish its divinity. In 1835, however, Tocqueville wrote that the American republic had never withstood any strenuous trial and that its victory in the Revolutionary War came more from British preoccupation elsewhere and the presence of France as a powerful ally than the military effort of the Americans. But the Civil War, no doubt, was definitely a challenge to the preservation of democracy. Just as Washington had assumed the role of the divinely appointed ‘Moses’ who led the American people from tyranny to God’s promise, Lincoln followed as the symbolized Jesus whose leadership weathered the test “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” The symbolic equation of Lincoln the martyr with Jesus was made soon after his death. W. H. Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner, wrote:

“For fifty years God rolled Abraham Lincoln through his fiery furnace. He did it to try Abraham and to purify him for his purposes. This made Mr. Lincoln humble, tender, forbearing, sympathetic to suffering, kind, sensitive, tolerant; broadening, deepening and widening his whole nature; making him the noblest and loveliest character since Jesus Christ…. I believe that Lincoln was God’s chosen one.”

     America carried on with its notion of an exceptional and divinely inspired mission. After the United States annexed Texas and positioned itself to go to war with Mexico, writer and editor John O’Sullivan coined the famous phrase “manifest destiny” stating, “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” The justification of American action under the guise of its exceptional role was, and still is, ever present in its poise to expand its power. In 1899, as American soldiers began a war in the Philippines, Secretary of War Elihu Root asserted, “The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the world began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness.” If the dead could speak, the 600,000 Filipinos that were killed may credibly argue that the actions of the United States were definitely lacking in its advance “of peace and happiness.”

     Part of the danger that arises from adherence to the national cult is the danger to throw caution or moral judgment to the wind on the premise that the blessing of American success is a historical inevitability. The words of Lyndon Johnson attest to such beliefs, and in light of the Vietnam fiasco it warrants a precaution to hastily engage in conflicts that we now know will not inevitably yield success. Johnson addressed Congress stating:

“Above the pyramid on the great seal of the United States it says in Latin, “God has favored our undertaking.” God will not favor everything that we do. It is rather our duty to divine His will. I cannot help but believe that He truly understands and that He really favors the undertaking that we begin here tonight.”

     The danger of this ideology is still with us today. Justification for the immoral actions of the United States, be it the shameful treatment of Native Americans or the internment of Japanese during World War II, is characteristic of our history. As is the case with other religions, when our beliefs are not the companions of reason, we float what we don’t understand (or won’t understand) on faith; invoking our notions of free institutions and democratic values. Ration has often been compromised by our unyielding faith. We often see the ‘free world’ through the lens of those who will agree with our policies, although we’ve often supported tyrannical governments who have crushed freedom and democracy. Or, while the Constitution has been amended, it would blasphemous to assert that it could be wrong, outdated, or that the founders, due to their unorthodox religious beliefs, were bad Christians.

     Today, our notions of being politically correct withhold us from criticizing the religious beliefs others, even if they scoff or mock religion. The same, however, has not equally applied to American reverence for its civil religion. Puritan ‘witch-hunts’ of old were later replicated by the more recent communist ‘witch-hunts’ of the Cold War. In a religious context this is apparent in President Reagan’s reference to communism as “the focus of evil in the modern world,” and similarly in President Bush’s reference to the “Axis of Evil.” Bush’s call for a “crusade” against terrorism was met with criticism because of the religious overtones it implied. Some defended that he obviously meant America’s zeal for democratic ideals, while others held it implied a combination of Christianity and democracy. Nonetheless, the point is well taken that while it is no longer possible to openly mobilize society in the name of Christianity, ‘liberty’, ‘freedom’, or ‘democracy’ still wield the power to send Americans ‘crusading’.

     Why something as obvious as America’s civic religion has escaped serious analytical attention is itself an interesting question. The controversial nature of the subject, no doubt, is partially responsible. American society has religious and political groups who adamantly argue that Christianity is the national religion, and as we have seen these same groups are often ardent proponents of civil religion as well. Civil religion, however, is beyond the scope that these Protestant Christians claim. So long as leaders proclaim their faith in civil religion their formal religion has become increasingly less important. The first presidents were Deists, Lincoln never proclaimed his faith, Kennedy was Catholic, Vice Presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman was Jewish, 2008 presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is Mormon, and President Obama wrote in his book Audacity of Hope that he “was not raised in a religious household.” Barack ‘Hussein’ Obama has not been the first president who, despite being baptized in a church just prior to entering politics, had a skeptical religious background. Eisenhower was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, and his Kansas home served as the local meeting hall from 1896 to 1915. He later went without a denomination until baptized in the Presbyterian Church in 1953, just prior to his presidency. These examples, along with the others cited, evidence that civil religion retains the capacity to trump Christianity.

     This raises yet another controversial aspect of civil religion that makes it an uncomfortable issue to openly address. Idolatry, by definition, is the human tendency to value something that hinders the love and trust owed to God which is considered a major sin in the Abrahamic religions. The very definition of evil, according to St. Augustine, is a love out of order. An analysis of American behavior indicates that formal religion is vaguely considered a good thing, although people care so little about it that it has lost its capability to effectively guide society. It is inconceivable that an American president could mention Jesus Christ in the capacity that “God,” “Providence,” or “the Almighty” have been used, and while it is no longer possible to openly mobilize society in the name of Christianity, ‘liberty’, ‘freedom’, or ‘democracy’ still wield the power to send Americans ‘crusading’. If the actions of society indicate an out of order adherence to civil religion that takes precedence over the practice of normal religion, particularly Christianity, the implications are every bit as uncomfortable to fess up to, if not more so, then to admit the evidence against the founding fathers casts them as being poor (atypical at best) Christians.

     These criticisms would likely draw the rebuttals that the notion of a ‘civil religion’ is itself erroneous. References to God, after all, are invariably found in almost all speeches American presidents make on solemn occasions, but are lacking in most workings of government on concrete issues, and in messages between the President and Congress. Concrete workings and statements that are not public in nature, however, do not render the same type of emotions typically derived from communion in traditional religions. A cynical observer might further argue that politicians only mention God to gain votes, or that such statements have become a ritual of the office, but the very definition of ‘ritual’ itself is the “observance of set forms in public worship.” When presidents like Kennedy conclude their inaugural address with statements like, “let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own,” it unmistakably reveals religious sentiments Americans hold about their exceptional role in the world. America’s civil religion is complete with its Moses and Jesus figures, martyrs, sacred places, sacred events, holidays, solemn symbols and rituals, and biblical parallels of exodus, chosen people, the Promised Land, New Jerusalem, sacrificial death, and rebirth. Such evidence of a religion heeds the observation of the ‘Hoosier poet’ James Whitcomb Riley, who sometime around 1883-1885 wrote: “When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.”

     Rousseau’s assessment that a state and society without religion is impossible leads us to the conclusion that an absence of a socially binding formal religion will result in some form of reverence filling the social vacuum that binds people together. Today, America’s ‘civil religion’ holds fundamental beliefs, values, holidays, and rituals parallel to or independent of the formal religions of Americans. The rise of this Enlightenment inspired reverence for civil law has outlived its Deistic origins, but still captures the reverence and zeal of American citizens in a way that blurs the distinctions between what actually separates church and state. In so many ways the state is the church. As President Eisenhower stated, “Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith- and I don’t care what it is.”


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s