Tuesday, January 11, 2005

To Whom Are You Pledging Allegiance?

Over the past year or so (perhaps longer, I can't really remember), a lot of ink, pixels, and breath has been spent on the issue of whether to keep "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. "This is a Christian nation! This nation was founded by Christians!" come the shouts from those who wish to keep the pledge the way it is. "The phrase 'under God' excludes those of differing religions or no religion at all," opponents shout back. And both sides shout. A lot.

Frankly, on the whole I don't give much of a fig whether 'under God' stays or goes. My relationship with God is not hurt if the phrase is removed. Much as I could try to muster them, feelings of persecution or that the American Church has been dealt a mortal wound by such an action evade me. Would the founding fathers roll in their graves if it was decided that the phrase needs to be removed? I doubt it. Here's why.

First, let's take a brief journey through time to watch the evolution of the pledge. Thanks to this forum for the info:

October 11, 1892: I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the Republic for which it stands:one Nation indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for all.

June 14, 1923: I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for all.

June 14, 1924: I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands:one Nation indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for all.

June 14, 1954: I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America,and to the Republic for which it stands:one Nation under God, indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for all.

In 1954, the pledge was made to include the phrase "under God," a result of the Red Scare. Americans needed ways to battle against and distinguish themselves from Those Godless Communists, so we put God in the pledge. It was a political action as much as anything else. And considering that the pledge was not written until 1892, I don't think our founding fathers would have a hugely difficult time with this matter.

Whether "under God" stays or goes, I must point out something that hasn't been considered, or at least not when I've been paying attention to these proceedings: remember the Declaration of Independence, that document that the founding fathers actually DID write? Let's take a look at the first few lines:

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..."

Within the first eight lines of this document crucial to the history of our nation, we read two references to God. For those who at the very extreme wish to defend the keeping of God in public places (as if George Bush dropping God's name every so often, "God Bless America" being sung during baseball games and other gatherings, references to God made by past presidents and dignitaries etched all over Washington and other major cities, churches being recognized as tax exempt institutions, "so help you God" is still a part of swearing in during court sessions and the presidential inauguration, etc., etc., etc.), I highly doubt that, even if all these other things were somehow erased, banned, crossed out, painted over, or whatever, someone would take a black permanent marker to the Declaration. So those preoccupied with such matters can rest a little easier.

Now let's take a step back for a moment and consider something else. First we have to revisit those opening lines of the pledge: "I pledge allegiance to the flag....and to the Republic for which it stands..."

Let's visit another text: "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them;" - Exodus 20:3-5a

Quite simply for me, this is what it boils down to: What is the pledge of allegiance? To whom or what are you pledging allegiance when you recite those words? It isn't God. When one says those words one is pledging allegiance first to a flag and then to a nation, neither of whom, ultimately, are God. Furthermore, no matter how much one believes the mindset or actions of said nation's government are aligned with God's will, the nation still isn't God.


Perhaps, at least on this one issue, Christians across America should reconsider what this pledge business means. As followers of Jesus we aren't called to pledge allegiance to anyone but God and anything but God's kingdom. To that end, "under God" should not be something we should spend too much time and energy on because ultimately it's part of a recitation that gives sovereignty to something other than God. Instead of pledging allegiance to America or trying our hardest to carve God's name in as many places as possible, we as Christians should spend more time urging America to regard the poor, the hungry, the widow, the orphan and all the other "least of these." (Matthew 25)

We as Christians SHOULD strive to make America better. Saying God's name in the pledge doesn't do that. Force-feeding Christian beliefs to a large non-Christian population doesn't do that. But actually heeding Jesus' call to love does.

4 comments:

Jeremy said...
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Jeremy said...

Interesting thoughts on the pledge. I agree that the pledge doesn't have a long illustrious history that would make it a cornerstone of American history. You also make some interesting points on "pledging allegiance to a flag" that make me think...

However, I believe the founding fathers WOULD roll over in their graves with "under God" being removed.

Here's a timely example to illustrate the point:

At the first presidential inauguration, George Washington broke from the oath of office script, adding the line "so help me God" to the end. He then kissed the Bible. Both of these actions were not in the plan, but were done very intentionally, because George Washington recognized that without the help of God, the radical new country he was about to lead wouldn't last long.

ANY attempt to remove references to God-- no matter how small and insignificant they may seem-- slowly chip away at the foundations of our country that were so important to our founding fathers.

The ACLU and similar special interest groups know that the interpretation of law is based on precedents, and by removing "under God" from the pledge, you have now enacted a precedent that will allow us to remove another reference to God, and then another, and then another.

Once you've started to chip away at the foundation, it doesn't take long for the whole structure to fall.

Jeremy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeff said...

I recently read a military chaplain's take on what 'under God' adds to the pledge. He regards the phrase as recognizing that the nation is under God, that is, that America is not to be mistaken as being equal to or above God in any way. I liked that. Of course, one would still have to contend with a large non-Christian population that still wouldn't buy into it.

On another note, I have a question for you Jeremy. You have stated that since faith in God was foundational to the founders' establishment of the country, removing God from public places would be to chip away at that foundation and the whole thing would fall down.

So then would it follow that non-believers cannot as effectively serve in American government, or should not if they can't accept references to God? Are they somehow less qualified? Does their presence also chip away at that foundation?

Some actually just say yes. Case in point, the large contingent of Christians who voted for George Bush due in part to his public proclamations of faith (see my post on 'God's Politics' for some related thoughts).

I have no problem with Christians serving in public office (I'm a Christian; why would I?), nor do I really have a problem with them professing their faith from time to time. It's part of who they are, after all. The problem does come, however, when profession becomes presumption, when faith becomes license, when piety becomes policy. If a public official claims to follow Jesus, he needs to be held to that much higher of a standard, else we end up with political games masked as 'God's will.' That's taking God's name in vain.

I never thought I'd sound like a radical, but I guess from time to time it slips out.:)