Few things in America are as fraught with emotional symbolism and simultaneously as totally meaningless as the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. (See how easy it is to get your attention by stirring your deep-seated prejudices?)
But really, do you think that standing up with the group before your monthly club meeting and solemnly with hand over heart reciting the Pledge makes you any more or any less of a patriot? Do we instill deep values in our children when they recite the Pledge before class in school, even in those schools without the mandated presence of that flag to which the Pledge refers? If we didn’t pledge would we be less patriotic? And, what about those critical words, “under God”? Will the republic crumble upon excision of the phrase?
I don’t know if awareness that events have taken place long before an individual’s tenure on the planet is one of the gifts of age and maturity. Yet, having been around for a while, I see the arguments over the Pledge and the reference to a Supreme Being as being so much ado about nada. The topper of the issue came late last week with a piece in the Denver Post about a secularist school teacher who wanted to impose her particular view of events on the class and got a significant backlash. She thought it more “inclusive” and less “offensive” to have the class replace “under God” with “under your belief system”….how quaint and New Age!
Godless Pledge No Winner
Let’s take a moment to consider the history of the Pledge of Allegiance. Did the Founding Fathers recite the Pledge during their Constitutional Convention as they deliberated the structure of the government? Did they Pledge before signing the Declaration of Independence or before mustering to stand before the Redcoats at Concord? Well, to be honest, no.
The Pledge to the flag was not even created until 1892. Interestingly, the author of the first incarnation of the Pledge was a Christian Socialist and chairman of a state committee of superintendents of education in the National Education Association. That’s a strange collection of political bed-fellows if we consider it. Saying Christian in the same breath with NEA/Socialist really convolutes the tongue in this 21st century.
Regardless, it seems that the nation did quite well with regard to instilling patriotism in citizens and children for the first 105 years after the Constitutional Convention. No problem along that road except for a little row about State’s Rights and a bit of secession that was quickly ironed out.
So, since the inception of the Pledge, we’ve solved the patriotism problem. No more Civil Wars, no draft dodgers, no treasonous activity, no foreign policy questions to subordinate our nationalism…..oh, there were? Well, without the Pledge it would have been much worse.
But, what about the “under God” issue? Well, while I remember it well, most Americans living today were born afterward. The phrase was added to the Pledge in 1954 at the behest of the Knights of Columbus by President Dwight Eisenhower. Why? Well, some say it was to distinguish us, in a period of cold war with the Soviets, from the godlessness of Communism. Others suggest, maybe a bit more cynically, that it was a sop to the Catholics from Eisenhower to gain him votes for the 1956 re-election campaign. Regardless, it was a late addition to the Pledge.
Having grown up with the Pledge lacking the phrase, I’ve always stumbled as muscle memory and first indoctrination in the ritual trained me in the cadence of the recitation. I still, more than fifty years later, unconsciously intone, “….one nation, with liberty and justice….” thus finishing the process a half-beat ahead of all those around me. Even when I remember, I’m not sure where the breath comes. Is it “one nation under God” or “under God with liberty…”? It’s also confusing. And in the end largely irrelevant.
My point is that we did alright before the addition of the phrase. I seem to have done OK with regard to patriotism and service to my country. Others have as well. So, what’s the issue?
Now, the issue seems to be the adoption of “God” by the fundamentalist Christian political wing to mean only a Christian God. Hence, by extension, the removal of the phrase becomes a direct affront to their religion and a bold attempt to secularize a nation “founded in Christian principles.” Hogwash.
First, let us note that God in our language is a decidedly generic noun for a Supreme Being. It is not a proper name for the deity of a single religion, but merely a deistic recognition that there is undeniably a power above us that we don’t understand. Whether Allah or Yahweh or the God of the fundamentalist Christian, the term is applicable.
Second, let us correct that poor misguided creature in Jefferson County CO who feels the need to protect the sensibilities of eighth grade students from offense at the concept of a Supreme Being.
And, third, let’s acknowledge that with or without the phrase “under God” the Pledge will be as much or as little of an impetus for patriotism as it has ever been.