Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Pledge: I’m Going To P*** Off Someone With This One

**Fair warning... this is a serious topic. I promise the next post will be light and fluffy, like eggs scrambled with just the right amount of milk mixed in. **
The other day, I found myself in a discussion with someone very close to me regarding the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. This individual was surprised to hear that I don’t necessarily agree with the inclusion of the phrase “under God” within the Pledge. We had an interesting discussion… so interesting that I thought I’d share it with you to get your thoughts.
Let me state, before continuing, that I hope you hear me out objectively, and that while I welcome and encourage comments and opinions on all sides, I request (insist on?) a level of respect when disagreeing with me or when disagreeing with someone whose point of view is the polar opposite of mine.
I do not despise including the words “under God” in the Pledge by any means, and since I was raised learning the Pledge with those words included, I would feel a bit awkward leaving them out. At the same time, I understand the rationale behind removing them… or, to be historically accurate, returning the Pledge to its pre-1954 form. Were you aware the Pledge didn’t include those two words until 1954? Well, now you know.
This country was founded with separation of church and state, a separation that I believe made this country the strong, inclusive, welcoming and nurturing country that it has become. Does religious hatred and exclusion exist in the old U.S. of A.? Sadly, yes. But I think the fact that we remain politically secular – in theory – allows the country to remain generally centered across history and prevents hatred from spiraling off into exclusionary laws and limitation of people’s rights based on religious beliefs. Or so I like to hope.
The individual with whom I had this discussion about the Pledge made what I feel is a great argument for leaving in the words “under God.”  She pointed out that while the name various religions may use to refer to God may differ – God, Yahweh, Allah, Brahman, Waheguru, and many more – they tend to be referring to a similar entity. I absolutely get this, and I think in a way this makes sense. And leveraging this argument, leaving in “under God” is a simple solution in a country that comes from a highly Christian history.
But it’s this focus on name that, to me, really drives home the importance of considering finding another solution.
Let me give you a really lame example to illustrate my thinking.  Let’s say you call your grandmother Grammy. You have thought of her as Grammy since before you could speak. You learned to say “Grammy” when you were a toddler, and when someone says the word Grammy, your heart swells because you think of your beloved Grammy. You love watching the Grammys because every time they say “and the Grammy goes to…” you think of your own sweet Grammy. THEN… someone comes along and insists that when you refer to your grandmother in public, you need to refer to her as Babushka (Russian for grandmother). Think about how that might feel for a moment, using Babushka instead of Grammy. Your grandmother is still your grandmother (and let’s face it, in your heart she’s not your “grandmother” but your “Grammy"). Still, that word Babushka would not have the same meaning to you. Saying it in reference to your grandmother would feel forced, foreign, not yours. And I would imagine that is similar to how people who don’t refer to God in their religion as God feel when asked to say “under God” in the Pledge. It doesn’t hold the same meaning as it would if they were encouraged to include their own name for God within the Pledge. Or so I believe.
In a clumsy attempt to clarify my point during our discussion, I asked, “If we’re just inserting a common name into the Pledge to refer to our collectively understood higher power, and if the word itself shouldn’t be nitpicked, then why don’t we use ‘under Allah’ instead? If the referenced higher power is the important thing, not the name, then this should be fine.” I know, clumsy and incendiary. But I still believe in this.
You may say “At the end of the day, two words should not be a big deal, and it just takes a second to say them within the greater context of the Pledge. Why worry about it?” Again, solid argument… to which I would reply that if it’s not a big deal, why leave the words in at all? I assume that people who want the words “under God” left in the Pledge want the words to impart additional, higher meaning. If that’s the case, then they are important. They are vital and meaningful, to millions of Americans. And if they’re important and meaningful, we should ensure they are important and meaningful for all of our citizens, not just some. And in truth, those two words shouldn’t be all that’s important in the Pledge… but that’s for another discussion (as is the unaddressed-in-this-post issue of how atheists feel about this).
I have a few ideas how to easily and inclusively rectify the whole challenge without formally removing the words “under God.” But for now, I want to hear your thoughts and opinions and suggestions. Anyone?
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