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?


  1. i was clapping on the inside reading this. i can't clap now, because my typing would be all messed up. totally agree.

  2. I tried to reply in twitter to this, but it's just a bigger-than-140-characters kind of issue, right?

    Well written, and thank you for considering all of the levels of nuance to this argument. That's what's lacking today, in politics especially. I don't know that I fall on one side of the fence or the other, but I thought I'd share a quick story with you...

    After 9/11, the school where I teach reinstated the pledge at the beginning of the day. A very thoughtful, religious (now a rabbi) student was the first to read it, and he left "under God" out because he didn't think it was the place for religion and didn't want to offend any of his atheist friends. Anyway, huge protests and controversy for the school district. What an interesting teaching moment that could have been, right? Real debate with real-world consequences. No, they just quickly switched to an instrumental version of the national anthem.

    Thanks again for posting this and for making me think.

  3. Ugh - AnthCao, so annoyed they missed the teachable moment. Debate is a good thing. :)

    So I think I know the answer on this, but not sure. Isn't God referred to as both a being and a general concept in religions? I'm NOT the religious scholar and know just enough to be dangerous, but isn't that part of the issue? If you were to ask what is a generic word for higher power, would someone say allah? yahweh? god? In English, to me the answer would be god. Curious - if god were lower case (referring to a higher power rather than a specific entity) do you think there would be less of an issue?

    Early morning, pre-coffee ramble done, but EXCELLENT thought provoking post.


  4. AnthCao - I completely agree with Sylvia... disappointing that such a teachable moment went by. Thank you for sharing that experience. The situation, I think, demonstrates clearly that there's no easy answer to this. I'm so glad you shared what happened where you teach!

  5. Missy - Thank you! I was terrified hitting "post" but your comment allowed me to get some sleep last night. :)

  6. Sylvia - Thank you so much for such an excellent point. I think - and I wish a theological scholar would weigh in - that you're right that "God" is used in discussion, but my understanding is that it's used as a common reference in order to avoid having to say "God or Allah" or "God or Yahweh." So your point reinforces the idea of using the word God as a common reference. Still, I wonder if a use of that nature is, in and of itself, sort of secular in nature in that it's part of a scholarly discussion, not an honorific? I know... probably nitpicky. But you've definitely given me more food for thought on this.

    Your comment demonstrates why I value your friendship so much; we don't always see eye-to-eye on certain topics, but I think what we have in common is the desire to understand points of view other than our own and the desire to explore and share different points of view respectfully and thoughtfully.

  7. HA! Back at you sister! I love that we can agree and disagree and still have an awesome discussion about it. :)

    No matter where you stand on the topic, it's worth watching Red Skelton's Pledge of Allegiance (if you haven't seen it) - the first part makes you realize how often we just go through the motions, especially as kids.


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