From time to time the Pledge of Allegiance’s controversial “under God” clause surfaces in public dialogue. Recently, NBC ran a montage during the U.S. Open featuring the Pledge. The phrase “under God” was edited out. To nobody’s surprise the Christian right flipped out. Immediately social networks were flooded with Christians shaming NBC for the omission. NBC officially apologized for the omission, twice. Leave it to my brethren to live Christ’s teaching by refusing to forgive them. A perfect example is found on the Christian Post: NBC Pledge of Allegiance Apology ‘Too Little, Too Late;’ Christians Demand Explanation.
The message Christians have sent to the rest of the country is clear. Anybody who chooses to make a pledge to our nation without the specification of swearing by our God will be publicly shamed and alienated. Once the process of alienation has begun, even if an “offender” were to apologize, there will be no mercy. If you choose not to validate our beliefs in the form of public oath, we will take your personal religious beliefs as an “attack” on our faith and will label you an enemy of Christianity, our nation, and of God himself.
Now there is a defense that “God” is a generic word for a deity, so it isn’t necessarily speaking of the Christian God. Might sound like a reasonable defense as far as other religions go…but then there are these conflicting facts:
- Christians created the language in private religious groups before it was accepted into official use.
- It was birthed in its public form in an actual Christian sermon, given in a Christian church, when witnessed by a newly Christian president in 1954.
- A Christian majority Congress passed the amending resolution in 1954.
- The only consistent public defenses for the clause has come from Christians.
- In cases like the afore-mentioned, it is the Christians who embark on public campaigns to berate the “offender”.
There is not, to my knowledge, any reasonable defense of requiring atheists or agnostics to recite a national pledge containing a religious clause. In cases where there is no “requirement” to recite the clause…just try leaving it out, as NBC did, and see how the Christians respond. Could you imagine if a Muslim American substituted the Arabic word “allah” or “الله” for our english word “god”? It is the exact equivalent, just in a different language, so I’m sure the Family Research Council would be fine with that, right? Imagine if a Hindu said “gods” instead of “God” since they are not monotheistic. Would the religious right be alright with that? It’s obvious that the Christians who lobby for and defend this language are absolutely seeking a pledge made to and sworn by their Christian God. Make no mistake, the same people lobbying for “under God” in the Pledge are the same ones who believe there should be no separation between church and state and that America is a “Christian nation”.
Ok, so where is my metaphor…I should stay true to the theme of the blog so here it is:
Excerpt from Daniel 3
King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”…At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “…there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. …Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Many of us know the rest of the story. They don’t bow, Nebbie has them thrown into the oven, they don’t die and walk through the flames with God. One one level, this story is one of the many “our God is better than your Gods” stories found in the Old Testament; but on another level this story is about religious freedom and standing up to the tyranny of theocracy. Ask yourself if this story would lose its power and meaning if we swapped some of the religious identities. What if we moved the story from Babylon to Jerusalem, and the leader was a Jewish king burning religious minorities alive. Would that be morally superior just because they were doing it in the name of the “right” God? I would contend it is not. Or perhaps move the story to America, in our time. Should a Christian majority in a democracy be permitted to force religious minorities to follow their religious laws and force them to make pledges of allegiance to their God? Should we be proud that we are have become more civilized and have swapped a furnace for ostracizing a person or group for not sharing our religious beliefs? This story, as well as the historical record, should have taught us that when religious leaders govern minority faiths (or non-believers) it tends to end in oppression. This absolutely holds true for Christianity; but it also holds for Islam and I would say includes an atheism that forces its belief structure on others as well.
As a Christian, I have no desire to live under the religious control of the Christian right. I feel no obligation to take a pledge that affirms their religious ideals. But let me go further, I have little more desire to live under the religious control of Christians who share my theologies. If I am unwilling to live under the religious coercion of another faith, than I should absolutely not do such a thing to others. I don’t feel any just and free society should have the ability to demand religious allegiance; especially in the form of national pledges. No person should live in fear of religious oppression, whether the “punishment” for unbelief is being brutally executed or publicly shamed and alienated. No citizen should feel like an outsider or be demoted to second-class status simply because they do not share the same religious convictions with the majority.
So on this Independence Day, I encourage my fellow Christians to lend the strength of our numbers to minority religions, agnostics, and atheists. I believe that we can show them love by pledging our allegiance to the principles of religious freedom.