One Nation, Under God

Welcome to my Thursday. I’ve been busy helping visiting researchers do a prevalence study. It’s been a lot of time and not much work. The data collection is going smoothly. Too smoothly. I guess planning is everything, but I’ve been standing around doing little. Once we got things set up and going, I largely became superfluous. I doubted my good fortune at first, and spent several hours hanging around, waiting for Murphy to strike. Eventually even Salamanders tire of waiting for the worst though, and I retired to my office to catch up on all the stuff I hadn’t been doing because I was busy being a fifth wheel.

Ordinarily I avoid getting too political in here. I also try to avoid talking about religion too much. Both are intensely personal and potentially incendiary issues, and a word misspoken loses friends and implies that I am intolerant. I value my friends, regardless of political and religious beliefs. And I do try to be open to the beliefs of others – after all, I do not have the corner on the market when it comes to Truth, Justice and The American Way. But yesterday Shay41 (whom I absolutely respect and consider a good friend) made a valid comment that I’d like to address.

From: Shay 41 Date: 15 Mar 2004

This issue is really a yawner for me. It doesn’t matter if kids droning the Pledge mention God or not since they’re not really paying attention to what they’re saying anyway. Besides, having minors pledge to anything is pretty much silly.

The thing that’s amusing to me is how important it is to atheists when it is meaningless to the kids who are saying the words. Think about it, did you really mean anything when you chanted that annoying thing in the morning, half asleep?

If kids aren’t paying attention to what they are saying, then it’s because we’re failing to teach them to pay attention. Children in the earliest grades really won’t be able to grasp the meaning of the Pledge, but by teaching it to them and following a “ceremony” each morning, we give them an opportunity to learn that the flag is special, that it represents something big and important, and that it should be treated with respect. And even if they are too young to grasp the full meaning, even six-year-olds can grasp the idea of promising to respect something. Later, as age and maturity warrant, further exploration of what exactly it means to pledge allegiance should be covered. When you get to the teen years, even if the kids are still minors they should be able to understand the Pledge, and it should serve as a springboard to discussions on what it means to be American.

And while it is primarily atheists and agnostics who are vocal in their protests, I’m not sure it is to be unexpected. After all, it was blacks that were most vocal for equal rights based on race. It was Americans with disabilities that were the primary advocates for accessibility issues. It was women who agitated for suffrage. Those who are impacted tend to be those who raise the issue. Children, for the most part, are in the process of forming their opinions, and I would hardly expect a mass uprising from an elementary school regarding the Pledge.

As for whether or not I personally considered the Pledge of Allegiance when I stoically repeated it morning after morning … no I didn’t, while I was in elementary school. I did, however, in high school. I even wrote an entry about it, some time ago, that I’ve not been able to find to link to. My religious identity began to come together in my mid-teens, and I found saying the Pledge distinctly uncomfortable in high school. I didn’t want to be one of those kids who stood silently, so I mouthed words that essentially had me foreswearing myself. And when you’re a teenager, everything takes on a bigger-than-life meaning, and I ended up angsting about it far more than I should have. Perhaps that’s why I’m so vehement about this now. Saying the Pledge could and should have meant something totally different to me when I finally became old enough, but it ended up simply being several years of misery to me instead.

There is a wonderful book, long out of print, that I expect may see the light of day again soon. It was by James Clavell, of all people. The title is “The Children’s Story” and it was the first book published by him after his book “Shogun” came out. “The Children’s Story” was a slim volume, in contrast to most of his other books, and I remember reading it in its entirety in the bookstore when it first came out. It was written during the “Cold War” years, and while its subject was relevant then, it seems even more relevant now. The subject is the Pledge of Allegiance, and the plot shows how easy it would be to twist the words in the mind of a child. Shay’s point that the words are meaningless to children is central to the plot, which shows how easily an adult can twist and corrupt the words until it becomes meaningless to a child. The link I provided leads to Amazon reviews of the book, if you’ve a mind to check it out.

So, at the risk of amusing, I remain an atheist to whom this issue is important.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *