One nation, easily divided

Kids Saying PledgeMashable reports, “Soon after NBC aired a pre-taped segment for a golf tournament that twice omitted the words “under God” from the United States Pledge of Allegiance, the Twittersphere erupted into a fury of controversy.” (See the video here.)

Meanwhile, my better half wondered aloud on her blog today why we consistently manufacture mountains out of mole hills.  There’s little to suggest this was an overt message as much as a poor editing choice.  As she notes, “one nation” and “indivisible” also get left out at points.  And no one is screaming that NBC is advocating a new civil war.

Yet I’d approach the question somewhat differently.  What if NBC did do this on purpose?  I doubt that’s the case, but so what if it is?  The majority of the outrage seems to be coming from Christian groups who are apparently maligned, abused, and oppressed because the phrase “under God” was left out.  Really?  Just because you can’t force everyone to be like you doesn’t mean you’re being discriminated against.  Despite Michele Bachmann’s efforts, this is (not yet) a theocracy.  The very fact the words “under God” are in the Pledge are a nod to the reality that some 90% of Americans worship God in one form or another.  But it’s not a requirement to be an American.

Even as an atheist, I don’t and won’t advocate for the return of the Pledge to its pre-1954 godless state.  This is primarily because “under God” is a harmless and somewhat meaningless phrase when spoken the the context of a mass pledge.  It has personal meaning to many people when they say it because they know what they mean by it.  Fine. No harm done.  But hearing the person next to you say “under God” doesn’t remotely mean they share your meaning.  By “God” they could be referring to Shiva, Odin, or the rabbit’s foot in their pocket they happen to worship.  Or they might just be reciting it they way they learned in school and the words have no meaning whatsoever.  It might be just a rote saying.  And if hearing someone say something is meaningless, can it really be meaningful when they don’t?


17 thoughts on “One nation, easily divided

  1. I think that to people of belief, those words do have meaning. While Mr. Obama is technically correct that “We are not a Christian Nation”, he is very wrong in the eyes of many Americans. No, it is not a theocracy, but does anyone remember the songs being sung by our assembled representatives on 9/11? “God Bless America” being sung by the majority of the elected officials of our country seems to nullify the president’s assertion. While we are not legally a Christian nation, I would guess that the majority of Americans identify themselves as such, including those not even legally in our country. To THEM, the words “Under God” do have meaning, and to poo-poo their beliefs as meaningless seems rather harsh.

  2. As I said, the words do have meaning to the speaker. But where they are meaningless is to the listener. If you say them, that means something to you. That’s all well and good. But you can’t know what if any meaning they hold for the guy standing next to you, so his saying them or not shouldn’t matter to you.

  3. No, but to assume that someone else’s words have no meaning rather eliminates the usefulness of language, doesn’t it?

  4. Their words have meaning to them. Your words have meaning to you. But when terms like God are ill-defined (and it is), then their words can’t have meaning to you because you don’t know what they mean without a larger context or conversation. And you aren’t having that while reciting a pledge from memory.

  5. ….that’s why on occasion, when reciting the Pledge with my class, I slip in, “with liberty and justice for me.” The kids are appalled, as they should be. We have conversations about the meaning. Words have meaning always. Sometimes people misinterpret the meaning you are trying to convey, thus an additional conversation needs to place to clarify. Language, as Keith says, is very useful.

  6. In addition, if everyone could convey their meaning by expressing themselves as Tim usually does…the world would be a more peaceful place:)

  7. Why bother with a pledge if you can pick and choose what parts have meaning to you? I’m not so sure that it’s harmless to a 5 year old when a parent teaches a kid one thing and an authority figure conveys another. It certainly isn’t right.

  8. Some pledges are pretty specific and falsifiable. “I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” might be a good example. It’s certainly possible that someone might prove you to be in violation of that promise. There may be a wee bit of wiggle room in there, but for the most part I don’t think you’d get much variation on the interpretation of what it meant to avow such a thing.

    I don’t think the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance falls in that category. It may be a largely secular affirmation, but it’s a spiritual pledge. How would you ever argue someone was in violation of it? Would someone supporting the Patriot Act be reneging on their pledge of “with liberty and justice for all”? That’s going to depend on what you mean by the words liberty or justice, and I’d bet there’s some pretty wide variances in interpretation there. All language is subject to some interpretation. Hence, one of the jobs of our courts is to rule on the grey areas. But the Pledge of Allegiance is mostly grey.

    I think the point of, well then why bother with it, is a good one. I don’t think we’d be any less as a people or a country if we shelved it or replaced it. It’s merely symbolic. It’s a ritual or ceremony. The sociological value is in getting a group to come together to do the same thing at the same time. It’s not really in the words. The same group engagement effect could be achieved through singing a song, reciting a poem, or even a group interpretive dance. Look at how many Catholics attended Latin masses without understanding a word that was spoken. Yet they were moved by the coming together for the ritual. That’s the thing.

  9. I agree that 90% is high. I was trying to be generous. I suspect that if we narrowed it down to those who actively practice (as opposed to those who show up at church on occasion because they feel they have to and check the Christian box on the census), the number might shock a lot of people.

  10. I don’t get it.
    I expressed my views about this topic on this blog before, but it’s been 8 years so…
    One Nation easily divided. Check
    Michelle Bachman wants to create a theocracy. Check
    Christian groups feel their rights are being oppressed because under god was omitted. Check
    The phrase “under god” is harmless because it means only means something to those it means something to. Ch…what?
    There’s a group of people in this country who are blinded by their religious zeal. They think everything should include God. They look down on you because of your beliefs, even though you’ve put much more thought into than they have. Actually they look down on you more, because you’ve put thought into it and came to your conclusions. These people have no respect for the rights and beliefs of anyone but themselves. This attitude is reinforced every day when they say the pledge. The country is “under God”, their God. They believe they are better Americans than the rest of us. Under God is not harmless because of Michelle Bachman.
    This isn’t about whether you’re an atheist, its about respecting other people’s beliefs.
    Then you try to justify by saying it only means something to some people and to some people it doesn’t mean anything. That doesn’t make it better, it makes it worse. The pledge shouldn’t be something that divides people. There shouldn’t be one group skipping it and one group skipping some of it and one group thinking they own it. This nation isn’t great because it’s a Christian nation. It’s great because a Christian can stand next to a Jew who can stand next to an Atheist and believe what they believe without fear of reprisal. They should all be able to say the same pledge, and say it with conviction and mean every word. The pledge should be something that unites kids in the morning. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they believe, they are Americans. But because of those 2 little words, it divides them. It teaches kids to look their differences.
    In this country you should be able to proclaim your beliefs on a mountain top, on a soapbox, on the street corner, on the internet and for us old people, in the newspaper. You should be able to do so in any public place as long as you’re not harassing other people. You should be able to do so without influence from the government. People act like taking “under God” out of the pledge restricts their religious freedom. Actually, keeping it in is a bigger threat to their freedom.

  11. I certainly see your point. There does seem to be an inconsistency in my positions, but in my head, it works like this.

    All things being equal, yes, I’d like the God reference removed from the Pledge, from the currency, and pretty much everywhere else it exists in government or government sponsored activity. I’d like that to happen for all the reasons you stated. You are dead-on when you note that keeping those references is a bigger threat to freedom than eliminating them.

    My tolerance for those references is simply an acknowledgement of political expediency. An old mentor of mine once said, “Save your silver bullets for the really angry werewolves.” Teaching Creationism in schools, outlawing abortion and homosexuality, defunding Planned Parenthood, abstinence-only programs, and other religiously motivated policies are the angry werewolves. If and when those creatures stop rearing their heads, taking “under God” out of the Pledge will be a no-brainer.

    Fighting now to remove “under God” only serves to inflame the other side. While poking Bachmann with a sharp stick certainly has its appeal, I don’t think it furthers the cause of atheists. I think it actually rallies more people to her camp. It’s the wrong fight at this time.

    I like your notion of everyone saying the same Pledge, saying it with conviction, and meaning every word. But I think the reality is that isn’t the case, and it’s not going to be. It’s human nature. When you do something over and over, you just wind up going through the motions. You don’t think about it. You just wallow in the vague sense of belonging to the larger group. Hence, my assertion that the words are pretty meaningless.

  12. I’m a realist. I know that kids aren’t going to say the pledge with more zeal if you take “under God” out. I said should, not would. But don’t tell me that kids don’t notice when other kids do something different. Don’t tell me that kids don’t make fun of kids they think are different. It’s not right to make an 8 year old stand out as a conscientous objector. We shouldn’t put them in that position.

    I certainly respect the “pick your battles” menatality, but do you really think you can inflame these people more than they already are? I think there are lots of people out there who are in the “it’s not hurting anybody” category who have never considered the other side of the argument. So make the argument and let them decide.

    Don’t do it for me, do it for your spam filter.

  13. I think the people that have the most issues with this are those largely on the fringe of either side… believers or non-believer. However, as a believer, I have no problem with removing it from the pledge either… for the same reasons Brian states. My blog about this, where I stated that maybe NBC did have an agenda and that agenda was a nod to the fact that not everyone believes in the same god, or any god, and perhaps they were doing it on purpose to highlight religious freedoms. I hoped that was the case. I’d have had respect for them had it been. Given they apologized, I doubt it was.

    I believe it is dividing to keep it in as it is a lightning rod every time a slip like this occurs. It pits the differing beliefs against each other. However, there are those extremists on every side that likes those fights because they all believe they’re the only right side. We as a country may say we have religious freedoms, but it doesn’t take much to realize how far from true that really is. The best example, the Mosque in NYC. There is no way that whole fiasco showed any type of religious freedom, or even tolerance. Quite the opposite unfortunately.

  14. Do you really think you can inflame these people more than they already are?

    Apparently, they can be as this latest issue over a street name shows. Things like this give them a platform from which to make atheists look intolerant and threatened. I don’t think that helps our cause.

    I do think issues like this resonate with otherwise reasonable people who wouldn’t push for I.D. in science class or hunting abortion providers. But when they see people trying to forcibly take down Christmas trees they relate to to the outrage. Strategically, fighting these battles seems like spending your time loading the other side’s guns.

  15. And “those on the right” take every one of these opportunities and try to portray everyone on the left as trying to remove God… apparently the “left” is full of atheists.

    HANNITY: I didn’t ask you that. I asked you, where is the tolerance of people on the left and why is this your mission to push God out of the public —

    So that’s all everyone on his uninformed Fox station thinks. I’m sure there are atheists on the Right. Or worse yet, people on the right that believe in the separation of church and state as well. Geez…

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