Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

God, The Pledge, the PC, and a Poem

The Pledge of the Politically Correct (written during the first Gulf War)

Angry Americans clamor
For Constitutional Changes
To Protect the National Symbol
From Despicable Desecrators
While patriotic Auto Antennas
Proudly display their
Tattered Flag Rags
Flapping fiercely in the wind

©1990 T. McMullen All Rights Reserved

On a “friend’s” Facebook page the following was posted in a graphic:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

…My generation grew up reciting this every morning in school with my hand over my heart. They no longer do that for fear of offending someone.

Let’s see how many Americans will repost and not worry about offending someone.” 
[I might add that the whole thing was in CAPS!]

The first comment, from Jonathan, said,"Under God" was added in the '50s, during the apex of Cold War paranoia and McCarthyism. The original pledge was non-secular. This same hysterical time in our history is responsible for "In God We Trust" used as a slogan, thrown around federal buildings and our currency.

We evolve and shed the bullshit.

People who bitch about PC attitudes do not operate in anyone's best interest. They are haters, with entitlement issues about openly hating.

Jonathan, in a different comment, later asserted, “The Bible is a work of fiction.”

Then Brandon responded:
The Bible like all genuine works of world historical religion are works of the human heart not "fiction". Why do rabid atheist's eyeballs always seem like they are going to pop out? Hating religion, especially Christianity, is an easy, weak target for intellectual weaklings.

This exchange prompted the following from me:

Brandon, I am puzzled a bit by the distinction that you seem to be making between works of “fiction” and “works of the human heart.” Are you distinguishing between works of the heart as opposed to works of the “head,” i.e., purely rational, devoid of affective or emotional content? To be honest, I don’t think that I have ever encountered such a thing. Even the most “rational” piece of scientific writing has emotive qualities. It is the nature of written and spoken communication, and it seems unlikely that you are arguing that fiction is exclusively rational, neither inspired nor imbued with emotion; nor does it seem reasonable to assume that you think the sacred works are devoid of all rational thought. If they were, they would be worth very little indeed.

By works of the human heart, do you mean something that is “true” as opposed to fiction, which is “false”? I was faced innumerable times with eager students who, after reading some powerful and moving piece of fiction, would ask, “Is it true?” The need for it to be true in the historical sense gave them a sense of validation that a “made up story” could not. This error can be attributed to the folly and ignorance of youth. The most accurate answer is, of course, “though it may not have actually happened, it is certainly true.” Sadly, this consumer society has created a logical fallacy with their absurd and misleading phrase “based on a true story” or “based on real events” to describe the most preposterous works of supernatural or semi-historical fiction. This distortion of the concept of truth can also be seen in the absurdly ironic misnomer of “reality” TV for the ridiculously foolish and fabricated scenarios from Jerry Springer and Maury Povich to Big Brother and Fear Factor to Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

To argue that the great books of the world’s religions are “true,” in the sense of an accurate, historical documentation of actual physical events that occurred in a real time at a real place, and that they are “true” in their entirety, is also a patently absurd approach. Those fundamentalists who insist that every word of their “holy book” is not symbolic but literal either have no grasp of reality, or they have never actually read the books that they purport to believe.

Perhaps you are getting at the more meaningful distinction between pure literary fiction and mythological works. In this case, it is the motive more than the method that separates the two. Literary fiction is meant to entertain, to delight, to move, to motivate, to challenge, and to explain to the reader. The author may create a setting using verisimilitude or absolute fancy; they may create characters based on archetypes or stereotypes, or they may attempt a complex and nuanced depiction of actual people.

Notice, though, that each of these intentions and techniques can be applied not merely to great works of fiction, but they can also apply to The Upanishads, The Vedas, The Mahabharata and its excerpt The Bhagavad Gita, The Ramayana, The Jainist Agamas, The Tao Te Ching (or The Te Tao Ching), The Sutras, The Old Testament, The New Testament, The Koran, The Nordic Eddas, The Book of Mormon, and many other sacred texts. The difference between these “sacred works” and ordinary works of fiction is that the sacred books offer myths of cosmogony (creation), etiology (tracing of causes), legends and parables, as well as codes of conduct and rules of propriety.

While acknowledging this distinction between fiction and myth (and dismissing the more colloquial and ethnocentric meaning of “myth” as a falsity, fabrication, or false religion),
I fail to comprehend the source of your ire. You did not describe these works as messages from God but as works of the human heart, thus denying them any supernatural standing or sacrosanct authority.

If they are merely manmade, then they are fiction in their storytelling, howsoever wise in their advice and admonitions. As such, why can they not be held up to intellectual scrutiny, just like Hamlet, Tristam Shandy, The Scarlett Letter, The Time Machine, Brave New World, 1984, The Grapes of Wrath, Death of a Salesman, The Tin Drum and other great works of fiction or Wealth of Nations, Gulliver’s Travels, “The Declaration of Independence,” Leaves of Grass, Origin of Species, Das Kapital, “Self Reliance,” “Civil Disobedience,” “The Pledge of Allegiance,” Mein Kampf and other works of poetry and persuasion?

You asked, “Why do rabid atheist's eyeballs always seem like they are going to pop out? Hating religion, especially Christianity, is an easy, weak target for intellectual weaklings." If something is “an easy, weak target for intellectual weaklings,” what must it be for those with some modicum of intellectual prowess?

No, it is not the ease with which individual inconsistencies, fallacies, fantasies, and absurdities in the religious texts can be identified and ridiculed that causes thoughtful, even spiritually-minded people to hold religion in such contempt. It is the use of religion by its adherents and by those ignorant poseurs who are deluded into believing themselves adherents, who use their understanding (or misunderstanding, distortion, or perversion) of “their” religion to justify their intrusion on the lives of others.

Persecution and subjugation on the grounds of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, and lifestyle; torture, murder and war from crusades to jihads, from occupations to intifadas, from suicide bombers to drone missile strikes (and no, these are not all morally equivalent—an uprising as a means of “shaking off” oppression, for example, is more justified than an invasion or an occupation) but the evil perpetrated from each of these acts of violence is done in the name and on behalf of religion.

When it comes to the original point, the document known as “The Pledge of Allegiance” or the “Flag Salute,” it is a very interesting affirmation, designed in the late 1800’s to bring a sense of patriotism at a time when the rise of capitalism had created slums and wage-slave factories. Bellamy proposed a document that would be recited by school children everywhere as a way of recognizing and encouraging the political and economic aspirations of the people. It said, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The flag was seen as a unifying symbol of the Republic, that is, the representative democracy, and not the corrupt and unscrupulous oligarchy that it was becoming. The term “indivisible” referred to the Civil War and the failure of the Confederacy to dismantle the Union, but it also referred to the economic disparity being created under laissez faire capitalism, the ever-widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots, that was fomenting a disdain for and revolt from the jingoistic “patriotism” of the masters by the working poor. The concluding phrase is, obviously, the heart of the affirmation and the aspiration. It states that this is a democracy with “liberty and justice for all,” with emphasis on “ALL.” When read in this form, it clearly comports with Francis Bellamy’s socialist intent.

Bellamy was adamantly opposed to the change fomented in 1924 by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution. They replaced “my Flag” with “the Flag of the United States” and a year later, they added,  “of America.” Bellamy’s protestations that these changes eroded the universality of his pledge went unheeded.

The crowning distortion, the change that, in fact, completely undermined the very premise of the pledge, was the anti-communist insertion of “under God,” at the urging of the Knights of Columbus during the Eisenhower administration. This absolutely upended an egalitarian statement about a country that protected the liberty of ALL and provided justice for All. The first statement in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights (the document without which the Constitution could not have been ratified and which is directly in line with the Preamble) is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” By changing the Flag Code and declaring this to be “one Nation under God,” Eisenhower and Congress had thoroughly, intentionally, and unconstitutionally undermined and subverted the protection of religious liberty as proscribed in the first amendment.

Put simply, whenever politicians, pundits or partisans use God or religion as a rationale for promoting or punishing behavior, liberty and justice are curtailed, and harm transpires. Complaining about, even railing against those negative impacts, even from something as initially laudable as the “Pledge of Allegiance” seems completely justifiable.


  1. Tim, that was truly one of the most cogent, articulate arguments I've ever read on the subject.

    What religious fundamentalists seem to conveniently forget is that the First Amendment was meant not only to ensure freedom OF religion, but freedom FROM religion as well.

    They may have grown up happily reciting their hijacked version of the Pledge of Allegiance, but I had a different sort of experience. Even in my puny 6-year-old brain, I always found the pledge to be more than a little bit disturbing, due to the unquestioning, simple-minded obedience it seemed to demand. I would occasionally recite it just to avoid drawing attention to myself, but more often than not I'd just put my hand on my chest and silently mouth a few of the words. I was always relieved when it was done.

    Now, I'm not trying to dramatize my experience as having been some sort of evil brainwashing that was thrust upon me as a poor, innocent child. My point is just that whomever penned the original Facebook chain-post that started the whole debate ought to spend a little less time trying to stir up the mob with ignorant populist rhetoric, and a little more time studying history. Better yet, he might step outside of himself for a moment and try to see things from other perspectives. I don't suppose he's ever bothered trying to imagine what it's like to be a non-Christian in America - like perhaps a Sikh in Wisconsin.

    For the religious fundamentalists of the world (Christian or otherwise), nothing is ever enough. They're not content to have the right to practice their religion in peace. Nor are they content with the large majorities they frequently enjoy. Nope. For them, freedom of religion must necessarily include the right to *impose* their religion on others.

    Here in America, the fundamentalists claim to believe in Democracy, but all they really seem to believe in is a childish idea of "Democracy" as being synonymous with "the majority rules." Apparently, they've either never heard the phrase "tyranny of the majority", or they merely dismiss the distinction between "rule by majority" and true, inclusive Democracy as mere whining by the losers in the minority.

  2. I know this is an old post but I really need to reply. =) RE: the bible, I don't agree with Brandon's assessment, because how Brandon described the bible is not what the bible says about itself. The bible describes itself as the Word of God. The bible describes itself as a complete and final work, and as the inerrant, infallible Word of God.

    "If they are merely manmade, then they are fiction in their storytelling, howsoever wise in their advice and admonitions." I think it's perfectly fine to view the bible as fiction or a fairy tale, because if you don't believe that there is a God, then there is no way that the bible could be anything but a story. However, even if you take this view, consider that the bible is the only religious book that has accurately prophesied actual events in such great detail. Jesus Christ Himself fulfilled hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament. Something to consider.

    RE: "...the evil perpetrated from each of these acts of violence is done in the name and on behalf of religion." There is also "persecution and subjugation on the grounds of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, and lifestyle; torture, murder and war" done in the name of and on behalf of atheism. Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Kim Jong-Il to name a few. So, it’s not that religion is the source of evil, it’s that human beings are capable of evil acts.

    "It is the use of religion by its adherents and by those ignorant poseurs who are deluded into believing themselves adherents, who use their understanding (or misunderstanding, distortion, or perversion) of “their” religion to justify their intrusion on the lives of others." Well, if you're speaking of Christianity in particular, how you define religion intruding on others' lives is in actuality the result (consequence?) of the freedom of religion. Either way, someone else's belief system is going to intrude on your way of living (or to put it more humorously, your karma may run over my dogma.) ;) It's that whole discussion of, where do your rights end, and mine begin? It will never be more than a grey area with some very unhappy people in it.

    People who expect that religion and politics are not going to mix are themselves deluded. To force people to agree with something they don't believe in is dictatorship, not freedom. Christians, like anyone, vote with their conscience, the foundation of their beliefs, their morality, which all goes back to a single source: the bible. As the saying goes, if you have a problem with the book, take it up with the Author. I get that you don't agree with what the bible says. Well, sorry. Majority rules. Stop being a baby and suck it up! ;) (Kidding. Sort of.)

    (Obama is president again today, so that's what I've had to tell myself.) =)