Wrong Strategy

Friday, January 9th, 2009

I’ve never really understood the evangelical atheists’ obsession with removing the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Seems to me that the real problem here—whether you’re atheist, agnostic, or devout—is the idea that we’re forcing school kids to take a loyalty oath to a swatch of cloth. If the argument is that they’re pledging allegiance to the country the cloth represents, that’s pretty creepy, too. I think the American experiment is far from perfect. And it will always be tainted by the slavery and Native American genocide that corresponded with its founding (and the enduring legacies of both).  That said, I also think the American experiment is best thing that’s ever happened to mankind. At least so far.

But pledging allegiance to “America” carries a “my country, right or wrong” connotation that’s, frankly, un-American. At least if you’re defining “American” by the principles the country was founded upon.

It’s also odd that the Pledge has become such a touchstone issue for the right, given its origins (Tom Bell’s version of the Pledge is much better).

Anyway, back to my original point: Why are atheists appalled by forcing school kids to utter the phrase “under God,” but seemingly unbothered by requiring them to pledge a loyalty oath to their government?

(Disclosure: I’m an agnostic.)

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97 Responses to “Wrong Strategy”

  1. #1 |  Edwin Sheldon | 

    I imagine it’s because many atheists are leftists, who have a raging hard-on for big government, but not for religion.

  2. #2 |  ktc2 | 

    I fully agree this is terrible strategy, will not work and will backfire.

    Personally I would like to see all such myths purged from government but the majority are not ready to give up their delusions and will defend them violently.

  3. #3 |  pham newen | 

    “(Disclosure: I’m an agnostic.)”

    And here I though you were an Agitator.

    ;-)

  4. #4 |  Kwix | 

    Barring Edwin Sheldon’s Blue Team baiting, he is roughly correct.

    As an agnostic with heavy atheistic leanings raised in the public school system, the “under God” part bothered me whereas the fealty oath did not. The PoA is an indoctrination technique, always has been, and (based on the number of “These Colors Don’t Run” bumper stickers I see) a very successful one at that.

    I credit my post secondary self-education to casting doubts on the idea of a fealty oath, much less the daily recital thereof. Most Americans, it seems, did not reach that same educational epiphany.

  5. #5 |  Ken | 

    It takes a finely tuned appreciation for irony to enjoy a de-facto-mandatory, socially enforced, rote, uniform, unison pledge to liberty.

  6. #6 |  Andrew Williams | 

    I’m not an atheist, but I don’t think “under God” belongs in the pledge and I’d like to see it removed. Two reasons:

    1) It wasn’t there to begin with. The words “under God” weren’t added to the pledge until 1954, until they were shoehorned in during the Eisenhower presidency thanks to evangelical fervor led by the Rev. George McPherson Docherty (and Ike’s apparent desire to try to please everyone).

    2) The Founding Fathers weren’t Christians in the strict sense of that word. They were Deists. They believed in a God (or creative force) that created the physical universe but did not subscribe to all of the tenets of Christianity. Two relevant quotes here:

    “Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.”
    “I am for freedom of religion, and against all maneuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another. ”
    –Thomas Jefferson

  7. #7 |  Andrew Williams | 

    Isn’t “evangelical atheists” an oxymoron?

  8. #8 |  Kwix | 

    Isn’t “evangelical atheists” an oxymoron?

    Not anymore. Thanks to the fervent nature of Christian Evangelicals, the word evangelical has taken on a new definition:
    5. marked by ardent or zealous enthusiasm for a cause.

  9. #9 |  Mike T | 

    The Founding Fathers weren’t Christians in the strict sense of that word. They were Deists. They believed in a God (or creative force) that created the physical universe but did not subscribe to all of the tenets of Christianity. Two relevant quotes here:

    That’s not true. Most of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and were involved in the Constitution were Presbyterians or Congregationalists. Those are very conservative denominations.

    Thomas Jefferson was only one of about 50 some men.

    The difference between our founding fathers and modern religious right leaders is that our founding fathers’ faith informed their actions such that they didn’t want or need a government big enough to get involved in any traditionally religious issue.

    The most radical libertarians I’ve met are also Calvinists. I’ve met some that are so hard-line because of their reformed faith that they make Reason look like a den of Communists.

    Our founding fathers would agree with Radley’s statements, in part because Christians are not supposed to swear their loyalty to earthly governments. The Pledge of Allegiance should be replaced with something similar to the pledge that every serviceman takes to defend the constitution.

  10. #10 |  Francis | 

    eh, I don’t think most atheists care about the Pledge one way or another.

    It’s just another version of the relatively mindless ceremonial deism that is broadly tolerated around the country. City halls can have Xmas trees so long as they have a menorah lying around someplace as well. Violation of the Establishment Clause? In a strict sense, yes. Religion is being preferred over non-religion. But at some point minority groups have to recognize that not every quasi-oppressive act of the majority can be fixed in court. (That said, I think the next round of lawsuits, over atheist groups requesting that city halls put up pro-atheist plaques at Christmas time, will be very interesting and likely quite funny.)

    But remember, it only takes one guy, and a law firm willing to do the legal work pro bono, to take a case all the way to the US Sup. Ct.

  11. #11 |  Bee | 

    Erasing the creepiness one step at a time, maybe? Roll back the God thing, then roll back the mandatory pledge thing?

    And I think the “militant atheist” meme is a myth, anyway. There are, what, like 20 of us in the entire United States? 4 of whom actually have the cojones to admit to their atheism publicly, and to work for atheist objectives, and to fight back against the unthinking “depersonalization” we receive as members of a despised minority?

  12. #12 |  Ken Hagler | 

    As noted before, not all atheists are libertarians. I’m both, and I’d rather get rid of some of the pledge of allegiance than not get rid of any of it.

  13. #13 |  ktc2 | 

    Our founders were of various minds on religion as on just about everything else. Ranging from atheist through Christian. Some very deliberately refused to discuss their religious beliefs (Washington).

  14. #14 |  ktc2 | 

    Franklin was allegedly involved with the Hellfire Club.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellfire_Club

  15. #15 |  Edwin Sheldon | 

    Barring Edwin Sheldon’s Blue Team baiting, he is roughly correct.

    It was not meant to be blue-baiting or trolling. I have a habit of expressing myself bluntly and succinctly. Most atheists I know are indeed leftists (many of them damn near socialist), who merely worship government over God (rather than giving up worship altogether).

  16. #16 |  pam | 

    “And here I though you were an Agitator.”

    no, that’s Jesse Jackson

  17. #17 |  roy | 

    The Constitution bars the government from endorsing religion, but does not bar the government from endorsing itself. So while I find the loyalty aspect of the Pledge a bit creepy as practiced, it’s not as creepy as the government willfully breaking the rules that define it, nor as the People encouraging the government to do so.

    Personally, I’m more atheist than agnostic, and while I’d like to see the Under God bit removed it doesn’t seem like a very big deal.

  18. #18 |  thomasblair | 

    Why are atheists appalled by forcing school kids to utter the phrase “under God,” but seemingly unbothered by requiring them to pledge a loyalty oath to their government?

    It’s the same reason why baseball fans are unbothered by the brand of utensils used in culinary school.

  19. #19 |  Michael | 

    I feel the thing about pledge in to the government is old hat. How many of us really believe it is a country with liberty and justice FOR ALL?! And as a Christian, I agree that, according to the teaching of our sects, there should be no swearing or pledging to anything! But Christians, who are told not to judge, are the first ones to jump on the judgmental band wagon! Maybe also they should read about the fact that it teaches also that ALL have sinned! That is the most important reason to not be judging others. It is what defines hypocrites!

    It does not say they should not be discerning in moral matters. But, judging is, still, TABOO according to the Bibles I have read.

  20. #20 |  Zeb | 

    Making children pledge allegiance to anything before they are sophisticated enough to understand exactly what they are saying is a pretty shitty thing to do, God or no god.

  21. #21 |  thomasblair | 

    Bee,

    And I think the “militant atheist” meme is a myth, anyway. There are, what, like 20 of us in the entire United States? 4 of whom actually have the cojones to admit to their atheism publicly, and to work for atheist objectives, and to fight back against the unthinking “depersonalization” we receive as members of a despised minority?

    I am an atheist. Can any of you statisticians out there tell me the odds of 2/20 atheists in the country reading (and posting to) the Agitator?

    There are more of us that you think.

  22. #22 |  ktc2 | 

    Make that 3/20. LOL.

    Actually we are a rapidly growing group. This is in no small part due to the wonderful job Christian evangelicals in politics are doing to discredit religion as a whole. Of course the radical muslims are bang up job of that as well.

  23. #23 |  eruvande | 

    I’m not sure who you’ve asked, but, um, EVERY atheist I know who doesn’t like “under God” in the Pledge also wishes there were no Pledge. I think you’re chasing a straw-atheist here.

  24. #24 |  ktc2 | 

    Ugh, should be are DOING a bang up job as well.

    Damn, ruined my pun.

  25. #25 |  eruvande | 

    P.S. 4/20. (LOL POT)

  26. #26 |  Frederick | 

    A pledge of loyalty to the government…or my country? “Under God” on the other hand, very unchristian.

  27. #27 |  random guy | 

    I think it comes from constantly debunking the christian nation myth. This is a nation largely composed of Christians, but is not in any sense founded on Christian principles, philosophy, or biblical law. Our government is a combination of enlightenment philosophy and British common law practices, which predated Christianity.

    The problem is that “under God” most certainly gives the impression of the former rather than the later. Its the same thing with “In God we trust” on our money. I think the first US coins had a motto in Latin that basically said “keep thy business to thyself”. I think the atheist stance on these issues is more of a reaction to the slow but steady entitlement that certain sects of Christianity fell they can impose on our government.

    If your going to impede religious subversion of government you have to start somewhere. I think its better that battle lines be drawn on things like the pledge. There is a religious element in this country that would be more than willing to impose a theocracy on all of us, and things like the current wording of the pledge tend to support that world view more than that of a secular government committed to defending the freedoms of everyone.

    Also I didn’t think it was required to say the pledge in the first place. I’m pretty sure that there is some court precedent saying that a student can opt out if they have personal differences with reciting the pledge. Of course peer pressure, group think, and ignorant school administrators kind of makes sure that hardly ever happens.

  28. #28 |  Jeff Hebert | 

    I would say it’s because they’re atheists, who care primarily about issues involving religious promotion, and not libertarians, who care primarily about issues involving governmental promotion.

    I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.

  29. #29 |  Mattocracy | 

    I know a lot of militant atheists. I don’t like them anymore than I do hard line religious people. It’s fine to be one or the other, it’s that whole militant thing. And apparently, neither group is immune to hypocrisy.

  30. #30 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I rank forcing loyalty oaths on children in public schools right up there with Fuhrer worship and Mao’s Little Red Book. But, as an atheist, I’m particularly disturbed when the the state institutionalizes and sanctions the subservience of humanity to a fictional entity and promotes the substitution of blind faith for reason.

    When it comes to schools, I want them to stick to teaching academics and leave the citizenship conditioning to others.

  31. #31 |  Bill | 

    As a Christian and a libertarian, I’m quite opposed to both the current usage of the pledge and the “under God” clause within.

    First, the “under God” thing doesn’t fit with a country in which we are supposed to be free to choose our spiritual beliefs (including the belief that there’s nothing beyond the physical, observable world). Second, it’s not very honest: far too many of this country don’t believe that we have a nation under God. On the contrary, they wish to elevate government to BE God.

    As to the pledge, as I’ve explained to my kids, any promise made under duress isn’t binding, so the notion of requiring the pledge is very silly. Further, if it’s to be taken seriously as a pledge, rather than indoctrination, shouldn’t it be taken once and done? On the other hand, maybe our political leaders should be taking that “I swear to uphold the Constitution…” pledge a bit more often.

  32. #32 |  Cynical In CA | 

    In an otherwise very thoughtful post, we have:

    “I also think the American experiment is best thing that’s ever happened to mankind.” Radley Balko

    I’m actually just going to let that pass mostly without comment. It’s a matter of opinion, I guess. One has to wonder, though, how all those murdered by the American experiment would feel. Just asking.

    Radley continues: “Anyway, back to my original point: Why are atheists appalled by forcing school kids to utter the phrase “under God,” but seemingly unbothered by requiring them to pledge a loyalty oath to their government?”

    As a rational person (the term “atheist” is prejudiced in favor of individuals who allow their imaginations to get the better of them) and an anarchist, I can solemnly affirm that the Pledge of Allegiance is despicable for just about every reason stated and more.

    I always thought Michael Newdow’s self-serving posturing was immature and ill-conceived. The real reason to object to the Pledge is the words “with liberty and justice for all.”

    As this blog proves on a daily basis, there is absolutely no “liberty and justice for all” in America.

    Point of note: I have given my two children liberty to refrain from saying the Pledge. So far, only one of their teachers has made a fuss, which I quelled rather easily with the principal.

    The final answer to Radley’s question is that politically-active “atheists” have found a niche to hammer away at the Pledge that resonates with a definable group of people. In short, they are hacking away at the branches of the State instead of going for the root. It’s fairly common practice, as any reader of this blog would be aware.

  33. #33 |  Cynical In CA | 

    Point of note: it is illegal to force a child in a state school to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

  34. #34 |  Booger | 

    I do not participate in the pledge because it represents at best, a kind of “idolatry.” As an American and an atheist, I pledge my allegiance to the Constitution, and to the Republic which it forms. But hey, that’s just me.

  35. #35 |  Cynical In CA | 

    #9 | Mike T | January 9th, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    In an otherwise stellar (IMO) post, we find this:

    “The Pledge of Allegiance should be replaced with something similar to the pledge that every serviceman takes to defend the constitution.”

    Why???

  36. #36 |  John Jenkins | 

    The government may not compel anyone to recite the pledge of allegiance. See West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), which has my favorite quote from any Supreme Court opinion:

    “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” Id. at 642.

    The question is why more people don’t teach their children to refuse (though that is probably a peer pressure thing to a large extent).

    As an aside, I am an atheist in Oklahoma, one of the more religious states, I make it clear that I am an atheist when asked (or when it’s otherwise relevant), and I have not had any problems with anyone, professionally or otherwise as a result.

    @Radley:

    But pledging allegiance to “America” carries a “my country, right or wrong” connotation that’s, frankly, un-American. At least if you’re defining “American” by the principles the country was founded upon.

    I’m not sure I follow this exactly. There is clearly a problem with compelling allegiance to the principles upon which the U.S. was founded (assuming you mean the aspirational ones, equality, freedom, etc.), but what problem is there with someone freely choosing to swear allegiance to those principles (not the government or the flag)? Maybe I just misunderstood?

  37. #37 |  Mike T | 

    “The Pledge of Allegiance should be replaced with something similar to the pledge that every serviceman takes to defend the constitution.”

    Why???

    Because that will get people thinking about the framework of the government and the ideas behind it. I don’t necessarily care if we have some sort of abstract oath like that, as it is more of an oath that you will fight to preserve the underlying foundation of the country, not the government.

  38. #38 |  Mike T | 

    I’d rather get rid of some of the pledge of allegiance than not get rid of any of it.

    What makes you think that you’d do that, rather than make it palatable to a larger part of the population?

  39. #39 |  John Jenkins | 

    @ Mike T: I think I prefer Justice Jackson’s approach from Barnette. Compelling an oath of any kind, even one in defense of principles that we generally recognize are good is abhorrent to the idea of liberty. There will always be disagreement with what principles are worth our allegiance, which is sort of the point, really.

  40. #40 |  Edmund Dantes | 

    My favorite are the goons and idiots at Baseball games, football games, any sporting event, or on talk radio that yell at you for not saluting the flag, standing for the national anthem, or standing for the God Bless America.

    Usually it’s some rant about “so and so is a disgrace… he’s doing a disservice to those fighting for our freedoms by turning his back/not standing for/etc… if he doesn’t like standing for it he should not play baseball etc”

    I don’t think it ever clicks in their head that the guy refusing to salute or whatever is pissing off the idiot is by his actions actually re-affirming everything that those soldiers, patriots, and others sacrificed their lives for. The one that is doing more damage to the ideals those people fought for is the one demanding that everyone must do this or must do that because this is AMERICA!!!!

  41. #41 |  Hunter | 

    Regarding being agnostic, why bother conceding anything about god maybe or maybe not existing? If you feel that you have to make a statement on that, you have to make statements on all sorts of other ludicrous ideas, like invisable lizards floating in space, homosexual triangles from other dimensions, super-intelligent shades of the color blue, the flying spaghetti monster, etc.

    What’s the point in all that? Probably none of them exist, nor all the other crazy fairy tales you could come up with and foist upon a population.

    Or put another way, I don’t think I want to believe something exists or *is*, until it’s been proven so or demonstrated likely to be so, and a book and 3 billion followers recollections or stories their parents told them don’t qualify.

    That said, quibbling about this is silly, but I am pedantic if nothing else.

  42. #42 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #30 Cynical In CA

    Point of note: it is illegal to force a child in a state school to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

    I think the fact that they don’t hold a gun to the child’s head is completely immaterial. The pressure on a kid to “go along” is immense. Objecting to the pledge is not going to be high on the kid’s list of priorities, so he’s caught between doing what his parents want and doing what the school wants. In my mind, loyalty oaths are not a legitimate function of public education and should be dispensed with entirely.

  43. #43 |  Cynical In CA | 

    Thanks for the explanation, Mike.

    At any rate, this entire discussion is a perfect example of how if they get to you to ask the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about a right answer.

    We’re discussing a tiny snippet of false or indirect compulsion (it is demonstrated that the Pledge is not compulsory). However, school attendance is compulsory. And make no mistake, the national government controls “education” (read: indoctrination) in America since the 1940’s at least, whether it’s a state school, a religious school or a private school. Even homeschoolers are controlled to a certain degree.

    The dismal state of education in 2009 America, and the State’s heavy hand in administering it, should tell everyone they need to know about the evil of the State and its true intentions. These are our own children we’re talking about! What kind of slaves have we become?

    My excuse: I was born a slave.

  44. #44 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Oops. Sorry about screwing up the blockquote. The second, longer, paragraph in my post is my words and are not a part of the quote.

  45. #45 |  Cynical In CA | 

    +1 for super-intelligent shades of blue!

    They’re actually pretty cool to hang with. Last time I tripped on datura, I woke up naked in my neighbor’s jacuzzi with a couple of hot super-intelligent periwinkles.

    Maybe there is a God …

  46. #46 |  Brent | 

    I hope this doesn’t sound too technical but, the fight against ‘under god’ is, at it’s core, about getting rid of one more reason religious types can quote as proof that ‘America has always been a god fearing country’. That some of the founders subscribed to a religion is irrelevant. The agreements they signed their names to don’t yield to any god’s authority to grant the rights they proclaim. The D.O.I. is indifferent to any god. Otherwise they would have said “our creator” instead of “THEIR creator”. Unalienable rights are endowed whether ‘creator’ means god -OR- parents. They don’t require a god’s permission. Allowing any religion even a pinhole of room, petty as it may be, in which to argue to the contrary is giving way too much. I hope that’s not too technical. If it is, sorry.

  47. #47 |  Cynical In CA | 

    No prob, Dave. I don’t bother with the HTML anyway. Too risky.

    “I think the fact that they don’t hold a gun to the child’s head is completely immaterial. The pressure on a kid to “go along” is immense. Objecting to the pledge is not going to be high on the kid’s list of priorities, so he’s caught between doing what his parents want and doing what the school wants. In my mind, loyalty oaths are not a legitimate function of public education and should be dispensed with entirely.”

    Very valid points all.

    I discuss all matters of force and cooperation with my two kids (daughter, 12, son, 9). I explained to them exactly what the Pledge is and what the State uses it for. I did not tell them to say or not say the Pledge, but asked them to make the decision.

    It’s been awhile, I’ll have to ask them if they’re saying it or not, but for some time my son was adamant about not saying it. Pissed his 3rd-grade teacher off something fierce, she went to the principal. One well-reasoned e-mail chock full of Supreme Court opinions from me to the principal was enough to put that baby to bed.

    My family is no doubt a huge exception. Most parents are flag-waving automata, not giving the matter an iota of thought. No doubt the apples fall close to that tree. It’s not even peer-pressure compulsion — it’s just thoughtless herd mentality for 99%+.

    But again, it’s just pissing in the wind. The root battle lies in State control of education. The Pledge battle is the wrong question. Fuel for the State.

  48. #48 |  Jerry S | 

    I’ll add another to the list of atheists reading this bog, how did we all end up together? LOL

    No one has acosted me yet at a football or baseball game if I don’t stand during the national anthem (sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t depends on how I feel at the time). Although I’ve been waiting for someone to say something to me, as I’m an atheist who atually served in the Air Force during the mid-80’s and I’ve been dying to respond back and see what these idiots would say when confronted.

  49. #49 |  John Jenkins | 

    @Brent: I am not sure your grammatical argument holds much here. The Declaration says that “All men are endowed by their creator,” but to use the form you describe, they would have had to have used the form “We are endowed by our creator.” If they were aiming for a universal declaration (which I believe they were), the second formulation does seem to be the right way to go.

    Being endowed by one’s parents with inalienable rights doesn’t seem to make sense either (on what authority do they grant the rights? Do they have them? Who granted rights to them? What about the first humans, did they have rights? Who created them? Who granted their rights?). No, I think that the drafters of the Declaration knew who their audience was, knew that audience largely would understand a natural law view, and drafted the Declaration accordingly, to appeal to those of a religious bent (the vast majority of people at the time).

    The argument that rights are inherent in our nature as rational beings (which I think is what you are getting at) is much different than the statements in the Declaration, because it holds that we are not granted rights at all. Any argument that is based on a granting of rights necessarily depends on a grantor (depending on who is arguing, either God or the state, usually), and therefore admits of the possibility that the grantor can revoke the rights, or worse, that anything not specifically granted is reserved to the grantor. Foolish fantasy when applied to God, but an invitation to disaster when applied to the state.

  50. #50 |  Andrew Williams | 

    Jefferson and Franklin were definitely Deists. The jury’s still out on George Washington. Apparently he did NOT say that “In no sense can the United States be considered a Christian nation,” although he did indeed tell his gardener to “make the most use of the Indian Hemp seed–sow it everywhere!”

  51. #51 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #44 | Cynical In CA

    The root battle lies in State control of education.

    I agree completely.

  52. #52 |  Cynical In CA | 

    Cool. I garner neg karma now just for posting, regardless of content! I’ve hit the big time!

    “Keep your friends close, and keep your enemies closer.” Don Corleone

  53. #53 |  Cynical In CA | 

    “No one has acosted me yet at a football or baseball game if I don’t stand during the national anthem …”

    Be careful if you try it at Yankee Stadium, Jerry.

    http://gothamist.com/2008/08/27/did_police_eject_a_man_from_yankee.php

  54. #54 |  chance | 

    Why are atheists appalled by forcing school kids to utter the phrase “under God,” but seemingly unbothered by requiring them to pledge a loyalty oath to their government?

    On the first point, I’m an atheist, and while the “under god” part seems silly to me, I don’t see much point in making it a huge deal. I don’t know why other atheists do make this a priority. It just makes us look bad.

    On the other question about being unbothered by a loyalty oath to the government A) it isn’t a binding legal oath, so its significance is only social and B) while I have no hard numbers, most atheists I know are neither libertarian nor anarchists, and so have no ideological “default” against government. And I would also speculate (and since this comes from an admitted and unashamed statist, dismiss my opinion as you like) that in the absence of a supernatural authority figure, many atheists may unconsciously seek to fill thegap with a temporal authority- i.e. the government.

  55. #55 |  Eric Seymour | 

    Cynical in CA wrote: “Most parents are flag-waving automata, not giving the matter an iota of thought. No doubt the apples fall close to that tree. It’s not even peer-pressure compulsion — it’s just thoughtless herd mentality for 99%+.”

    99%+ of my friends and relatives enjoy saying the pledge and singing the national anthem–and encourage their children to do so–not because they are mindless dupes, but because they see it as an expression of gratitude for the nation they are sincerely thankful to live in.

    (Now, I’m not saying that people who object to saying the pledge are unappreciative. They have their reasons for choosing not to participate, and I respect that as long as they are respectful while the rest of us do participate.)

    For those who are afraid that having elementary school kids say the pledge is brainwashing them, I think that’s just a tad overwrought. I said the pledge every day from Kindergarten through 8th grade, and it was just a mindless recitation. Some of my classmates would entertain themselves by inventing alternate words. I’m sure it’s the same for every school kid in America today.

  56. #56 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #55 Eric Seymour

    For those who are afraid that having elementary school kids say the pledge is brainwashing them, I think that’s just a tad overwrought. I said the pledge every day from Kindergarten through 8th grade, and it was just a mindless recitation.

    I think the fact that you’re not as pissed off about it as the rest of us, proves that it worked on you.

    Muahahahahahahaha! I kill me!

  57. #57 |  Cynical In CA | 

    I’m gonna let it go now, Eric. You made some good points and you are the moderate exception. I wish everyone were as tolerant as you, like my son’s 3rd-grade teacher, a government employee.

    FWIW, I do like the melody of the national anthem (old English drinking song). I usually hum a bass line.

  58. #58 |  Les | 

    I said the pledge every day from Kindergarten through 8th grade, and it was just a mindless recitation.

    But isn’t that reason enough to get rid of it?

  59. #59 |  Jason | 

    The pledge never meant anything to me, at a very young age, I didn’t even understand it. Maybe as mindless recitation it has no value, but it’s hard to imagine that it’s really any kind of threat. The lack of meaningful content in most of the rest of education in the country is a much more important problem.
    http://www.rightklik.net/

  60. #60 |  Cynical In CA | 

    #54 | chance | January 9th, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Right on. Anti-statist that I am, I respect your opinion.

    It’s all about idol worship. The State becomes a surrogate god.

    Maybe that’s the idea ….

  61. #61 |  Tokin42 | 

    This thread is a perfect example of why I cannot tell people that I am an atheist, a libertarian, or even that I am of the same species as the people around me. I’m surrounded by weak willed/spined intellectual/philosophical midgets.

    No one should be forced to take the pledge, but those that choose not too out of some form of misguided “I’M AN INDIVIDUAL!!!!” mentality should be treated as a historical and philosophical intellectual retard. I’d explain further but even after rubbing the two remaining working braincells you have together, most of you still wouldn’t understand.

    I love Radleys work, but the fact that he doesn’t understand his own lifes work exemplifies the pledge of allegiance to this nation and his fellow man is saddening. There isn’t anything “creepy” about pledging yourself to a cause that includes “liberty and justice for all”.

  62. #62 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Is there anything indicating that athiests are more prone to be liberals/Democrats and thus Statists than libertarians and opposed to an expansive and intrusive State?

  63. #63 |  Steve Verdon | 

    I didn’t include conservative/Republicans in the above because I figured most would fall into the religious catagory and hence wouldn’t object to the phrase of “under God” being in the pledge.

  64. #64 |  Big Chief | 

    The non-pledge part of this thread caused me to realize what the next victim class is – Atheists, the oppressed minority. Start calling for your quotas guys!

  65. #65 |  Brent | 

    @Mr. Jenkins: I agree with your belief that their intent was to be ‘universal’, however this seems a cowardly side-step on their part to avoid making the statement that they view their authority to be above the authority of a creator. In such matters where man’s law permits, by not forbidding, actions which break the laws of the creator (for example: abortion, homosexuality) one authority eventually has to over-rule the other.
    By stating in the D.O.I. that they believe the truths are SELF-evident, they are saying that the truths are made evident BY the created. So, the created acknowledge the creator’s authority to endow or grant unalienable rights. That suggests that the authority of the created is above the authority of the creator, does it not?
    Sorry for this by the way. I barely understand this argument myself, so I really pity someone else trying to.

  66. #66 |  fwb | 

    Disclosure:

    The Pledge of Allegiance is the ultimate in brainwashing. It is used to destroy the independence and sovereignty of the individual nations (usually called states BUT the term state meant nation when the Decl. and Constitution were written) that comprise the Union known as the United States of America. We do not live in a nation but we live in a Union of 50 free and indpendent nations. If you want evidence of the meaning of the word State, check the last paragraph of the Decl. of Ind. The conversion of our thinking has been accomplished from within by those who either are too ignorant to understand the actual government system which was formed or by those who wish to form something different. $1000 to anyone who can find the United States referred to as a “nation” or the government as “national” in the Constitution. It’s not there because during the Convention those terms were removed because they were NOT forming a nation or a national government. You may check out the information in any of the documentary collections on the Constitutional Convention. For a quick check, see Meigs (1900).

    For those on the list that THINK they know something about the Founding Fathers: try ordering and reading this: http://www.americanvision.com/christianlifecharacter.aspx

    Dominus providebit!

  67. #67 |  Comrade Dread | 

    As a Christian, I personally object to the phrase “under God” because from my understanding of Christian thought and the Bible, a holy God would definitely not want to be associated or credited with the acts of the United States government or the corrupt cretins running it.

    As to atheists, I assume like others that many of them (like many theists) are not libertarians or anarchists and have little problem with loyalty oaths to the State.

    Though, to be honest, I’ve met very few atheists who even care about this ‘under God’ or ‘in God we trust’ controversy.

  68. #68 |  Aresen | 

    I warn you atheists who want to delete the “under god” phrase:

    His Divine Noodliness The Flying Spaghetti Monster is highly perturbed at your lack of faith.

    Repent now or wind up in the sauce!

  69. #69 |  John Jenkins | 

    @ Brent: I’m going to have to parse this out, I think, so apologies to everyone in advance for the excruciatingly long comment:

    I agree with your belief that their intent was to be ‘universal’, however this seems a cowardly side-step on their part to avoid making the statement that they view their authority to be above the authority of a creator.

    What evidence do you have that the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence intended to declare themselves above the authority of a God in which most of them believed? Your textual analysis does not support the proposition, and if the argument is as sophisticated as you seem to believe it is then someone must have set it forth at length. I’d like to read the article or other sources.

    This peculiar stance also seemingly ignores the first sentence of the Declaration:

    When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

    That is a clear statement that the argument they intend to make is an argument from authority, in this case, “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” to which they find themselves subject. Whether any of them actually believed in God is irrelevant. They are clearly arguing to people, the majority of whom do so believe, so that is the framework within which they craft their argument.

    In such matters where man’s law permits, by not forbidding, actions which break the laws of the creator (for example: abortion, homosexuality) one authority eventually has to over-rule the other.

    I agree that in a conflict between competing sovereigns one must trump (or preempt) the other.

    By stating in the D.O.I. that they believe the truths are SELF-evident, they are saying that the truths are made evident BY the created.

    A self-evident truth is an a priori truth, and self-evident is used to distinguish this sort of truth from truths subject to proof or a posteriori truths. This argument’s persuasiveness is entirely dependent on the beliefs of those who read it, which I mentioned above.

    So, the created acknowledge the creator’s authority to endow or grant unalienable rights. That suggests that the authority of the created is above the authority of the creator, does it not?

    Inalienable (I’ll use the modern spelling) rights stand in contrast to legal rights. The difference between the two is that legal rights are dependent upon some certain regime of laws (e.g., contract rights), and are therefore contingent rights, while inalienable rights are rights that are universal and are not contingent on any particular legal regime, rather inalienable rights are inherent in the right-holder.

    Sorry for this by the way. I barely understand this argument myself, so I really pity someone else trying to.

    Um, sure, thanks.

  70. #70 |  Mike T | 

    @ Mike T: I think I prefer Justice Jackson’s approach from Barnette. Compelling an oath of any kind, even one in defense of principles that we generally recognize are good is abhorrent to the idea of liberty. There will always be disagreement with what principles are worth our allegiance, which is sort of the point, really.

    Understandable, but unlike most libertarians (I prefer to call myself a conservative-libertarian, right-libertarian or something more specific), I actually encourage children to be at least subtley indoctrinated into this way of thinking. It’s important for us to push our kids to have the right beliefs and the right way of looking at things. We may not agree on all of the specifics, but it is important to raise them to be thinking, liberty-minded people by actively molding their minds in that direction.

    I know this is abhorrent to a lot of libertarians, but the truth is, it’s necessary if you want to preserve a free society. There are so many dangerously collectivist competing ideas and systems out there that we cannot afford to let them be the ones whose ideas our kids are absorbing.

  71. #71 |  John Jenkins | 

    @ Mike T

    It’s important for us to push our kids to have the right beliefs and the right way of looking at things.

    I agree. We should teach them to be skeptical of received knowledge and how to evaluate knowledge claims. If we do that, I think that liberty wins out in the end, anyway.

  72. #72 |  Mike T | 

    Is there anything indicating that athiests are more prone to be liberals/Democrats and thus Statists than libertarians and opposed to an expansive and intrusive State?

    I don’t know of any formal study on this subject, but if there certainly does seem to be an overwhelming tendency for vocal atheists to also be leftists.

    I would say that the reason for this is that if you don’t believe in God and an afterlife, you have to accomplish everything in this life. Consequently, atheists rarely have the peace that many theists do of believing that the world doesn’t rest on their actions, and that ultimately a higher power will guide the human race in its struggles.

    In that way, Protestant Christianity is the most liberty-friendly religion there is. The entire framework of Protestantism, regardless of denomination, is based on the understanding that the individual must voluntarily submit themselves to God, and that the state and other institutions can do nothing to force someone to change themselves or accept change. In addition to that, when you get into the groups that focus on God’s sovereignty, you will tend to find that they will in general believe that the government is actually in almost all cases useless as a moralizing agent in society.

  73. #73 |  Richard | 

    I find the Pledge to be a fairly satisfying oath and have tried to live by it since I first got a sense of what it meant about the 600th time I took it.

    That said, I came to understand it while learning about Venn Diagrams and have always felt my allegiance was to the center-most concentric subset of the USA that actually ensured liberty and justice to all, was under God (I guess assuming that God was somehow up, location-wise), was indivisible, was one nation, was a republic and was represented by the flag of the USA.

    It is an admittedly small subset of the whole that we think of when we talk about the USA, but I’m unreservedly allied to them.

    It’s also interesting that, having been required to take the Pledge, that when being expected to take another oath for jury duty or some other court-related activity, that the only way that your oath-keeping is in any way respectable is if subsequent oaths are contingent on the conditions of any antecedent oaths. If you’re called on to serve on a jury and it is clear that justice isn’t being done, all the Pledge of Allegiance-takers have no choice but to acquit whether the jury instructions say your allowed to acquit for the part that you believe is unjust or not.

    Cool, huh.

  74. #74 |  Mike T | 

    I agree. We should teach them to be skeptical of received knowledge and how to evaluate knowledge claims. If we do that, I think that liberty wins out in the end, anyway.

    One of the things that we must be careful about here, though, is how we approach this. I plan to teach my kids that liberty is generally the moral, godly thing to respect in others. Even if it is not always effective at this or that, it should be done because it is right.

    It’s also important to teach our kids that when they put knowledge or authority to the test, and it passes, they must accept it. Too often, “question authority” is actually a euphemism for “don’t accept authority.”

    On that note, I will simply say that libertarianism would be a lot healthier today if it hadn’t jettisoned natural law theory from its mainstream ranks. Too often it behaves like a teenager who is just trying to rebel, rather than as a principled, mature ideology that respects authority and law when they are used to good, reasonable ends.

  75. #75 |  Brent | 

    @Mr. Jenkins:
    Bad example, fine. The question still stands though: who wins in a fight; god’s law or man’s law? It’s not hard to guess that the founders wouldn’t be crazy about picking sides here precisely because some of them believed in god. If they favor god’s law, they still have to answer which religion speaks for god and what god’s laws are. I doubt they wanted that either.
    This is from my basic understanding of the arguments put forward in debates by Christopher Hitchens. He makes a compelling case (though the bad example above is entirely mine) that man’s law was intended to win in that difficult circumstance.

  76. #76 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #70 Mike T

    It’s important for us to push our kids to have the right beliefs and the right way of looking at things.

    As long as you don’t mean my kids when you say our kids. You worry about your kids and I’ll worry about mine. Being opposed to the pledge is not the same as advocating a complete absence of philosophical instruction or beliefs. It simply rejects the concept that it’s a state responsibility.

    Ideas that rely on coercion for their propagation are probably ideas that can’t stand on their own. Vowing loyalty to a piece of cloth (which is precisely what pledge does) is nonsensical thereby easily fitting into that category.

    Personally, I think the pledge is largely responsible for the common belief that the flag is something more than a symbol, rising almost to the level of an idol to be worshiped and protected from “desecration” by laws that make a crime out of any sign of disrespect.

  77. #77 |  Cynical In CA | 

    #64 | Big Chief | January 9th, 2009 at 8:29 pm
    “The non-pledge part of this thread caused me to realize what the next victim class is – Atheists, the oppressed minority. Start calling for your quotas guys!”

    I know you are jesting, mostly, but if you really want to know how oppressed a minority atheists are, just try running for elective office as a professed atheist.

    Professed atheists (again, hate the word) are excluded from political office. For those that believe in democracy, or a republic or whatever, that counts as oppression.

  78. #78 |  hexag1 | 

    who’s getting forced to say the pledge. they never made me say it. they did make me stand though.

  79. #79 |  Former Army | 

    I’ve been an “out” atheist for quite some time and I’ve always been far, far more bothered by the idea of a pledge than the inclusion of the phrase “under god” in the stupid thing. You’d figure atheists would be bothered by the idea of swearing blind allegiance to any concept. Thinking back to my childhood, bowing my head and praying to god, and putting my hand over my heart and praying to a flag didn’t really seem all that different.

  80. #80 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #76 Cynical in California:
    “…if you really want to know how oppressed a minority atheists are, just try running for elective office as a professed atheist.”

    Excellent point, Cynical! Pete Stark (D-California) is about the only “out” congressman at the federal level. When he discussed this last year, it was major news in secular circles because it IS so rare. Most of our representatives feel the need to pander to religious folks, even if they don’t believe in anything (except for accumulation of power, perhaps). I guess I’ll put that on the growing list of reasons I’ll never run for public office (I’m a very strong agnostic).

  81. #81 |  John Jenkins | 

    @Brent: I have to confess I am not sure what your point is anymore. Hitchens is a better polemicist than philosopher, so his arguments tend not to be very persuasive. “God’s law,” has been written to benefit the people who defined it so the conflict problem you mention doesn’t occur.

  82. #82 |  Light | 

    The words “Under God” were inserted into the pledge in the early part of the 20th Centrury. Not only that, but “In God We Trust” wasn’t formally adopted by Congress until the late part of the 19th Century.

    Anyone wanna take a stab at why the founding Fathers might have left all that out?

    I’ll clue you in… it’s about Freedom of Religion. To believe what you like, or not believe anything but the realities before you. It is MY choice.

    The REAL question would be…”Why are those words STILL there?”

  83. #83 |  alexa-blue | 

    agreed. shouldn’t the school be forced to pledge allegiance to you?

  84. #84 |  Lloyd | 

    This thread shows why politicians like “hot button issues” such as references to God, gay marriage, etc. These issues get people worked up over something that doesn’t threaten the powers that be. Meanwhile folks are blind to stuff that’s killing people — war, the creeping police state.
    Ask 10 politically ‘aware’ people in California what Prop. 8 was. All 10 would be able to tell you and all would have strong opinions, one way or the other. Ask the same people what Prop. 5 was — half wouldn’t even be able to tell you what it was.

  85. #85 |  Chris M | 

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDfmeKhaT0s

    Stand-up comic Doug Stanhope speaks the truth regarding the pleadge and liberty.

  86. #86 |  Chris M | 

    “#57 | Cynical In CA | January 9th, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    FWIW, I do like the melody of the national anthem (old English drinking song). I usually hum a bass line.”

    Statist obv.

  87. #87 |  Lifewish | 

    Q: Why are some atheists more bothered by the “under God” bit than by the entire pledge of allegiance?

    One possible A: Because the whole thing is a disturbing threat to the nation as a whole, whereas the “under God” bit is a disturbing threat to one specific minority. America is a democracy, so tyranny of the majority is (theoretically) easier to pull off than tyranny against the majority.

    By analogy, if the pledge spoke about “one nation under God and united in hatred of those Hindu scum”, you’d expect Hindus to be more worried by the specific section than by the entire pledge.

  88. #88 |  Angie | 

    Started to read everyone else’s thoughts, but it’s too early on a Saturday morning. As an atheist, I’m not that concerned with “under god”. And I tell my boys, they can choose to say it or keep silent on that bit if they wish. Their choice. As to the pledge itself, I don’t see it as a loyalty oath to the government, but to our country and what it stands for.

  89. #89 |  Cynical In CA | 

    Save yourself some time and just read my comment, Angie. It’s worth it.

    Chris M, you must be Canadian with that dry sense of humor.

  90. #90 |  Mike T | 

    One possible A: Because the whole thing is a disturbing threat to the nation as a whole, whereas the “under God” bit is a disturbing threat to one specific minority. America is a democracy, so tyranny of the majority is (theoretically) easier to pull off than tyranny against the majority.

    In the 20th century, atheists made up for 5,000 years of persecution, real and perceived, with the way that theists were treated by authoritarian, officially atheist regimes.

  91. #91 |  Mike T | 

    That first paragraph was supposed to be in blockquotes…

  92. #92 |  Howlin' Hobbit | 

    Chris M. — thanks for the link to Doug Stanhope. I’m totally down with the guy in the second part… “Don’t hold back!”

  93. #93 |  Cynical In CA | 

    #80 | Helmut O’ Hooligan | January 10th, 2009 at 2:01 am
    #76 Cynical in California:
    “…if you really want to know how oppressed a minority atheists are, just try running for elective office as a professed atheist.”

    Helmut replied: “Excellent point, Cynical! Pete Stark (D-California) is about the only “out” congressman at the federal level.”

    Thanks, Helmut! I had no idea there were any elected atheists at the federal level. Minor miracle.

  94. #94 |  Positive Liberty » Atheism and the Pledge | 

    […] Radley Balko writes, I’ve never really understood the evangelical atheists’ obsession with removing the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. […]

  95. #95 |  Curmudgeon | 

    I am an libertarian and an atheist as well and have been as long as I can remember. When I was a child I never said the “under God” portion of the pledge. I tell my school-age daughter that she can believe and do whatever she wants in terms of faith and the pledge and that I’ll support and defend any decision she may make.

    Now that I am older I think that the pledge itself is creepy in light of its socialist beginnings. In 5th grade my homeroom teacher had us recite the preamble to the Constitution a much more educational, meaningful, and appropriate recital in my opinion.

    As for the “evangelical atheist” thing, I don’t know what the answer is. I often get tired of the assumption that I am a christian and that I want to pray, bow my head for grace, or whatever but I don’t feel the need to point it out either. So I guess I don’t qualify as an evangelical

  96. #96 |  Paul | 

    Thought I’d let you know; I followed this discussion with interest and have commented on my own blog on atheists’ place in politics here:
    http://blocraison.blogspot.com/2009/01/under-god-and-compulsory-unity.html

    Thanks for the thought-provoking take on this subject!

  97. #97 |  Kevin | 

    “I warn you atheists ….
    His Divine Noodliness The Flying Spaghetti Monster is highly perturbed at your lack of faith.
    Repent now or wind up in the sauce!”

    you seem merely to know the name of the FSM but have read none of the gospel. The FSM is NEVER annoyed or disturbed by us, whatever we do, and whether we believe or not.

    and the sauce is sacred. Why would we put people we don’t like (if there were such people) in the sauce? it makes no sense. Also the Pastafarianism FSM does not have any defined sins (except maybe using the “Green Can” instead of real parmesean) so there is nothing to repent.

    Go my child, and enjoy some ramen as a gift from God the FSM. and don’t be so quick to attack anyone…

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