22 April 2014

Allegiance to what?

There are two kinds of atheists, generally speaking. Let's call them unbelievers and anticlericals. The first group simply don't believe, and for the most part they don't care if others do believe as long as they're left alone. Anticlericals are actively hostile to religion and want to reduce its influence if not its presence in society and culture. The two groups have dramatically different ideas of what it means to be left alone. The mere unbelievers generally feel unthreatened by public displays of piety; they're not going to bark at a shop clerk who wishes them a Merry Christmas, for instance. The anticlericals tend to see any public piety as a form of proselytizing and are highly sensitive to perceived pressures to worship. You may be one kind of atheist or another based on ideology, personal experience or other factors. My family wasn't aggressively religious when I was growing up, so I haven't become a "militant" anticlerical, but you need not have a personal grievance, as I assume few Marxists have, to consider religion in general something best outgrown, or better yet thrown out, by humanity. My kind of unbeliever is tempted to roll his eyes when reading news of yet another lawsuit against mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. The plaintiffs in the latest case don't object to pledging allegiance to the flag or to the republic for which it stands. As you'd expect, they object to the two words, "under god" added to Francis Bellamy's 1892 text in 1954. These render the Pledge a discriminatory text in the plaintiffs' view; to invoke God is to "publicly disparage" unbelievers. Their children will be stigmatized if they refuse to participate, while their patriotism will be questioned so long as the Pledge ties it to worship of a deity. I suspect that the kids in question would only refuse to participate because their parents would insist upon it; since the plaintiffs are anonymous, presumably for their own protection, I don't know how young the kids are and how committed they may be to unbelief. But I'd bet that while the parents may be anticlericals, the kids are probably no more than unbelievers.

I want to roll my eyes at such news because these stunts only ask for a backlash. Inevitably, if unfairly, the atheists and their representatives at the American Humanist Association will be accused of trying to deny the other kids their right to acknowledge God. In the absence of formal school prayers, the Pledge has become the de facto act of worship for religious families, many of whom might have found something sinister about the Pledge, a form of state worship, had Bellamy's secular text -- recall, too, that he was a minister, albeit a self-described Christian socialist -- not been amended to underscore American rejection of Marxist-Leninist atheism. But"under god" is an independent clause that doesn't change the Pledge's function as an act of homage to the state. Perhaps if it were made more clear that the Pledge constitutes state worship, regardless of its McCarthy-vintage two-word sugar coating -- enthusiasm for it in any form would diminish.  The obligation to pledge allegiance in school, and not the wording of the pledge, is what we should finally question. If education itself makes patriots, as the Founders hoped, than a pledge of allegiance is superfluous, while composing a text for it is fraught with mischief. All I know is that all through public school I pledged allegiance every day, and yet there is no god.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion. In a public school, those words are unconstitutional and should be taken out. In a private school, who cares? Although, quite frankly, I have no respect; nothing but disdain for ignorant, superstitious primitives who can't leave that nonsense behind.