One Nation Under God- Part 1

A billboard caught my attention today.  Squeezed between signs for a real estate agency and a casino, there was one with white block letters superimposed over an American flag.  It declared ONE NATION UNDER GOD to everyone passing east on Route 23.

I immediately wondered what it meant.  Who put it there and paid for it?  What was the point?  When I got home, I found out the sign was actually a counter-point, to another sign that read, ONE NATION INDIVISIBLE.   There was a billboard argument going on between those for and against having God in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Obviously, the pledge arouses passions in people.  I remember reciting it at school every morning, standing at attention beside my desk, hand on heart, just before the announcements and lunch menu were read over a tinny intercom speaker.  We weren’t supposed to mumble or be looking at girls.  One day, in ninth grade, we all turned our backs on the flag over the blackboard and pledged our troth to the one outside on the flag pole.  Our teacher was not amused and assigned us all essays on “what the flag means to me.”

We suspected he’d be annoyed; that’s why we did it.  Like many people, he took the pledge personally.  Saying it correctly was a measure of patriotism and a surprisingly sacred act, considering the pledge is not one of our founding documents and was written by a socialist.  Francis Bellamy, a Baptist pastor and opponent of capitalism, penned the pledge in 1892 for a boys’ magazine.  Within a year, it was being recited by school children, after a proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison.  Today, no president would get within a mile of anything written by a socialist.

Bellamy also purposely excluded any religious references in his oath, despite being a minister.  God wasn’t included until 1954, over the objections of Bellamy’s daughter, who said it went against her father’s intention.  But Americans were feeling threatened by godless communism and wanted to distinguish themselves.  Perhaps we were hoping God would notice.

The reason Bellamy avoided mentioning God was because he knew it would disrupt the indivisible part of the pledge.  People don’t agree about God, and they’re often passionate about those disagreements.  The Puritans came here to escape religious persecution, but promptly began persecuting everyone who didn’t think like they did.  The Mormons ended up in Utah because they were expelled from everywhere else.  As the dueling billboards attest, Bellamy was right.

How else could it be?  We are a nation of many religions.  Whose God are Americans under?  Is it the clockmaker Deist God of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and Paine?  If we’re a constitutional originalist like Justice Scalia, that might be our understanding.  What matters is what the founders thought, and Deists didn’t believe in a Trinity or a Christ.  God was the prime mover, revealed in the order of the universe, nothing more.  Or, perhaps it’s the God of the Pilgrims, since they were one of the first settlers.  In that case, we’re ruled by a God who predestines people to heaven or hell, dislikes clergy robes, and doesn’t allow anyone to do anything fun on the Sabbath.  Drinking beer is acceptable, however.

We could go further back and adopt Wakan Tankan of the Sioux.  The Great Spirit, however, might not be happy with our environmental issues.  We could have a Mormon God, who has flesh and blood and began as a human.  We could serve Allah.  We could be Buddhists and refer to God as Emptiness.  One nation under Emptiness is much more descriptive.

None of these suggestions are serious, since most Americans are Christians, and, when it comes to God, majority rules.  Of those, about fifty two percent are Protestants, so we can expect to pay homage to a Protestant God, if voting means anything.  We have only had one Catholic president in our history.

That doesn’t settle the matter, of course.  We could charge admission to a Protestant mud wrestling match to decide whose God is nominated.  In one corner, we’d have Episcopalians who ordain active gays to be bishops.  In another corner, we’d have Southern Baptists who view the Episcopalians as demonic and anyone who speaks in tongues as possessed.  In the third corner, we’d have Pentecostals who speak in tongues, and don’t believe you’re a Christian unless you do, too.  And, not to be outdone, in the fourth corner, we’d have the Church of God With Signs Following, who show up with rattlesnakes and vials of poison.  On the bench, we’d have Quakers, whose God would be the quietest, and the Methodists, whose God is kind of nondescript because of too many committee meetings.

If we went by numbers, the Southern Baptists would win, which is ample testimony to the wisdom of our Founders.  There’s a reason they separated religion and government, in a way we have tried to complicate since.  I don’t want to live under any God but my own.  I like to drink margaritas too much.

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About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

2 Responses to “One Nation Under God- Part 1”

  1. I think you’re safe with the margaritas—the Christian God when in human form turned all that water into wine, so he couldn’t have been a prohibitionist now, could he?

    As for name or form of God … to each his own. I think that given a choice—we never are though, why is that?—I’d opt for the Norse Gods. They’re a rowdy bunch and a bit too human sometimes but an eternal booze up in Valhalla is hard to beat …

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  1. Sign THIS pledge: « Verbum Sapienti - September 29, 2011

    […] One Nation Under God- Part 1 (21st-century-faith.com) […]

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