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Feb 22 2008

One Nation Under God

“It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase ‘under God.’ I didn’t.”

–Barak Obama, “Call to Renewal” Keynote Address, June 28, 2006.

This quote was featured this morning on another atheist blog I frequent, Austin Cline’s atheism.about.com section.

Austin makes some good points, and points most of the people who visit this blog spot would probably think of themselves. That the phrase is openly discriminatory toward atheists, and that it furthers the disenfranchisement of atheists in our culture.

I certainly don’t disagree. Although, if I’m going to be honest, I personally also never felt that the Pledge thrust religion or monotheism upon me as a youngster. I honestly don’t believe that any child will become monotheistic by being compelled to say the Pledge every morning and recite the phrase “One Nation Under God.”

Let me be clear, however, that I acknowledge that the insertion of the phrase is completely in violation of the Establishment of Religion clause, and should be removed, if on no other grounds than that.

Also, just because the phrase never offended me, personally, I certainly don’t take issue with anyone else feeling uncomfortable with it. How it makes a person feel is just that–how it makes them feel. It’s not wrong to have feelings or to acknowledge them. And just because I don’t share a person’s feelings, doesn’t invalidate their feelings, or my lack of them.

So, it is a phrase that at the very least violates our Constitution and, therefore, our law, and also that may offend some citizens who like to think that they are just as patriotic as any theist, or that they don’t want their children compelled to say this any more than a Christian would want their child compelled to say “One Nation Without a God.”. And these are real problems.

In my humble view, however, as someone who has dialogued with quite a lot of theists, neither of these things comes close to what I consider to be the real harm caused by the insertion of this phrase into our Pledge of Allegiance. What disturbs me beyond these two very real concerns? The fact that there is a group of very vocal, very politically active theists, specifically Christians, who would insert this phrase and similar phrases all over our government and our government-sponsored public institutions in order to promote the view that we are, on some level, a theocracy.

The last time I was on AE, Matt Dillahunty pointed out that if a person says “This is a Christian nation,” and they mean by that that our citizens, by and large, are Christians, they are correct. If they mean by that that the vast majority of early Americans and founders of the United States were Christians or monotheists along Christian lines, they are correct. If, however, they mean by that that our laws are based upon the Bible, and that Biblical authority or Christian authority supersedes Constitutional authority, they couldn’t be more wrong, (and, I would add, perhaps dangerous).

I know that by posting this, I’m preaching to the choir. And I have no intention of launching into arguments that already plaster the Internet regarding why I disagree with the theocratic stance. I’m only writing to address that, to me, it is unwise to ignore a growing group who vocally express a wish to enforce their religion upon the rest of our society. And it is unwise to believe that simply because I’m not feeling particularly offended by something, it’s not potentially threatening or harmful. Did anyone see the early push that Huckabee got in the primaries? Anyone who thinks there isn’t a growing movement for theocracy in the Christian community isn’t paying attention. And anyone who isn’t concerned by that isn’t thinking it through to the end. Even Christians should fear that concept, because, historically speaking, believers haven’t been particularly kind even to other believers when they aren’t in complete doctrinal agreement.

I’m not going to slam Obama as a uniquely insensitive or unaware, here. I’m sure Obama isn’t the only person–or politician–to share this sentiment. I actually have heard many atheists say the same thing: “It doesn’t bother me, why get all worked up over it? It’s harmless recitation.” But to that, I have to respond that there is a larger world out there, beyond me and how I feel. And it would be wise of us all to take notice of how others around us “feel,” because we might find they feel that our government should require us to adopt, if not their beliefs, at least their behaviors with regard to their religious perspectives. And they use these seemingly innocuous items to promote that agenda. Since it shouldn’t be there in the first place, by law, is it wise to endorse it, retain it, or defend it as “inoffensive,” while supporters of a U.S. theocracy begin to rally and test their power?

I’m thinking, “not.”

12 comments

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  1. 1
    tracieh

    Can you be more specific about which part of this quote indicates that the Constitution supports a theocracy? I acknowledged that the founding fathers were mainly Xian. However, in setting up the laws of our country, they produced a Constitution that does not invoke god or theocracy.If Washington felt that patriotism and belief in god were inseperable, I don’t take issue with his personal view. Other famous figures from American History did not express a similar view. So what? This doesn’t affect the reality we are not under theocratic rule and the Constitution is not a document that endorses theocracy.Likewise, the phrase “under god” was added in the 1950s to the Pledge, and was not in the original Pledge.I don’t have any problem with anyone today or in the past thinking patriotism is linked to theism; however, that’s very different than trying to use our government to make that statement when it’s not a theocratic state.

  2. 2
    Matt D.

    Great quote, Dan. I guess if George thinks you can’t have morality without religion then it must be true – and it must be true that we’re a nation founded on Christian principles. Oh wait…that’s not the whole story?”The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.” – Article 11 of the 1797 Treaty of TripoliNegotiated under George Washington, this treaty took effect under John Adams. It was debated and unanimously approved by the Senate without any controversy or complaint about it’s language.In 1786, Patrick Henry submitted a proposal in Virginia to publicly finance the teaching of Christianity in schools. Virginians rejected it and, instead, passed the ‘Act for Establishing Religious Freedom’. This act, which prohibited tax support for religious institutions and religious tests for public office was supported by evangelicals who feared, as a minority in an Episcopalian state, government intrusion upon their rights to practice their beliefs.This act became the model for Article VI (no religious tests for any public office or trust) and the First Amendment.The founding fathers weren’t all of one mind on these issues. Washington (who you’ve selectively quoted) didn’t think that presidential proclamations thanking God were a problem. Jefferson, on the other hand, considered them unconstitutional.So, what did the other founding fathers have to say on these subjects?First, I’d like to point out that it doesn’t matter. They were, largely, pro-slavery but that doesn’t make slavery a good thing or the ideal. They could have established a Christian nation, if they’d chosen to, and they’d have been wrong to do so – true religious freedom demands that everyone be free to believe and practice as they will, to the extent that their practices infringe on the rights of others.But let’s quote a few, shall we?[b]Benjamin Franklin:[/b]“When a Religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its Professors are obliged to call for help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”"My parents had given me betimes religious impressions, and I received from my infancy a pious education in the principles of Calvinism. But scarcely was I arrived at fifteen years of age, when, after having doubted in turn of different tenets, according as I found them combated in the different books that I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself.”…Some books against Deism fell into my hands….It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quote to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations, in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.”[b]Thomas Paine:[/b]“All natural institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of….Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and of my own part, I disbelieve them all.”[b]James Madison:[/b]“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”"The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretence, infringed.””Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”"Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise….During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.”"How a regulation so unjust in itself, so foreign to the authority of Congress, and so hurtful to the sale of public land, and smelling so strongly of an antiquated bigotry, could have received the countenance of a committee is truly a matter of astonishment .” (Madison, 1785, letter to James Monroe, on a failed attempt by congress to set aside public funds to support churches) “The appropriation of funds of the United States for the use and support of religious societies, [is] contrary to the article of the Constitution which declares that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment’” (James Madison, Veto, 1811)”It may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to unsurpastion on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded agst. by an entire abstinence of the Gov’t from interfence in any way whatsoever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect agst. trespasses on its legal rights by others.” [b]John Adams:[/b]“Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, ‘this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.’”"I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”"”The Doctrine of the divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity.” “…Thirteen governments (the colonies) thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.”[b]Thomas Jefferson:[/b]“Question with boldness even the existence of God.”"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”"Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and errorall over the earth.”"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”"Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than on our opinions in physics and geometry….The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”[b]“…an amendment was proposed by inserting the words, ‘Jesus Christ…the holy author of our relig
    ion,’ which was rejected ‘By a great majority in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindoo and the Infidel of every denomination.’”[/b]I could keep going, but I think the point has been beaten to death. This nation isn’t founded on Christianity or the Bible. Our laws were based on neither and language contradicting this was specifically voted down each time it was recommended for inclusion in our constitution. Dan, you would have been better off grabbing quotes from Patrick Henry – someone far more rabidly pro-Christian than Washington…though your point would still have been erroneous and irrelevant. (For a good discussion of Washington’s beliefs – about which he was private and vague – try: http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/john_remsburg/six_historic_americans/chapter_3.html)Ours is a secular government, founded on the principle that governmental power derives from the consent of the governed – not from a god; that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are paramount – not adherence to the religious assertions of morality of a particular religion or type of religion; that every man should be free to worship – or not – as his conscience dictate and that the government’s only duty in this area is to ensure that the rights of one does not infringe upon the rights of another.It is only through a concerted campaign of misinformation, lies and fear-mongering that we have arrived at the point where a large percentage of our population is grossly ignorant of the facts. Despite the fact that “under god”, in the pledge, and “in god we trust”, on our money, are McCarthy-era violations of our constitution, many people seem to think that this deference to a god has always been there. The public’s understanding of history is not just inadequate, it is constantly being warped by the lies of a few and the overconfident misinformation distributed by people like yourself.

  3. 3
    Martin

    Dan Marvin knows he’s not allowed here.

  4. 4
    Matt D.

    Does that mean I’ll have to go the rest of my life not knowing what his response was? Oh dear, however shall I survive?Without Dan to pick and choose the bits that he thinks supports his position, I guess the evil atheist alliance might finally succeed.Mwahaha..cough..ha?

  5. 5
    Martin

    Oh, okay. Here’s Dan’s second comment.Matt,I will agree with you 100% that our nation was NOT founded on the Christian religion but it was, on the other hand, founded on Christian principles and the spirit of “the God given right of” freedom. We are after all, responsible for our own salvation, we should be free to make such decisions in life to either accept or reject salvation of God. There are absolutes in the universe that are uniform and just and we all have the freedom to choose to honor God or not. The quotes that you eloquently added as well what Patrick Henry or George Washington and yes even McCarthy said is just evidence of the struggle that we all have been in since the beginning. We, as a nation, should NEVER FORCE a religion because we all are free to choose as God set it up, and I agree with that, but as a Christian myself, it also is a duty of mine to preach the Word in season and out of season to everyone with love because of my concern for you. GW Bush in now pushing freedom by force and that in itself is doomed to failure. God gave us a very precious gift of freedom that we should all cherish together. Making the “theory evaluation” as fact in the school system is pushing the religion of secular humanism and shouldn’t be allowed. We are free to choose to love or hate each other. For me, I choose to love you Matt D, thanks for the conversation in this ever dwindling, nation of freedom. So, aside from the usual asstard remarks about secular humanism and all, he’s behaving himself a little better in the comments to the post following this one. So I’ll refrain from reflexively deleting him on sight. But I won’t enable moderation either, just to keep things flowing. I know none of us wants a repeat of the two months or so last year when he got out of hand even by fundie standards. There won’t be one. For now, the conversation is back to being wide open.

  6. 6
    tracieh

    I wonder if someone can show me in the Bible where god gives people the right to be free? Slavery went forward in the U.S. based at least partially on support from the Bible–even though it was clearly contrary to the Constitution. Eventually the institution could no longer be defended in a Constitutional state (it’s even a blot on the records of many of our founding fathers)–but it can still be defended easily using either/or the Old/New Testaments.Endorsing slavery isn’t exactly in line with granting freedom as a “right” to humans.Even in the metaphor of Eden, god has a complete freak out and punishes people the moment they attempt to exercise free will. They were apparently “free” to do anything he wanted them to do–but nothing he dictated they shouldn’t. He isn’t exactly portrayed in the myth as a supportive agent of change or human inquisitiveness or exploration.

  7. 7
    D.A.N.

    Free will is our gift Tracie. God even gave us instruction WITHIN that free will. He didn’t say don’t have slaves because that was our choice as a species. He said treat them right and take care of them with humility.AW Tozer said something about free will: “The mystery of man’s free will is far too great for us! God said to Adam and Eve: “Thou shalt not eat from this tree.” Here was a divine requirement calling for obedience on the part of those who had the power of choice and will. When they disobeyed they usurped the right that was not theirs! The poet Tennyson must have thought about this for he wrote in his In Memoriam: “our wills are ours, we know not how; our wills are ours to make them Thine!” “We know not how;” then Tennyson girds himself and continues, “Yes, our wills are ours to make them Thine.” As created beings, that is our only right-to make our wills the will of God, to make the will of God our will! God is sovereign, and we are the creatures. He is the Creator and therefore His is the right to command us with the obligation that we should obey. It is a happy obligation, I might say, for “His yoke is easy and His burden is light!” It is important to agree that true salvation restores the right of a Creator-creature relationship, acknowledging God’s right to our fellowship and communion!”

  8. 8
    tracieh

    >He said treat them right and take care of them with humility.Thus endorsing the institution. He forbids eating shellfish, but condones enslaving people.>When they disobeyed they usurped the right that was not theirs!Then “free will” is not a “right” according to this man you’re quoting.>”our wills are ours, we know not how; our wills are ours to make them Thine!”Quoted before we had the capacity to study brain function. We now recognize consciousness for what it is. Damage the brain, you damage the consciousness. No mystery there.>As created beings, that is our only right-to make our wills the will of God…He is the Creator and therefore His is the right to command us with the obligation that we should obey.Then we do not have a right to free will according to your doctrine. If I put a gun to your head and tell you to do as I say or die–where is your right to choose?The real question, however, is whether or not your belief in god is justified. In your last batch of posts, before Martin tossed you out, you claimed you were going to prove your assertion. Then you came back and said that was a gag. In other words, you can’t prove your assertion that a god exists. And until you can, your belief is no more than a belief in fairies. And it deserves no more respect than that.

  9. 9
    D.A.N.

    TracieH“If I put a gun to your head and tell you to do as I say or die–where is your right to choose?”Matthew 10:28 “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”“you claimed you were going to prove your assertion.”The part where I said April fools was a joke of sorts but the next day and over the next months I sent Martin many things backing up what I said. I think that same day I sent some things about bacterial flagellum among other things.

  10. 10
    Martin

    The stuff Dan sent were links to lame apologetics YouTube videos and the like. Barely worth the effort.That, coupled with increasingly bizarre, dishonest and offensive behavior on Dan’s part which was clearly angering the blog’s regular readers and commenters, led to my decision to ban him the first time.After Dan was banned, he went on a pitiful attempt at a smear campaign against me, posting both to Possummomma’s blog and to Iron Chariots with false accusations that I wouldn’t engage him in arguments (after he’d been arguing with me and dozens of other people here freely for two months) and was just censoring him outright. This led to Dan’s being banned at Iron Chariots too.Dan also posted several anonymous comments here as well, consisting of little more than personal attacks against me. Literally playground-level insults.So you see, we’re not exactly dealing with someone here who’s got much in the way of either moral fiber or intellectual integrity. Let alone sense.

  11. 11
    D.A.N.

    You sure sound so innocent in your description of past events there, Martin. Who are you trying to convince, me or you? I forgive you for all of the misrepresentations on your part of myself at this blog. I wish you the best in your life and hope you will find a special someone and settle down with some children to see the beauty of God’s creation right in front of your eyes. My prescription for you is tenderness, find some and call me in the after life. Who knows I might be in Austin soon, maybe I should just stop by for an on air hug/reunion. Take care of yourself. Ciao

  12. 12
    Martin

    I forgive you for all of the misrepresentations on your part of myself at this blog.Hmm, well, let’s count…that would be…zero. People need only go back and read all of your past comments from last year (including the ones you posted anonymously) to know who’s telling the truth here. Nice try, but you’ll have to work harder if you want me to rise to bait that stale. My prescription for you is tenderness, find some and call me in the after life.My prescription for you is honesty, integrity, and intelligence. But they’re so far beyond your grasp you might as well be living on Pluto. You’re a liar and a cretin, Dan, functioning at a 13-year-old’s level of emotional maturity, and that’s all you’ll ever be. And I’m completely unmoved by the fact you don’t like the fact I’m not “tender” towards you, but it isn’t my policy to coddle someone’s character flaws simply because that’s what they’ve grown used to from everyone else all their self-absorbed lives. If you want to come to an arena like this and try to fight so far above your weight class, don’t be a crybaby when you get clobbered.Can I take your signoff to mean you’re getting lost? Good. I’ll hold you to it this time, and delete any further comments you make. Ban in effect for good this time.

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