Here’s the text of a letter sent this morning to the editor at Woman’s Day magazine (don’t ask why I was reading Woman’s Day. I read whatever happens to be sitting in the rack next to our commode):

Paula Spencer’s commentary on the Pledge of Allegiance (“Pledging Allegiance,” September 1, 2007) sounds incredibly McCarthy-esque. Are we to now believe that having qualms about mandatory recitation of the Pledge constitutes an un-American activity?

Spencer dismisses the many reasons that one might object to the Pledge in the context of public schools. These schools are, after all, institutional arms of the government itself, and attendance is mandatory (unless one can afford private or parochial options). A cynic might suggest that when combined with an obligatory recitation of allegiance to the nation, such education runs the risk of becoming indoctrination for the purposes of social control. As to whether nationalism can be such “a bad thing,” consider Germany in the 1930s.

There are also religious reasons why a person might feel compelled to abstain from pledging to a physical object (the flag). For Christians, whose citizenship is finally in heaven and whose ultimate loyalty is due to God alone, concerns about idolatry might compel a person to conscientiously refrain from making such a pledge. Indeed, those two little words “under God” which have occasioned such controversy in recent days are perhaps the only elements of the Pledge that make it even permissible for Christians to profess allegiance to any particular nation.

Patriotism too often can morph into xenophobia and nationalism. Whatever your views of the Pledge, I would think that the educational potential contained in having a “conversation with your child about your family’s approach to the Pledge” would be the sort of engaged parenting that your publication ought to praise and endorse rather than disdain.

The free exercise of religion, not to mention the freedom of speech and independent thought, are thoroughly American. A coerced, perfunctory, and unreflective patriotism is no true patriotism at all.

Jordan J. Ballor
Associate Editor
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty

As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “The nation will always claim a portion of man’s loyalties. Since it usually claims too large a portion, it is necessary that other communities compete with it.”

By my way of thinking, for Christians the Church ought to be that community of primary loyalty (for Niebuhr, it’s the class: “There is no reason why a class which is fated by its condition of life to aspire after an equalitarian society should not have a high moral claim upon the loyalty of its members”).

It seems to me that American churches have a particularly hard time separating out what elements of their worship and piety are merely the trappings of civil religion and which are the indispensable elements of catholicity.

At the recreation center where my wife plays softball, and which is explicitly supported by the denomination, players, coaches, and umpires only pause to pray after the national anthem has been played. In itself its a small thing, perhaps even unimportant, but when combined with all the other similar elements (American flags near the pulpit, for example), it raises in my mind the perennial questions about ultimate loyalties and the proclivity for Christian denominations, particularly Protestants, to align themselves along national boundaries.

See also: “Which of These is More Offensive?”

  • Ray

    It sounds like a false dichotomy to me. Most Americans see the flag as a reminder of a proud history, independence, and sacrifice.

    Where I went to seminary they forced the opposite view on me and made us read Hauerwas and Yoder. I experienced ‘Coerced, Perfunctory, and an Unreflective pressure to abandon any form of patriotism.

    Having lived abroad, coming from a military family, and simply liking America I agree with a lot of what Spencer says, although it’s no longer popular or likely.

  • http://rexcurry.net/pledge2.html tinny ray

    Thanks for your post about the Pledge. It makes good points, including the part about nationalism. Another school year is here and it is time to teach students about their right to reject the Pledge of Allegiance and its robotic ritualism. Please help inform the public about new discoveries showing that the Pledge was the origin of the notorious stiff-arm salute of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazis). http://rexcurry.net/book1a1contents-pledge.html

    The government also popularized robotic chanting to flags.

    The swastika was popularized as S-shaped symbolism for “socialism” in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s in the United States, eventually migrating to Germany with the straight-arm gesture.
    http://rexcurry.net/book1a1contents-swastika.html

  • Larry Klink

    I find it absurd that we pledge allegiance to a flag. A flag is an object, a symbol. We would do better if we pledged allegiance to the Constitution of the US and as part of that pledge agree to respect the flag as a symbol of the principals espoused by the Constitution. Imagine how much better off we’d all (including our political leaders in both parties) be if we understood, believed in and followed the tenets of the Constitution