November 30, 2008

"I could hear little Muscovites recite a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag with equal solemnity."

The Rev. George M. Docherty -- who died on Thanksgiving, at the age of 97 -- sermonized about the Pledge of Allegiance:
[He] was summoned from his native Scotland in 1950 to become pastor of the historic church in downtown Washington, which Abraham Lincoln attended when he was president in the 1860s. Each year on the Sunday closest to Lincoln's birthday, Feb. 12, the church had a special service that was traditionally attended by the president.

On Feb. 7, 1954, with President Dwight D. Eisenhower sitting in Lincoln's pew, Rev. Docherty urged that the pledge to the flag be amended, saying, "To omit the words 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance is to omit the definitive factor in the American way of life."

He borrowed the phrase from the Gettysburg Address, in which Lincoln said, "this Nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom."

Rev. Docherty's inspiration for the sermon came from his son's schoolroom experience of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which was written in 1892 by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy. When Rev. Docherty realized that it had no reference to God, he later said, "I had found my sermon."

Without mentioning a deity, Rev. Docherty said, the pledge could just as easily apply to the communist Soviet Union: "I could hear little Muscovites recite a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag with equal solemnity."...

But in 1954, with Eisenhower in the congregation and the threat of communism in the air, Rev. Docherty's message immediately resounded on Capitol Hill. Bills were introduced in Congress that week, and Eisenhower signed the "under God" act into law within four months....

"An atheistic American is a contradiction in terms," he said in his sermon. "If you deny the Christian ethic, you fall short of the American ideal of life."
Those words may grate on some liberals' ears. Remember the oral argument in the Supreme Court case challenging the constitutionality of the words "under God" in the Pledge?
Michael A. Newdow stood before the justices of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, pointed to one of the courtroom's two American flags and declared: ''I am an atheist. I don't believe in God.''...

Earlier, Dr. Newdow responded to Justice Stephen G. Breyer's suggestion that ''under God'' had acquired such a broad meaning and ''civic context'' that ''it's meant to include virtually everybody, and the few whom it doesn't include don't have to take the pledge.''

''I don't think that I can include 'under God' to mean 'no God,' '' Dr. Newdow replied. ''I deny the existence of God.'' He added, ''Government needs to stay out of this business altogether.''...

[The 9th Circuit court] ruled last year that the addition of ''under God'' turned the pledge into a ''profession of religious belief'' and made it constitutionally unsuitable for daily recitation in the public schools. Congress added the phrase at the height of the cold war in an effort to distinguish the American system from ''Godless Communism.''
But Docherty was no arch conservative. From the first link:
During his 26 years as pastor, he became better known for his liberal social activism than for his quest to alter the Pledge of Allegiance. He promoted racial equality and led outreach efforts to feed and educate the city's hungry and poor. His church was often a staging point for civil rights and antiwar demonstrations, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached from its pulpit. Rev. Docherty was with King on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the "Bloody Sunday" civil rights march in Selma, Ala., in 1965.

18 comments:

ricpic said...

On the purely aesthetic level inserting under God to the pledge shoved in two more beats, playing havoc with the satisfying rhythm of the original.

I say this as one who was a schoolkid at the time and found the addition jarring.

As to the intent: reciting the pledge was one of several methods of instilling patriotism, or at least a sense of participation in the American project (as opposed to the French project or the world project) in the young. Inserting under God in effect excludes atheists or even agnostics from full participation. That is wrong.

MadisonMan said...

I usually skip those two words, 'cause I don't believe they're true.

Of course, I also sing Holy, Wholly, Wholly, God and The Lord is Kind of merciful. God gave me a sense of humor for a reason.

Mark O said...

It was this very crisis of Constitutional usurpation that summoned the vast skills of “Underdog.”

"There's no need to fear,
Underdog is here."

The Emperor said...

I'm not sure how it's relevant that he "was no arch conservative." It's equally offensive to have liberals or conservatives propose state endorsement of religion.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Theo Boehm said...

In reply to ricpic, I would say the French don't have a "project." They have a civilization, which they will be happy to let you know has done quite well, thank you.

They also don't need silly, totalitarian-sounding pledges to inculcate the young with a regard for France and all things French. They constantly teach that to children, starting with virtually all pre-schoolers in the école maternelle.

Despite a certain amount of multiculturalism, the French are not riven by American-style doubt about the essential worth of their culture. Everyone, regardless of where in the world they have their origins, learn in a remarkably irony-free way about nos ancêtres les gaulois.

That reflects the French ideology that their country is not defined by race, but by the foundational Enlightenment principles of the Republic, much like the United States. But unlike the United States, the French already had a dominant and brilliant language and culture, so the "project" of the Republic, if you will, was to open up the good parts of that culture, so that anyone who had a French education and embraced French civilization could claim les galois as an ancêtre.

That is not quite a "project" in the sense that ricpic may have used it, which has, to me at least, an earnest, Progressive-era flavor. The French view of their civilization and place in the world is at once more static, sophisticated and defensive than our well-meaning attempts to save the world that have so often come a cropper that we are now sunk into profound self-doubt and loathing.

The French have had their familiar problems convincing Moslems that they, too, ought to regard les galois as ancestors. That, however, only reinforces the French view that life isn't perfect. But if your culture had been around as long as the French, you'd know that anyway. Ah! la vie c'est très très dur tiens.

As for the "project" of the rest of the world, it's there, isn't it? Been around a long time, too.

Chris said...

"An atheistic American is a contradiction in terms," he said in his sermon. "If you deny the Christian ethic, you fall short of the American ideal of life."

Those words may grate on some liberals' ears. Remember the oral argument in the Supreme Court case challenging the constitutionality of the words "under God" in the Pledge?


Because it grates on my ears, does that make me a liberal?

PatCA said...

I don't believe in atheism. Why must I be subject to its beliefs?

ricpic said...

F**k the Frogs and their glory.

America has decency.

A far more civilized trait.

Chris said...

@PatCA - If atheists wanted to subject believers to their beliefs, we would demand that the pledge be reworded to be "one nation, under no god".

Father Martin Fox said...

I find amusing the occasional hang-wringing over the "entanglement" represented by the pledge, or slogans on our currency, or similar peripheral elements of our communion culture. It's just not that big a deal.

That said, I am not a fan of the pledge; I think its focus is off. I'd word it something like this:

"I pledge allegiance to our Republic, for which stands this flag..."

Oh--and are you aware of little emendations that show up here and there? In some parts of the country, "in" is left out of "indivisible"; many prolifers add, at the end, "born and unborn." So I imagine those who wish silently omit "under God." Big deal.

kynefski said...

"I pledge allegiance to our Republic, for which stands this flag..."

I like that. You could even retain the cadence.

"I pledge allegiance to our Republic, the United States of America, for which stands this flag of one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

William said...

Over time the Christian values of kindness and tolerance became more important than Christian dogma. We no longer burn people at the stake because of their incorrect understanding of when the Host is transubstantiated.....I don't know who sounds more dogmatic in this debate. "Under God" is such an amorphous phrase that you can substiture any type of higher power as a synonymn for God. In the interests of tolerance and tradition, I would leave it alone. A Christian purpose is entwined in our DNA, and this innocuous phrase is the smallest of genuflections towards that forgotten altar. Take it out and the atheists will not feel empowered so much as the believers will feel outraged. There are so many other useful things to argue about.

Chip Ahoy said...

I had a very difficult time with the pledge of allegiance. I kept thinking, "What are these people trying to do to me anyway? Inculcate their values in me or what? " I could absolutely not understanding asserting an allegiance to a flag. It's a piece of cloth ferchrishsake! I liked flags as much as the next kid, but honestly, a pledge of allegiance to it? No way. I just couldn't feel it.

Also, what's up with this "... one nation, under God, invisible, with liberty ..." ??? It's clearly visible! Sheesh.

If I had liberty, then why were they forcing me to stand there and and make an oath I didn't feel? I'd rather play.

It was just another ritual that drove me nuts, foisted upon me for reasons not my own. And it was just one of the things that convinced me I was the single sane person plunked onto an insane planet populated with insane people. My job was to develop the forbearance to endure the insanity.

Joe said...

I find the pledge of allegiance very grating and contrary to the very principles of the Republic. I especially resented being forced to say it High School, which is when I chose to stop saying it. I stood in respect to the other people saying it and still do, but to this day I will not put my hand over my heart nor will I say the pledge. (When I stopped saying the pledge, I was a very believing Christian, so it had nothing to do with God. Instead, I found it and still find it extremely creepy to hear a crowd of people reciting it in unison; reciting anything in unison for that matter.)

rhhardin said...

``One nation indivisible'' and ``This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom'' are both metrically correct, but you can't mix and match.

The point of the pledge is to get the kids to shut up and pay attention, marking the beginning of a new role in proceedings. It's the same as the National Anthem at baseball games.

Anybody not falling into line is mugged by the crowd as unpatriotic, so the ballgame can then proceed.

John and Ken on the Pledge real audio, which starts slow but becomes entertaining as angry callers present themselves. John has the best of it all, argumentwise, siding with the ungrateful and the ignorant against the yahoos.

blake said...

I didn't say it in 2nd grade. It felt wrong to do so. The whole thing, the "under God" part didn't bug me.

In retrospect, it shouldn't be spoken by children who can't understand it ("invisible", indeed), and it should be undertaken on a yearly, rather than a daily basis.

Once a year, maybe on The Fourth, those who wanted to could say it en masse.

It'd be good to throw a few requirements in there as well, so not everyone could say it officially.

kynefski said...

"Under God" is such an amorphous phrase that you can substiture any type of higher power as a synonymn for God.

Moloch, perhaps?

We all know that the phrase was added to the pledge as an expression of Christian cultural dominance and, for that reason, cannot be removed.

In the interests of tolerance and tradition, I would leave it alone.

As would I, but is that Christian tolerance or a lesser variety?