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Redefining theocracy

The House of Representatives' 260 to 167 vote on Wednesday, July 19th, 2006 to protect the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance from being ruled on by federal courts (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13937043/) is interesting in as far as our elected representatives - facing a war on terror, budget deficits and other problems - choose to focus on a relatively esoteric issue. The fact that this year is an election year surely has little to do with it, I am certain...right?

Choosing this topic as a benchmark for the fall elections is as superficial as this year's proposed Marriage Ammendment and President G. W. Bush's "war on homosexuals" laid out in his State of the Union speech in January of 2004. But not to get too far off topic...

To begin, the Pledge of Allegiance itself was not written until 1892, composed by Baptist minister and socialist Francis Bellamy (
http://history.vineyard.net/pledge.htm). As originally written, the Pledge read as follows:

"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

It wasn't long before Bellamy, chairman of an influential NEA committee, got the Pledge added to school events and into the curriculum. The term "my Flag" was changed in 1924 to "the Flag of the United States of America." It remained in this form for thirty years.

Then in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill into law adding the words "under God" to the nation's Pledge of Allegiance. This was under pressure of lobbying by The Knights of Columbus, a religious organization whose goal was to convert the oath of patriotism into a prayer. No where before this time was the Pledge intended as a device of religious intonation. Yet in eras of ultraconservatism (1954 wasn't ultraconservative, you assert? Let me point to McCarthyism, the John Birch Society, and the Cold War as a few examples.), society's need to fall back upon religion when the secular world appears confusing and ever fearful is arguably understandable and predictable.

Yet is should be noted that the claims of legislators like Zach Wamp (R-TN) that "We...cannot rewrite history to ignore our spiritual heritage" is misleading. As a Constitutional issue, the Pledge did not even exist the first hundred and eighteen years of our nation's history. On this matter, the Founding Fathers were silent. And twice after the creation of the Pledge, the words were changed and modified to match the political and religious climate of the day.

I assert, therefore, that there is no inherent evidence that the Pledge was ever intended as a device of religious affirmation. To change the Pledge now by eliminating the words "under God" is no more a "rewrite" of "history" than the addition of the phrase was in 1954. To take an explicitly secular Pledge and rewrite it to include the controversial words "under God" is no less deplorable than restoring the Pledge now to its pre-1954 verbage.

I fear that it will not be long until we find a Pledge Amendment proposed in Congress. The insatiable desire of this Administration and this Congress to enact legislation and propose amendments of a religious inclination is part and parcel of an ultraconservative movement, motivated once again by a populace whose insecurity in a time of Islamic extremism and uncertainty in our future is both fuel for and fueled by our political leadership.

In closing, let me propose a question to the opponents of the "restore the Pledge to its original intent" argument: Is it acceptable to replace the words "under God" with "under Allah?" "Under Brahma?" "Under Zeus?" If you say no, then clearly your motivation for keeping the non-original phrasing "under God" is purely religious in intent and based upon Eurocentric nationalism, a fundamentalism of the Christian variety no less potentially dangerous to our society than the Islamic fundamentalist threat we face from without.

Remember, the fall of the Roman Empire came after the rise of Christianity and the devout conversion of its emperors (such as the pious Justinian I) to the Christian faith. Upon the heels of military, political and religious victory throughout the Empire, its subsequent fall was due in part to the social instability caused by excessive Christian-Nationalism (see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_History_of_the_Decline_and_Fall_of_the_Roman_Empire for supporting material by Edward Gibbon).

What part will historians say Christian-Nationalism played in our nation's decline and fall in the centuries ahead?

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