Article Information

Author: Matthew Marco
Date Written: 10.09.04

Xanga discussion of Mike Newdow

I’m a huge fan of Mike Newdow—many of my peers think that his title-card bout in the Supreme Court and the various concerns of the ACLU are all liberal atheistic bullshit, but I think that it’s important—if we’re in the business of brainwashing children with ritualistic devotional poetry to meticulously-proportioned pieces of cloth and so forth—to at least allude to the existence of a non-Christian population that deserves equal respect in this world. Newdow wants to strike the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance that his daughter (raised as an evangelical Christian by her mother) was compelled to recite at school on a daily basis. Fair enough. He said it was a slap in the face to atheists, and I agree. The Supreme Court of the United States did not agree, and so, the status quo remained.

So now, here we are, continually slapping atheists (and other non-Christians) in the face, as it were. On the other hand, removing those two words from the recitation could anger the vast Christian majority of the population (and the attempt to do so was already quashed). Here’s my proposal: since this nation is now teeming with non-Christian folks from all manner of nations and creeds, I think it’s fair to acknowledge some of the more serious belief systems that exist aplenty in this country. Hence, how about the Pledge being modified not to exclude Christians but include other world religions? Let this be one nation under God, Allah, Buddha, Confucius, the Dalai Lama, Yahweh, a non-specific supernatural spiritual entity, and/or no spiritual being whatsoever—granted, this bogs down the flow of the poetry considerably with the machinery of political correctness, and there’s still a wide swath of society that is still excluded in this solution. However, the one solution that would’ve been completely cooperative and easiest to implement is also unacceptable to the highest court in the land.

I have a feeling that somebody’s going to comment with the hackneyed sentiment that "it’s fine the way it is," and that my perspective is just fussy political correctness that society in general would be better off without. I also have a feeling that somebody with a little more stirring in the synapses will advocate the pledge’s intention of the "civic god" principle that pagan Rome espoused prior to the advent of Christianity.

However, it’s not fine the way it is. American Christianity is plagued with enormous hubris, staked with immense material wealth and backed by the largest stable of armaments of human creation. Inexorably connecting the Christian faith with the icons of the nation (flags, money, etc.) betrays the Jeffersonian ideal of separation between church and state, between ideology and administration, and confers upon the Christian church excessive political power in this country, and these days, the world. As a tool of socialization, the Pledge creates a nearly-insurmountable connection between the two—if the United States truly purports itself to be the nation of inclusion, then it must admit that, like "coloreds" and women (eventually), non-Christians are equal citizens. I don’t demand that the original founding documents be edited and replaced under a stack of lead in the Smithsonian—their drafters were for the most part descendants of religious refugees and/or seafaring opportunists with Christian mores (and a then-politically correct notion that slaves were 60% human). What I would like to see now are those antiquated connections phased out from daily usage—including money and the Pledge.

Also, to counter the civic god argument, I doubt that was actually the intention. Besides, it was slipped into the Pledge in the 1950s to counter the anti-religious "godless commies" (like yours truly) and give it a distinctly Christian bent. Even if the intention was to invoke a civic god, it is the interpretation that is of greater substance. If this were, hypothetically, a primarily atheistic nation and such a phrasing was tipped in, then perhaps it would be interpreted as such. However, this society is Christian by the majority, and the immediate interpretation to a non-Christian tends to be that the phrase is exclusionary, despite the fact that the Cold War is over and the original notion is outdated. To follow that point, if the original notion—to contrast the communist disdain for religion—is outdated, then why not strike the words now from the Pledge? It’s not fine the way it is.

Now that my thoughts are committed publicly on this matter (and Newdow’s personality and methods notwithstanding), I’d like to field some comments on this, keeping in mind the proposed counterarguments in the last three paragraphs (and any merciless "majority rules" argument will be disregarded and the people who bring it forth can continue to use Microsoft Internet Explorer like ignorant fools). If I don’t hear back from my friends and subscribers, I’ll assume you all agree with me—if not on the sentiment, then at least my proposal for the Pledge, alright?

Comments posted after the original

As an American Christian, the last thing I’d support is Newdow’s fight which, his daughter is more or less indifferent about. And because of my precedent, I’m obviously biased and I do have an emotional attachment to oppose his plight. At best, this issue is a personal and emotional concern for people and regardless of your disregard for majority rulings, I will respect the decision of the courts and the people. I do respect his method of going after what he wants to achieve, that’s what the very system is all about.
I side with the concept of separation of church and state as you’ve outlined and it is one of the pillars on which this democracy has worked for so long. And yes, for most part, the founding fathers were the descendants of the Christian faith and the first people of Western origins to settle in this land came to seek a safe refuge from the tyrannical nature of religious oppression in England. But as antiquated as it may seem, I believe the motives of the founding fathers incorporation the clause of separation in church and state was done with the best interest to protect the Christian faith, so my personal reason in keeping the words is to respect the history behind it; that former leaders of the government wanted to add the words to the pledge for their beliefs and for their antiquaries (and around a hundred years prior, in God we trust for our currency).
For all I care, people have the right to not say those very words when reciting the pledge. If people that arrive in this country don’t respect the history of this nation, that’s their problem. This country does have one of the greatest degrees of religious freedom compared to the other countries of this world. And if this country was so tightly controlled by those of the Christian faith, I don’t think we’d have a lot of the liberties in regards to tolerance for homosexuals for one or the dissemination of political material that go against the policies of the government. There are numerous other things I can name that I won’t bother going into. The ACLU’s fight against the LA County for changing the seal due to the inclusion of the cross; they managed to win, congrats for them. But that doesn’t change the fact the name of the city means "The Village of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels," all religious ties intended. Where do we draw the line?

Posted by Peter

Thanks for your feedback. You make, as I expected, some very valid points about the reasons behind the separation of church and state in the first place, and I’m glad that you respect Newdow’s methods even if you totally disagree with his views. Irregardless of the outcome of this case, the United States still tends to be a religiously inclusive country and considering that the government has essentially been dominated by Christianity since its inception, you’re right to note that enough politicians separate ideology from administration to make some progressive stands even when it goes against their personal beliefs.
The Pledge, however, was never written with a specific mention of God until 1954, when it was modified as a reaction to communist atheism--it was not an homage to the Christian roots that are present in the Constitution and other documents. That said, what do you think of the proposal in this day and age to be inclusive instead of exclusive, to acknowledge other prominent belief systems in the United States in the pledge instead of removing the reference to the God of Abraham? I think it’s a satisfactory compromise that allows Christianity to remain prominent in the pledge without making the numerous non-Christians in the population feel like second-class citizens. If you have kids who attend public school in this country, does acknowledging other religions in the Pledge or not acknowledging God in that one daily ritual among peers from other walks of life whatsoever negatively effect them if your family environment is rich in Christian values? I don’t think it will.
Regarding the Los Angeles county seal, I think that we are far enough removed from the Spanish/Catholic mission days to realize that this metropolis is full of non-Christian people (and flaming hedonists, no less), and having such an obvious Christian icon emblazoned on all matters of government correspondence is more likely going to become offensive to more people than less in the future.
Where do we draw the line? I think we draw the line when you and I can’t co-exist and practice our disparate personal beliefs in peace and have spirited conversation about them without fear of retribution. I don’t foresee that point on the horizon anytime soon, but where it actually resides is, of course, negotiable.

Posted by Matthew

As far as the pledge goes, I think we should do away with it altogether, at least as a daily ritual in schools. Going from personal experience, the average child reciting the pledge has no idea of the meaning behind it, and blindly mouths the words every day as part of what they have to do at school, the option to stand apart not withstanding. You shouldn’t say the pledge without the proper respect for the country and what it means, and I think that regardless of all the hubbub after 9/11, not many people have a strong sense of national identity, certainly not as strong a sense as when the pledge was written. To say it today in a country where the general populace is more concerned about going to war for obvious economic reasons rather then more subtle economic reasons mixed with the ideal of freedom just isn’t workable anymore. Religious or not, I don’t think we need it anymore.
As far as the city seal goes, I agree with the argument that the cross is better as it is, given that while today the Los Angeles area is made up of mostly "flaming hedonists," we were once a bunch of Indian-enslaving Christians in this area, and we should keep it in the seal as a reminder. But that’s just me being cynical.

Posted by Scott

Its interesting to me how influential religion is in general. I grew up with fundamental christian and or catholic beliefs (i.e. no sex before marriage, jesus is the savior) and I wasn’t raised with a specific religion. In fact, both my parents were disillutioned with the whole idea of religion, and allowed us, for the most part, to find "our own god" but still, through school or life in general I find it very hard to escape going to hell, even when I don’t believe in it.

Posted by Natalia

All valid points were made in these entries. Raised as a Christian, and believing in God I am oddly indifferent on the issue. I respect Newdow’s method’s, how could I not? He is practicing his rights given to him under the laws of this country, which I believe in.
Being Christian if they were to keep God in the Pledge or keep the Pledge without the God I’d be fine with it. Erasing it from schools altogether would also be acceptable since I’m not sending my kids to public school to learn about God anyway. As a product of the public school system, I know that for myself spending twenty seconds reciting the pledge isn’t going to boost my patriotism nor will it decide whether or not I’m going to remain a Christian for the rest of my life.
However I also strongly believe in the judicial system, which is more than I can say about my beliefs regarding the executive or legislative branches. Newdow took his case to the highest court in the land, fought it, but unfortunately he lost.
As far as the state seal goes, you can see my previous entry from my xanga regarding that issue from a few months ago. Besides I don’t think this comment page can hold all text I can use to show how much I detest the ACLU.

Posted by Randy

Randy makes a great point about the pledge’s ineffectualness on both patriotism and religious belief. And even as a "technical" Catholic myself who has little interest in religion other than academically (this debate is a nice example), mouthing the words "under God" every day of my school life hardly affected me, or my attitudes. And when I found out it was my right not to say the pledge at all, I still said it more out of habit than anything else.
As far as the ACLU goes, they have some good causes, but I believe they’re mainly ineffectual due to their going after issues like this, which seems to me more of an exercise of their right to be annoying that with any altruistic motivation to protect people of different religions from having to see such a symbol as part of the public organisation.

Posted by Scott