THE PLEDGE

Earlier, I noted that I wasn’t happy with either the inclusion of “under God” into the Pledge, or with the court decision that maybe-kinda struck it. I got comments, both from people who felt they had been scorned and abused as children because they wouldn’t say it and from parents who wanted to spare their children from such opprobrium.
I thought about it a bit while driving the Boyyz around this afternoon, and talking to them came to the conclusion that, basically, I was right. Here’s the deal:
Dealing with other people requires a certain flexibility. They don’t know what you know, believe what you believe, or feel what you feel. The entire problem of politics is how to engage people and keep them engaged in some common purpose, even one as minor as obeying traffic signals.
I’m not Jewish; but when I go to a Jewish wedding or funeral, I wear a yarmulke. Why? Out of politeness. Out of a willingness to respect the beliefs of others.
But, you say, that’s exactly what the Pledge doesn’t do! It doesn’t respect my beliefs!
And that’s the key, isn’t it? On one hand, my desire is to respect the beliefs of others, where it doesn’t materially affect me and regardless of my own beliefs in the matter. On the other, your complaint is an overwhelming desire that your beliefs be respected, no matter how trivial the violation, regardless of the impact on yourself or others.
Look, we’re not talking about material affect, about racist exclusion…about fighting to give your kid opportunity or dignity. And, in part, it’s this conflation of hurt feelings with Jim Crow or the Holocaust that is driving me nuts.
And in the other part, I think that including the ‘under God’ clause was an embarrassing artifact of late 50’s cultural rigidity. I’d like to see it removed. But I’d like to see it removed via a process which doesn’t drive a further wedge between the folks in the U.S. who are clinging to the symbols of a nonexistent former consensus, and those who feel alienated from that consensus.
We’re at a point in our history when we need to find the threads that bind us into a nation and a polity. Sadly, ‘win at any cost’ politicians (c.f. Gray ‘SkyBox’ Davis), and culture warriors of one stripe or another are happy to drive wedges, if they believe the fractures serve their short-term political interests.
And we’re at a point in our political history that’s been made by single-issue warriors…for and against development, for and against abortion, for and against parks for dogs…and damn those on the other side of the issue.
I had the unique opportunity to have dinner once with then-State Senator John Schmitz. He was a genuine John Birch society member, elected from Orange County, who lost his office when it was discovered that his mistress had sexually abused their sons. (His daughter is also Mary Kay Le Tourneau, so I’ll take as a given that the family had…issues…). He was still in the Senate, and made a comment that I’ve always remembered:

When Moscone ran the Senate, he and I used to fight hammer and tongs all day, then go out and have drinks over dinner and laugh about it. We differed on where we wanted the boat to go, but we recognized that we were in the same boat. These new guys would gladly sink the boat rather then compromise.

And that’s why I think the decision was stupid, and why the forces behind it…the Church of My Wounded Feelings…and their soldiers, the Warrior Cult of the Single Issue…are incredibly destructive. And right now, we don’t have the time for it.
My sons don’t go to church, because I’ve never gone to church (at one point, one of my exes went to what I jokingly called “The Church of the Sandinista” in Ocean Park, but I thought Jim Conn was a good guy, so I’ll cut them some slack). I don’t think they are abused by being asked to say “under God” in the Pledge, and when they ask me about it (each one has, either in kindergarten or first grade) I tell them the truth; that some people who believed in God a lot asked to have it added to the pledge, and got the President to add it. And that they will; have to make up their own minds about whether to say it or whether to believe in God when they are older. But that this is how they do it in their school, and when I’m in a similar situation I say it, while thinking about all the people who do believe in God, and how cool it is that we all get to believe whatever we want in this society. But they get to decide.
If they told me they were being teased about it, I’d ask them how it differs from all the other things kids get teased for – childhood is a vicious time – and talk to them about how to respond in a way that protects themselves emotionally without becoming the bullies they are afraid of.
Somehow this whole thing reeks of the kind of pecksniffery that wants to ban tag and dodgeball. It’s the same kind of thinking that bans Nativity scenes or menorahs from public buildings, and worries more about changing the names of sports teams than about bringing people along to actually change the world.

10 thoughts on “THE PLEDGE”

  1. Date: 07/08/2002 00:00:00 AM
    People who fight symbolic battles tend to win symbolic victories — true. Much like the debate over the Confederate flag flying over state capitols.Nonetheless, there is a certain endorsement of belief when the government signs off on it. Get “under God” out of the Pledge and off the currency. The old Pledge worked fine during WWII, and E PLURIBUS UNUM worked much better on our currency.

  2. Date: 07/01/2002 00:00:00 AM
    I appreciate almost all sides of this debate. I think almost all of you have handled this touchy subject with deep thought and feeling.Except for Joel. He’s an ignoramus.First, the Declaration of Independence is not legislation; and second, “the Creator” defines a different entity than “God” does. “God” implies the Judaeo-Christian Patriarch. “The Creator” implies the Deist deity of Jefferson (or, if you are Gnostic, the Prince Of This World…).Mind, he’s right about one thing. If clowns like him end up in charge of this nation, I’d sooner live in Britain.

  3. Date: 07/02/2002 00:00:00 AM
    Bravo. I agree with Lynn that yours is one of the best essays on this issue I’ve seen. And I say that while disagreeing ever so slightly with you: if it’s unconstitutional, it’s unconstitutional – and if it is, then that matters. Despite the scoffs and rolled eyes, it’s cases like these that keep our system honest (or as honest as it can be, given the questionable ethics of nearly everyone in it). Out of thousands of seemingly ‘silly’ cases, there’s bound to be one that puts the light on something that truly is illegal, unconstitutional, or an infringement on civil rights. It’s worth it to suffer through these controversies if they result in protecting the honor of the constitution. It’s part of that concept of ‘eternal vigilance’.

  4. Date: 07/02/2002 00:00:00 AM
    A.L. – Yours was a well-thought-out commentary that I enjoyed reading and largely agree with. Thanks for it.FYI: LA Times writer Martin Miller argues the point from a similar angle.

  5. Date: 06/30/2002 00:00:00 AM
    This is one of the best essays on the Pledge controversy that I’ve read. It’s very close to my own thoughts on the subject, but I tend to be more easily irritated by people who make mountains out of molehills, which makes it harder to write a convincing argument.

  6. Date: 07/01/2002 00:00:00 AM
    I suppose the next step in this parade is to declare our money unconstitutional (“in God we trust”), and then go back to British rule (since the Declaration of Independence mentions God), and then require places of worship to remove any external crosses or other religious symbols that can often be seen by the public.The separation clause means that the gov’t should never support one particular sect over another. It does not mean that we must excise every trace of religion from our public lives.The attitude behind this ruling seems to be that religion is unnatural and perveted, that what adults do in private is their own business but they damn well better not do it in public in front of everyone – keep it in the closet you freaks!

  7. Date: 06/30/2002 00:00:00 AM
    And one more thought: I have been quite upset at the huge amount of emphasis that religion has come to bear in politics.Despite this, maybe it’s best that we allow every sort of religious influence in all avenues of our public life until people get so sick of it and it becomes so trivialized that it can no longer be used as a wedge issue, and we can all disregard the fiction that publically professing one’s faith has anything to do with fitness to govern. The question I have is that once we have the 10 Commandments up in every public building, and we have organized prayer back in schools and God back into the pledge, what will be the next intrusion that we’ll be asked to accomodate on behalf of civility?

  8. Date: 06/30/2002 00:00:00 AM
    Ya know, loking at this I think I wrote it badly. I’m trying to make two points:1) It requires a certain amount of flexibility and tolerance to live together in a society. We’re eroding that, severely, and that’s a much bigger problem than whether my kids say ‘under God’ as a part of the Pledge.2)The law is, like it or not, political. Brown v. Board of Education could not have come down absent the political environment that supported it. The politics involved in driving a wedge between the ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ parts of the U.S. was well-served by this decision; what we need to do is tie them together.No, as a nonbeliever, I don’t feel like a guest in this country. If they made me go to church, or stop swearing, etc. I’d feel differently. That kind of small accomodation is meaningless to me; and while everything is a “Constitutional Issue” when seen through certain glasses, not everything is worth a judicual decision and enforcement.

  9. Date: 06/30/2002 00:00:00 AM
    Yes, I know what you mean about pecksniffery and hypersensitivity to symbolism. And my instincts are similar to yours; I certainly would never have brought a lawsuit myself to get my children out from ‘under God’. But then, when you say “I?m not Jewish; but when I go to a Jewish wedding or funeral, I wear a yarmulke,” I’m afraid I you awaken the dormant “single-issue warrior” within. Because, sure, you behave with deference to the beliefs of your hosts, when you are a guest in *their* homes. But non-believers are goddam well *not* tolerated “guests” of the God-believing majority of the United States, we are equal citizens. And driving home that point is worth raising a stink.

  10. Date: 06/30/2002 00:00:00 AM
    To reduce a Constitutional matter of RIGHTS to “Somehow this whole thing reeks of the kind of pecksniffery that wants to ban tag and dodgeball.” tells me that you wish to be the sole judge of what’s important and what is not.Sure, perhaps the pledge(or Nativity scenes or menorahs or the Ten Commandments) don’t offend you personally. But I’m certain that we could find a wealth of other things that do that I don’t give a damn about, either.In other words, just because you choose to tolerate certain unconstitutional acts doesn’t mean that they are petty issues to others.

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