A Mistake about the PledgeThe chief error of good hearted people who think the words “under God” do not matter in the pledge is their low view of “civil religion.” Academics can hardly say “civil religion” without sneering and thoughtful Christians often fall into the same trap. Because civil religion is not Christian, orthodox Christians feel it does not go far enough. After all, they like to point out; the god of the Pledge might be some wicked Hindu deity.Worrying about this in a nation that is culturally overwhelmingly Jewish and Christian seems a bit silly. I am willing to allow for the tiny percentage of the population to understand God in (what I take to be) odd ways to keep civil religion going.Why? Civil religion in the United States limits the power of the state. It is not the positive affirmation of one religion, but recognition that there is a realm where the secular cannot go. It is more negative than positive in terms of what it affirms. The state recognizes by civil religion that there is other, a God, who has given humankind rights and ability that they cannot touch. You do not have to be a Christian to believe this or even a monotheist. It should comfort even an atheist who loves freedom. It also allows Christians and other monotheists (Jews and Moslems) to swear allegiance to the state in good conscience. Since we do the bulk of tax paying, fighting, and working in this nation, this seems a good idea. I do not expect my pledge of allegiance to be a Creed, but I do expect it to acknowledge that most free men of the West owe their first allegiance to a Creed and not a state. I will not swear absolute allegiance to the state. I view the “under God” clause as making the same point as the Declaration of Independence. It limits more than it affirms. My rights do not come from the state. They come from the Creator. The state cannot take away what it did not give. My allegiance to the state is qualified. My obedience will be limited by the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God. That radical view is at the heart of the American experiment. When we were engaged in an all out war with a godless system that demanded total allegiance from its citizens, the US government wisely inserted “under God” into the pledge to make clear what had always been understood. My duty to the state is not absolute.These words have not led to a theocracy, but their overt removal (after they were added) will suggest that the modern secular state will brook no rival. That would be a bad idea for the vast majority of Americans who will not say, “Caesar is Lord.”We have no King but King Jesus.
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