Saturday, July 3, 2010
On Secularism and Censorship
Less than a week after I blogged on the billboard in North Carolina, that same sign has been vandalized. The perpetrators, still at large (not that their punishment would stop future attempts to interfere in this protest against atheist discrimination), spray painted an arrow with the words “Under God” being guided to the point in the sign between “One Nation” and “Indivisible”. The sign will be repaired, if only to persist in countering what this incident demonstrates about the pledge in its current state. Contrary to the popular insistence that the pledge unites the country, it actually has divided it with the insertion of “Under God” in the pledge in the 50s, the so called McCarthy era, where Communism was the enemy of freedom and we were afraid the Soviet Union was trying to infiltrate the country from within, among other things that fostered a sense of paranoia and nationalism. And this American exclusivism has reared its vicious fangs again in this vandalism of a sign that had no intent of insulting believers in God by displaying the pledge as it has existed for over half a century. In fact, it would be the reverse, since the original pledge formed in 1892 had existed unaltered for over 60 years before the insistence that America had to be understood as a Christian nation, which thankfully our present president has countered since his election in 2008.
The secularist group that funded the sign seems to be the more patriotic of the two groups in this underrepresented conflict in present issues. We can try to classify the two groups as traditionalists and revisionists; the traditionalists representing the secularists and other citizens (believers in God or otherwise) that don’t agree with the addition of “Under God” in the pledge, preferring it to be in its original form and the revisionists representing the theocratic and “Christian nation” fanatics that insist that if you don’t believe in God, you’re not a real American, though the latter is dangerously close to the vein that would suggest that only Caucasian Europeans who are explicitly Protestant Christian and Republican are the purest form of American citizens. I’m not insisting that every believer in God is the second group, since there are those that believe that religion and politics have distinct spheres and are only overlapping within very particular parameters (like Jon Meacham for example). A church doesn’t need the government’s approval to exist for example, nor does the government need the church to persist in its management. If people in the government start believing less and less in God, it does not necessarily have a negative effect on how the government is run as long as they still persist in following principles that are agreed upon on a more fundamental level, such as the importance of a governing document like the constitution and protecting the rights of citizens as elaborated in that document. Whether one is atheist, theist or anywhere in between, it’s not as if you can’t be a patriotic American and have pride in what the nation’s ideals are, such as inclusivism without hard relativism, tolerance without blind acceptance and freedom of expression to the extent that you don’t push that freedom into “might makes right”. If we began to think that perhaps not all the traditions we were raised in are always the right one or the end standard for how we should behave in every situation, then we might begin to work towards returning the pledge back to its original form. The problem here is our attachment to familiarity.
Even my parents are in a generation that didn’t really know a pledge without under God even existed. Their parents would’ve been raised in a time when the pledge was probably just said “One Nation Indivisible”, but with their age affecting their survival into the next generation as well as the more general attitude of raw progress that affects even my own generation to the exclusion of archaic or outdated modes of thought from the early 20th century, it’s a wonder any of them have tried to protest and revise the pledge from how it was when they were in school. I’m thinking the next time I have a chance to talk with my grandparents and even the surviving great grandparent I have, I would ask them about this event and what they think of it, what they remember and what should be done about this. I’ve never really gotten the feeling that my elders have been especially intolerant of people that differ from them in such ways as not believing in God at all (as opposed to just being Jewish, Muslim or Catholic for example) or not being white or particularly democratic (such as in the Middle East or China with recent events), but if it does happen to be the case, I would want to at least try to understand why they would believe that way in a time when, however sheltered they may have been from many cultures outside of North America, there were ideals that at least took the phrase “live and let live” seriously. America seemed to follow the original motto more to the letter, e pluribus unum, from many, one. People were different, but they were all American. There are always clarifications, since racism was almost a tradition back then as well, but evidently the relationship is mutual: the old can learn from the young, but the youths can learn from the elders as well. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.