Under God?

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Three people wrote to me who do not like the phrase “Under God” in Doug Smith’s Pledge of Allegiance. Yes, many disbelievers in God might find this objectionable. In addition, since this pledge was offered by Mr. Smith as a pledge to be taken by elected officials, many anarchists might see the entire pledge as irrelevant. In fact, there will be many reactions of all sorts to such a pledge from all sorts of people, and I’d expect resistance from anyone who does not want such a pledge forced upon us.

To me, the most interesting feature of this pledge is its way of conveying an idea. The idea is rooted in its inversion of the existing pledge. Instead of people pledging allegiance to the state, the members of the state are to pledge allegiance to the people. It is like an oath of office. The pledge is laden with irony. What this irony may accomplish when people read it is to awaken the idea of this contrast: Are we supposed to serve the government or is the government supposed to serve us?

In addition to the religious message, this pledge sends political messages. It emphasizes consent and a republic of federated and sovereign states. (Anarchists might object to the latter; minarchists and constitutionalists might like it.) These too invert the existing pledge.

I don’t know what Mr. Smith’s intent was in penning this pledge. My intent was to awaken the idea that the existing pledge has the relation between people and their government backward.

Different people are awakened and educated by different means. One message or method doesn’t suffice. I use different sorts of messages. In one breath, I may support panarchy. In another breath, I may point out the failings of government to hew to the Constitution. In one breath, the message may seem pro-anarchy, in another breath pro-minarchy. The common thread is to move thought in the direction of supporting greater freedom.

So now let me present a different and broader message.

Human beings are heavily divided on all aspects of religion. Believers in whatever they believe in (and maybe what they disbelieve) are divided from non-believers in whatever they do not believe in (and maybe what they believe). Believers are divided among themselves in thousands of ways.

Any forceful imposition by the state of almost any measure meets with objections from some quarters, and frequently those objections are religiously based or religiously influenced.

The religion-state connections have always historically been strong in many lands and they are no less strong today in America. The U.S. government does not impose a state religion, to be sure. There is no establishment of a church by the state. But the government is composed of legislators who often have religious agendas, and the government enacts measures that affect religious constituencies.

Government provides an arena, a boxing ring or a playing field, in which religious conflicts and ideas are fought, because government has power over all. A government with power to impose on all is a prize to be occupied and won. By construction, a government with power over all is an intolerant government. Government is institutionalized intolerance.

A school district that requires the existing pledge of allegiance to be said by all students is promoting an establishment of religion through the phrase “under God.” School districts are local monopolies with some competition from home schoolers. They are local governments with power over all within their limited territory. They too are instruments of institutionalized intolerance, not only on religious matters but on a broad range of subjects and educational matters.

Fighting and wrestling over the measures that these monopolies have the power to enact, within the arena of these governments, is a very tiring and self-defeating endeavor. Any time one side wins, the other side automatically girds itself for a renewed battle to topple the victor and impose its beliefs on everyone. There is no progress in this sequence. There is only endless battle, an endless cycle of victory and defeat.

It is useless, or at the very least misdirected effort, to fight over the phrase “under God” and what it represents.

The fight should be against institutions that are by their construction vehicles of institutionalized intolerance. The fight should be against the taxing powers of these institutions. The fight should be for choice, for options freely chosen, for options voluntarily subscribed to and paid for, for the expansion of options, and for more opportunities to choose something else than what monopolies impose.

8:14 am on March 26, 2012