While I haven’t seen many billboards across Tennessee that are religious in nature that are surprising, this new campaign in North Carolina is a welcome change. I’m actually surprised this didn’t happen sooner, but I hope this will catch on. The gist is putting up an American flag pattern with the words “One Nation Indivisible” on it. The catch here that people will quickly recognize is the absence of two words in between nation and indivisible, “Under God”. The reason for this is that there are only so many people in the generation that existed before the pledge was “edited” so to speak in 1954 with the threat of “godless communists” on the rise in Soviet Russia. My great grandmother would be one of them, but I can’t imagine what she’d think. Patriotism is probably in her blood, but the explicitly theistic aspect of the pledge as it exists now is something I don’t know her perspective on. The point of this message put together by the North Carolina Secular Association is to demonstrate that one can be patriotic and be proud to serve one’s country and yet not believe in God.
The pledge was indeed written by a former minister, but as any historian could point out, the original text was not explicitly religious. I honestly haven’t said the pledge in a while, but if it came up, I would omit “under God” from my recitation, reflecting what is probably a counter-cultural vein of thought. Not to mention I equally dismiss the phrase “In God We Trust” that has become our standard national motto. The original motto was “E Pluribus Unum”, translating roughly to “Out of many, one”. This motto can be found on virtually anything associated with America before 1956, only two years after the addition of “Under God” to the pledge of allegiance. In that decade, along with amending the pledge of allegiance and changing the official national motto, the National Day of Prayer was also instituted earlier than either in 1952. With this theme in mind, anyone born within the span of the 1950s seems to differ in one distinct way from people that are my grandparents’ age. This is not to say that everyone in my parents’ generation along with my own is explicitly devout in their practice of Christianity as the majority religion in the country. But there is a likely association in their minds between being patriotic and believing in God. This may not be the case for all, but the persistence of the use of “under God” in the pledge, the national motto on the currency being “In God We Trust” and the recent controversy surrounding the challenge of the constitutionality of the National Day of Prayer, it’s reasonable to see how people have been slowly conditioned into supporters in some manner or another of the idea that the United States is a Christian nation.
While I won’t get into the details of how problematic the claim is on various levels, I will say this; this nation is religiously diverse for the same reason we are ethnically and racially diverse. Without this diversity, there is less room for progress and understanding between these different groups. Blacks wouldn’t have civil rights, nor would GLBT people (even though this status is still in question in the 21st century) and there would potentially still be the insistence on an innate superiority of Western ideals over and against Eastern ideals. But with the persistence of the original motto of the U.S., we can at least see that not every person who respects the country believes that what it stands for is a religious/faith based statement, but one of tolerance and openness to understanding the myriad cultures and people that take the time to become naturalized and official citizens of this country. One’s belief or lack thereof in the Abrahamic God should not be what people initially ask and indeed it seems like a later question asked to a foreigner. But with the idea still persisting in our mentality through the influence of those changes enacted in the 1950’s, it is not a bad idea to be cautious and aware of the potential misunderstandings and problems that can still arise with people that are either ill educated or sheltered from an idea intrinsic to the country’s founding; that of a collective of individuals that share common ideals, even with such different beliefs on other things. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha