Friday, July 20, 2012

Why I Don't Pledge Allegiance to a Flag

1. It feels like a loyalty oath, which means to me that even though I am a citizen of this particular country, others have deemed that I am obligated to continually establish something that is self-evident: that I am a citizen, or perhaps better, that I am a good citizen. I take good citizenship as a given, even though you and I might define good citizenship very differently. But I would understand the concept of good citizenship as the presumptive norm, which means it does not have to be proven or reproven.

2. I’m an only child.  It’s the only explanation I’ve got for my own instinctive rejection of group think, and collective pledges always put me in mind of group think, especially when the lack of participation becomes a matter of negative judgment or perception.  It may seem incredibly ironic that I would be a pastor and actively participate in the life of a church, given this worldview.  But Presbyterians affirm freedom of the conscience, which is about the only way someone like me could play in their sandbox.

Called a 'patriotic product'
3. Symbols matter hugely.  And I do not like what this particular symbol has become – a sort of litmus test  of acceptability.  Thus virtually every national politician wears a culturally-obligated flag lapel pin and the failure to wear one translates as ‘unAmerican’.  Who decided that?  I must have missed the meeting.

4. It feels like idolatry to me.  I’m not saying it’s idolatrous for others.  I am saying it’s idolatrous for me.  Investing pieces of cloth with the sacred, prescribing how flags are to be venerated, treated while ‘alive’, disposed of when ‘dead’, invests the symbol with a meaning that pushes me away rather than draws me near.  There aren’t that many rules (really, there aren’t any) for the disposition of the sacred texts of my faith.  When a Bible gets worn out, you just throw it away.  I may love where I live.  I may even respond to the many symbols of where I live.  But I do not worship them.

5. Flag-draped coffins.

6. The Pledge of Allegiance is too closely linked in my mind with triumphalism – the implied declaration that we are better than everyone else.  We are not.  Nor, in my view, should we wish to be.  Life is not a contest.

I really can’t recall a specific occasion when I decided to stop pledging allegiance to the flag.  As an adult who rarely attends sporting events (the only professional sporting event I have ever attended was a pro-wrestling event in our town my Dad took me to when I was a kid), does not work in a public school system, and is rarely at public political events, I am not often called upon to choose whether to stand with others and recite the pledge or not.

Thus you could know me for a lifetime and never know this about me.  Whenever the pledge is recited, I stand – as a sign of respect to you, not the flag, so my non-pledging probably goes unnoticed.

And I’ve had to reflect quite a bit to understand my own motivations.  The biggest reason I eschew flag-waving, -wearing, -pledging exercises, I think, is the linkage I observe between the flag and our militarism.  The language in the pledge of ‘indivisibility’ is a direct reference to our own civil war.  Flags cropped up all over the place in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, usually coupled with the language of violent revenge.  A friend who refused to hang a flag from her dorm room window was ostracized.  That she had family in the Pentagon on the day was of no interest to those who would judge her as lacking in some fundamental way.  So perhaps for me it’s a bit of a protest against our tendency to violence as a problem-solving technique in these United States.  If so, until now, it’s never been something I felt the need to announce.  Why now?  I’m truthfully not sure.  Maybe it has to do with spending more time than I care to recently listening to folks tell me how much they disagree with me or find me wanting when they really don’t know that much about me.  Maybe in effect, I’m saying, you want to really disagree with me?  But I don’t think so.  I really think that June and July, the months of celebration for statehood for my home state of West Virginia, and nationhood for the United States, wear me down, especially in election years.  I love being from West Virginia.  But I am ashamed of my native state, and especially the Democrats of that state, for voting in the presidential primary for a man currently incarcerated in the state of Texas over President Obama.  West Virginians declared by their majority vote that they would rather have a man they know nothing about save that he is a felon doing time as their presidential candidate than Mr. Obama.  It’s hard, if not downright impossible, to believe that is anything but overt racism.  And I am ashamed of us as a nation for our use of force as our first instinct around the world whenever problems arise.  I am ashamed that there are never enough guns to satiate our felt need for safety and power.  And I am appalled that we drape all of it in a flag and call it holy.  That’s my inner protestor speaking.  But maybe that’s a little high-minded for the truth when it comes to me and pledges.

Because maybe, just maybe, deep down, I’m more a libertarian than I’d like to admit.  Maybe it’s just that I’m unwilling or unable to do something, anything, simply because someone else expects or demands that I should.


  1. I go back and forth. Thanks.

    1. David, Back atcha. Thank you for the reminder that we're all often of at least two minds on many things. I cling to the truth that Jesus is Lord and most days, everything else is simply commentary. Peace & blessings, Beth

  2. Enough reasons here for anyone, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist to have the Pledge of Allegiance removed from public schools, at least:

    1. Meaning lost in endless repetition, no explanation given, no history provided.

    2. Comprises an ideological viewpoint that is forced on little kids by authorities to whom they are dependent.

    3. The two above, taken together, is the definition of brainwashing.

    4. The absurdity of having to repeat a pledge daily that apparently is only good for 24 hours.

    5. The conforming routine of it, which makes you feel like a brain-dead robot sheep as opposed to a citizen of a free country who enjoys individual liberty.

    6. Subordinates the people to the government, which we are told on good authority was created by us, with allegiance to us, not us to it.

    7. Exalts nationalism over federalism contrary to the basic principles of our Republic. Subsuming states and individual rights to central government is a necessary pre-requisite for a centralized, socialist government to gain traction. This was an explicit goal of Francis Bellamy, the socialist author of the PofA.

    8. Encourages jingoism. Antagonistic tribalism. No other countries have their citizens swear a loyalty oath to their government (except Mexico and the Philippines, mimicking the U.S).

    9. Concocted by a company that sold flags as part of a plan to compel schools to buy more flags while instilling socialist-style nationalism in American children.

    10. Unsavory connection with Nazis. The Pledge originally featured the Nazi-style salute. In fact, Hitler got it from the Italian fascists who much admired, that's right, kids in America doing it while saying the Pledge. (Man, if that doesn't give you chills)

    11. Is patriotic lip-service in place of, even at the expense of, actual civic engagement and action. (Symbolic patriotism)

    12. Is uncritical patriotism at the expense of maintaining oversight over government. (Blind patriotism)

    13. Considered by many Christians idolatry, taking the name of God in vain, swearing oaths, serving two masters.

    14. Divides the nation (and the classroom) along religious lines. Only those represented by the Judeo-Christian "God" need apply as patriots (Ironic that "under God", comes right before "indivisible.")

    15. Is hypocritical on the part of adults, bullying little kids into doing something that adults themselves don't do. (You say the Pledge every day, do you, and on a government mandated schedule?)

    16. And last, but not least, pledging allegiance to a flag is just stupid.

    1. Hifi, lots of for thought - #4 made me laugh out loud. I hadn't heard about the pledge being such a rarity - have to check that out. Thanks for making me think some more on my own views. Peace out, Beth