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Pledge of Allegiance: Socialist Propaganda, Marketing Ploy…

...and since Eisenhower, affirmation of existence of God.

I submitted a response yesterday to Dakota War College's mistaken praise of the Pledge of Allegiance. My nefarious links to Wikipedia apparently triggered the moderation filter, and apparently no one has checked that filter. That's perfectly understandable: yesterday was far too beautiful a day in South Dakota to spend it checking e-mail. (Last night, while biking through the state park, I nearly shouted, Put that phone down, lady: you're camping!)

That said, MC's post warrants correction and elaboration. DWC's returning voice says that if you feel any pride in your country, you really ought to "stand up like a first grader, place your hand over your heart and say the Pledge of Allegiance."

As a dedicated American, the first great nationality based on rational choice rather than blood, I prefer to pledge my allegiance like a rational adult, not a first-grader. I want the words coming out of my mouth to be intelligent and sincere expressions, not knee-jerk reactions and conditioned recitations.

I enjoy leaving out the robotic pauses that strip the Pledge of meaning. (There is no comma after allegiance, flag, or republic. Try it: say the Pledge not as bad poetry, but as a sentence you would say to a friend at the kitchen table.) I especially enjoy emphasizing the most important words: the last six.

In his patriotic paean, MC misses some amusing historical facts about the words he so exalts. The pledge was composed by Christian socialist Francis Bellamy in 1892. His socialist utopian cousin Edward Bellamy wrote one of my favorite novels, Looking Backward, a gentle little tome about how capitalism would lead inevitably and peacefully to a global socialist paradise.

Uff da: if Barack Obama and I went around chanting slogans written by card-carrying socialists, we'd be pilloried in the conservative blogosphere. But Francis Bellamy was different; he was a good socialist who loved America... oh my! Wrap your heads around that!

Students give Bellamy Salute to American flag during Pledge of Allegiance
Students give Bellamy Salute to American flag during Pledge of Allegiance

The pledge was conceived in part as an effort to use children to spread patriotic propaganda and in part as a marketing campaign by Youth's Companion magazine to sell flags to schools and magazines to kids. For fifty years, kids thrust their right hands out toward the flag as they pledged. Alas, those nutty Nazis spoiled the "Bellamy salute," and President Roosevelt and Congress queasily amended that gesture to our current mild heart-holding.

MC commits another blatant error, trying to persuade atheists, Buddhists, and other non-Christians to quit grousing and say the Pledge like everyone else (or at least just shut up):

It is not a prayer to God, nor are we not asking you to believe in God, or even acknowledge the presence of God [MC, "The Pledge of Allegiance," Dakota War College, 2011.07.02].

Actually, MC, it is, and you are.

Contrary to your claim, those who recite the pledge unavoidably express a belief in one God. (If I say I am under a truck, I am expressing belief that there is a truck.) As a rational adult and secular humanist who tries to mean every word he says (teasing my five-year-old notwithstanding), I thus must in good conscience omit that phrase, a wrongful conflation of piety and patriotism added in 1954 as an incantation against the Soviet ideological cousins of the Pledge's author.

I happily pledge allegiance to this fine Republic. To expect anyone to include in that pledge a declaration of piety does a disservice to the principles of America and of Christianity.

* * *
One more note: The Pledge's original wording began with "I pledge allegiance to my flag...." My flag—I like that reminder that the flag belongs to me, to every person who may speak those words. I like that reminder that the flag and the country are mine, and yours, and yours, to praise, to criticize, and to change—always change!—into an ever greater and more just nation.


  1. JohnKelley 2011.07.03

    Clever folks, those 1930's-era Germans - borrowing our Bellamy salute AND our 1927 classic, "Propaganda" by Edward Bernays. Combine them for a heel-clicking synergy in "pure thought," "cultural purity," and "being blessed and chosen by Gott" so that they could refresh all mankind and last . . . about 12 years. Good thing we don't do that any more . . . except in the Dakota War College, the teachings of MC, Faux News, . . .

    One has to wonder if these modern, "True Believers" (hat tip to Eric Hoffer) ever had a history class.

  2. Guy 2011.07.03

    It was a very beutiful day to be out in the park. I took my bicycle out for a spin on the trails in the Big Sioux Recreation Area (next to Brandon). It's a scenic stretch of park.

  3. Curtis Loesch 2011.07.03

    If there is a God, I think it is beyond, understanding, nationionalism, belief/creed, gender, history/human-time, mythology/religion, even beyond american exceptionalism, for all you historical idiots. All you have to do is look at the rest of the world. They don't believe, in large, in your god. Proof is in the pudding: America has been pledging it's allegiance to mammon for quite some time.

  4. Bill Fleming 2011.07.03

    I'm with Cory and Curtis, focusing on the "under God" part distracts us from the "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL", part.

    Like 3 card monty... don't take your eyes off the ball, folks.

    God can take care of his/her self.

    I mean hey, s/he's God... right?

  5. Stan Gibilisco 2011.07.04

    Cory says, "I want the words coming out of my mouth to be intelligent and sincere expressions, not knee-jerk reactions and conditioned recitations."

    As do I! However, I recall that as a youngster (first-grader, anyway), much of the stuff that emanated from my mouth was, in fact, a rigid sequence conditioned recitations.

    When we see a small child behaving in a "pious" manner (in my mind, the vision of a kid in church, eyes on the rafters, hands folded in a steeple shape, everything but a visible and physically quantifiable toroidal halo hovering in space above the head), do we honestly believe that the child harbors deep thoughts, "sincere expressions, not knee-jerk reactions and conditioned recitations"? If so, I submit that we're more naive than that kid ...

    I remain agnostic about the "under God" part of the Pledge of Allegiance. Nevertheless, I do believe that a certain level of respect is warranted. I will still place my hand on my chest and face the flag during the National Anthem at a ball game, for example (although I will spare the Symphony of the Cosmos the disaster of my singing voice).

    Now how about "In God we Trust" on our coins? Should we replace it with "Render unto Caesar"?

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.07.04

    On mammon and Caesar: When Bellmay wrote the pledge, he was reacting in part to what he perceived as a decline of true dedication to country based in part on an increasing obsession with business and commerce.

    And I agree, Stan: I didn't hit the sincere expression stage until sometime later than first grade. Teaching kids certain expressions and customs by rote has its place. But to encourage adults to speak in that fashion doesn't work for me.

  7. Shel Boese 2011.07.04

    "under god" or "under gods" - it's not the God of Christianity. It's the god of civil religion - like ancient Rome - it's not about actually faith in a divinity - it's about using a veneer of faith for political unity. Particularly in times of war or civil strife.

    Anabaptists for one branch of Christianity have been particularly aware of these "under god" sayings of nations as not affirming the one true God of monotheists or Jesus Christ of Christianity.

    Remember early Christians were considered atheists by the Roman Empire because they refuse to give their "pledge of allegiance" to Caesar - a rejection of the god/gods of the Civil Religion. The Empire forced a sort of religious pluralism to unify diverse groups - all gods of conquered people were brought under the pantheon of Caesar - and he was the god of the empire.

    When Paul talks about "Jesus is Lord" that was a usurpation of the common declaration of "Caesar is Lord". I could imagine Paul in our day saying at the end of the pledge "America, bless God!" or "One Nation under God - I pray" Or "I pledge allegiance first and far above to Jesus, then to the flag..."

    So an atheist in the old USSR could say "under god" if they wished - the god of the state as highest good for the individual purpose. Or the "gods" of so-called state religions in old europe. Again this is not any actual god (or permit me a charismatic detour - perhaps a demonic being in the worst of cases).

    I think the founding fathers/mothers would be appalled at the way civil religion in used as a control and patriotism test today - they fought and many died TO BE FREE FROM CIVIL RELIGION.

    Just sayin...Either way one may reject or like in the Quakers did in their minds to tell the truth before God in their mind when authorities came to see if they were hiding slaves in response to questions "are you hiding slaves?" Answer aloud, "no" followed by in the mind: "Not in this room..."

  8. Erin 2011.07.04

    I could not have said it better myself, Shel. Your explanation is why, as a Christian, I can no longer in good conscience say the pledge of allegiance.

  9. larry kurtz 2011.07.04

    Hey, whistling in the dark is a genetic tool to frighten off the smilodons and the wolves, just like any prayer is...whatever works. It's the audacity of hope!

  10. Douglas Wiken 2011.07.04

    It’s the audacity of hope! Or perhaps more like the audacity of dopes.

  11. Steve Sibson 2011.07.05

    Cory, the pledge is socialist propaganda (Fabian Socialsim). I no longer recite it and have presented the same research you just posted. Did you know that Francis Bellamy was also a Freemason?

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.07.05

    I missed the Freemason part, Steve, as well as your prior research. Feel free to send a link!

  13. Tony Gorder 2011.07.07

    A great post, Mr. Heidelberger.

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