Ultimate Concern

Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls, and other people's bellies. -- Rabbi Israel Salanter 1810-1883

Thursday, September 4, 2008

One Nation, Under What?

After everyone had spoken at the RNC last night (9.3.08), 3 musicians took the stage and performed this interesting spoken word/song version of a cross between the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. There were also inserted lines from MLK's Dream speech, and a few other stirring bits harvested from culturally recognizable things.

But then they got to the part about "One nation/under God." My mind went straight to the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, in which Article 11 states:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

I considered that, since many of our illustrious founding fathers were either Deists or even atheistic, how could they let that phrase in? One nation, under What? Who? God? Okay, but which one? Does it mean that we’re all subject to the will of one god, or perhaps that each individual is subject to the will of a god and collectively we then become a nation under god(s)? Then I found out that the whole "under God" business wasn't added until the 1950's. Retrojection of principle onto the founding fathers, putting words in the mouths of dead men?

Let’s assume for a moment that we are, as Americans, indeed one nation under a god. Rather than rebelling against the idea of some old white guys who were trying to shove a preconceived, patriarchal god of their invention down my throat, I’ve come to a place where the phrase, “one Nation/under God” actually opens doors instead of closing them.

People have a history of selecting gods to worship on the basis of which one gives them the most of what they want. Agrarians turned to gods of rain, crops, fertility. Fighters turned to gods of war. Pacifists turn to gods of peace. Scholars turn to gods of knowledge; the disenfranchised turn to gods of mercy and provision (or turn away from them altogether). Is there really a One Size Fits All God that each and every one of us can agree on and submit ourselves to? Or did our founding fathers mean to create an environment of religious freedom that allowed for all kinds of faiths?

Can the notion of one nation under god become an accommodating place of mind in which all the gods of all the people are welcome at the discussion? Can we open our minds to the thought that each of us is entitled to our own beliefs about god—even if that’s to say that there isn’t one at all?

As much as I used to find “one Nation/under God” a distasteful sentiment, I now see it as an umbrella under which we might all be able to fit. If we can stretch ourselves around the idea that it means inclusions of faith and religion instead of exclusions, using this idea to create a religiously literate world in which each faith is acknowledged as valid (at the very least to its adherents), then maybe, just maybe, you’ll find me standing during the pledge of allegiance, with my hand over my wildly-thumping heart so as to keep it within my breast, leaping as it would be from sheer joy.

click here for more information about Article 11