June 29, 2002
Another atheist speaks up.

I have a tendency to be long winded, I apologize in advance.

Yes, I'm another one of those godless heathens, though I wasn't always so. In my youth I was once a devout Baptist who tried his best to do what his church said was the right thing to do and whom believed in God with all his heart. As I grew older and my critical thinking skills developed I started to question various aspects of the church and it's teachings and it's history until one day the Pastor suggested that perhaps this whole religion thing just wasn't for me. So I set out to figure out which religion was the right one. I studied the various major Christian sects for awhile, but I made the mistake of actually reading the Bible from front to back during that time and was appalled at what it contained. From there I went off to study other religious beliefs for awhile including Islam, various neo-Pagan beliefs, and so on. Eventually I found myself standing in a spot where, when I looked out at the various belief systems, they all looked more or less the same. I also realized that, even at the height of my belief, I had never had a religious experience I could think of. I concluded I had no reason to believe any of it and that meant I was an atheist, but not from lack of trying nor from lack of wanting to believe.

I've been an atheist for a good portion of my adult life now and have experienced the prejudice and bigotry that being honest about my lack of belief can cause. I have been fired from jobs for it, was kicked out of the Boy Scouts because of it, have lost good friends over it. These experiences have made me particularly sensitive about the separation of church and state in our country for I know of some people who would gladly see me arrested, tried, and hung from a gallows because I dare to not believe in their god. I have studied the history of our country and those who founded it and what their beliefs were and why they did things the way that they did. I am no expert, but I know more than the common American it seems.

One of the points about this court decision about the Pledge that seems to get overlooked by most who comment on it is that the original author left the words out of the pledge intentionally. Francis Bellamy was a Baptist minister and a Christan socialist, had he thought the two little words of "under God" should be in the pledge, he would have put them there himself. He knew the addition of those words would take the pledge from being a statement of unity to a statement of us vs. them. The pledge wasn't about acknowledging some form of supreme being, it was about being a good citizen to one's country. When they changed the words "my Flag" to "the Flag of the United States of America", Bellamy protested, but was ignored. That change was minor compared to the addition of "under God" that would occur later, and yet Bellamy was incensed that it occurred and made it quite clear at the time. Does anyone really think he would have approved of the other change? His granddaughter didn't. But who cares, the man was dead by then and it was a nice opportunity for the Christian Right to hijack the pledge for the promotion of their religious belief.

I've seen a lot of people ask the question: "It's been fine this way for so long, why are people complaining now?" It was fine for 62 years before Congress decided to add the words "under God", what was so wrong with it that they felt the need to improve it? No one challenged it immediately for the simple fact that it occurred during the height of McCarthyism and would probably have resulted in immediate FBI investigation, black balling in the Senate, and ruination of one's career and life. This complaint isn't new, either, as various people offended by it have brought lawsuits to the courts many time over the years. This is just the first time anyone has succeeded, those other attempts rarely made the news because no one succeeded in their challenge. Just as attempts have been made on getting "In God We Trust" off of our money, but you've probably never heard about them or, if you did, brushed it off as another kook.

Another person asks "Why waste the time and energy? If it's so offensive, don't recite the pledge." OK, so let's go tell all the blacks in South Carolina that we're going to let the State fly the Confederate Flag on their Capitol building again. Surely if the blacks there are so offended by the mere site of a flag they can just avert their eyes as they walk into the building instead of wasting time and energy suing to have it removed. Yet because they found it offensive, the State was forced to remove the flag from the building. Was the flag really harming them? No, not in any physical sense. It just made them feel like second-class citizens. Do the words 'under God' really harm non-Christians, not really. Except it makes those of differing faiths that aren't monotheistic, or those of us without faith, feel like second class citizens. Oh, that's right, it's still OK to be bigoted toward non-Christians where as it's not OK to be bigoted toward blacks anymore. I'd forgotten, forgive me. I was under the mistaken assumption this country believed in the concept of equality where there wouldn't be any need to make others feel like they don't belong.

I suppose if you're not offended by it then it does become difficult to understand why some of us think it should be removed. I'm relatively certain many amongst our Founding Father's would be appalled it was ever put in in the first place for the same reason they'd be appalled with the phrase "In God We Trust" on our money, but that's another issue that I'll go into later. For now, I've taken up enough screen space.

Posted by at June 29, 2002 09:38 AM
bravo. *standing o* excellent post les. Posted by: kat on June 29, 2002 11:37 AM
Hi Les, Your post is excellent, and I truly enjoyed reading it. I know you did not intend for me to grin at the end, but I did and I'll tell you why. "Oh, that's right, it's still OK to be bigoted toward non-Christians where as it's not OK to be bigoted toward blacks anymore. I'd forgotten, forgive me. I was under the mistaken assumption this country believed in the concept of equality where there wouldn't be any need to make others feel like they don't belong." I totally agree, except I feel I am ridiculed and experience bigotry because I do have a deep faith in God! My grinning came about because it seems we both feel the same why--just as opposites. It seems as though extremists have managed to color our thinking and allow us to stereotype each other. By "our" and "us" I mean people as a whole, not you and I. ;o) While my faith is deep, I cringe at some (most) (almost all) of the things that come out of the mouths of people like Falwell. I am pro-life, but believe bombing of abortion clinics is totally wrong and hypocritical. I am loyal to my country, yet totally suspicious of its government. I teach my kids to question authority. Question the motives behind it, etc. Anyway, thank you for your post. I enjoyed it. Posted by: Cynthia on June 30, 2002 07:13 PM
Cynthia, I can understand why you would cringe at what comes out of the mouths of folks like Falwell. Even when I was a devout Baptist I had a hard time with the Fundamentalist branch of Christianity myself and I know not all Christians are that extreme. I have also witnessed first hand how folks who are deeply religious can be ridiculed and harassed by people who think they take it too far, both folks non-religious and those who claim to be Christians themselves. I am not hostile towards the idea of someone being deeply committed to their faith nor of their expressing that commitment. I'm just hostile to the idea of them using the power of the government to do it. This country is supposed to be the great melting pot, drawing its strength from its diversity. It's not supposed to favor or promote a particular viewpoint on religion, but remain neutral on that matter so that every man is allowed his right to determine his religious orientation without fear of it reducing his standing in the eyes of the government. My argument isn't for banning the pledge, but for restoring it to how it was before the religious right got involved. I, personally, like the Pledge of Allegiance as it was originally written and have been known to recite it when the occasion seemed appropriate to do so. Usually only to have folks try to correct me on leaving out the "under God" part. Always, without fail, they try to correct me. So I suppose my only recourse is not bother to recite it at all and allow folks to continue to label me as unpatriotic and uncaring about my country. Posted by: Les on July 1, 2002 06:44 AM
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