This post represents the seventh in a series that I hope to use in a complete story to be finished before June. I do not know if I will actually include this section in the finished story. It presents a type of argument I commonly see used against atheists, but one which I do not often see used specifically when discussing the Pledge. Still, the arguments and their response deserve some mention.
The rest of the Pledge story can be found at:
“You have a visitor,” the school guard said as he held the door open for an elderly lady.
The lady fumbled to move her books from one arm to the next to free up her hand, which she offered to Shawn. “I’m Ms. Miller. I’m the school psychologist,” she said.
While Ms. Miller came in, the guard commanded Jenny to pack up her books and escorted her to another table in the library.
Shawn shook her hand, nodded acknowledgement, but said nothing.
“I asked Principal Hadley for a chance to come to speak to you,” Miller said as she took a seat at the table. She pulled a folder from her pile of papers and opened it. “I would really hate to see something happen here that all of us will have reason to regret.”
She folded her arms across her open folder, looked at Shawn, and said, “I understand your father died two years ago.”
“Yep,” said Shawn.
“That must have been very hard on you,” said Ms. Miller.
“It wasn’t one of my better days.”
“It also says here that you were a good student, until last year. I went through your records from your previous school. Fighting. Disrupting class. Talking back to your teachers. You were suspended once for showing up drunk at school.”
“That also wasn’t one of my better days.”
“I think I know what’s going on here, Shawn. Losing a parent is a terrible thing. It makes you angry. It makes you want to strike out and hurt people, just like you’ve been hurt. All of this acting out is quite understandable, given your history. It’s just that, I hope you understand, there are socially acceptable ways of dealing with one’s grief. But, what you’re doing just isn’t acceptable. You’re hurting yourself, and you’re hurting the people around you.”
Shawn smiled. “I get it. You think that my protest over the Pledge is because I am sick. I don’t like the idea that the school has a ritual where they encourage students to say that people like my parents aren’t patriots because they didn’t fight and die for white power, and that means I’m sick.”
“You are not sick, Shawn,” Ms. Miller said. “When we are in grief, we go through a well understood set of phases before we move on. The first thing we do is deny what we don’t want to believe. When you were first told that your father had been killed, you probably didn’t believe it. You probably thought it was a joke. Even after you were told, you were probably expecting him to call or to write or to come through the door. Only, it never happened.”
“Ms. Miller, with all due respect I can easily imagine people in your profession 150 years ago, going out to the slave chained to the whipping post, and saying, “Toby, this is the third time you’ve tried to escape. You keep insisting on this destructive behavior. Let me help you. Work with me, and I’ll teach you how to accept slavery so that you can go on to live a full life, and you will never again face another whipping.”
“You are not tied to a whipping post, Shawn.”
“I’m in detention. They’re going to try to expel me.”
“You brought this upon yourself, Shawn. Do you really think that we can tolerate students disrupting class?”
“That’s what I mean, Ms. Miller. I can hear you telling the slave on the whipping post, ‘You brought this on yourself, Toby. Do you really think that the plantation master can tolerate allowing his slaves to run away?’”
“That’s not fair, Shawn. I’m here to help,” Ms. Miller said, her voice quivering with a hint of anger.
“Am I wrong?” Shawn asked.
“That’s not important . . .”
“That’s the only thing that’s important. If I’m wrong, I’ll apologize. If it’s true that patriotism means pledging allegiance to white power, and that no person who refuses to pledge allegiance to a white nation can be a patriot, even if he dies protecting this country, then I will apologize. If it’s not true, then I’m not sick. Or you could think that putting oneself on the line for what is right even if it means risking your life or getting suspended from school is a bad thing – that this is a sickness that you have to eradicate.”
“Shawn, I want you to listen to me. You are the only one who thinks that you are doing the right thing – you and Jenny Bradford. Jenny’s at that rebellious stage where she wants to assert that she is her own woman, and not her father’s daughter. She wants to show her father that she doesn’t have to agree with him. If you’re willing to work with me, we can set up some appointments to help you get through these issues about your father, and I think I can convince Principal Hadley to keep you in school. All you have to do is to turn away from this path of destruction and promise to work with me on finding a more positive route.”
“It doesn’t matter how many people agree with me, Ms. Miller,” Shawn said. “It matters whether they have reasons for agreeing with me that make sense. Does it make sense to say that it’s perfectly acceptable for a government to use its public schools to coerce children into pledging allegiance to white power?”
“Obviously, it is quite acceptable, Mr. Henry, because the people do, in fact, accept it. We have nearly two dozen black students in this school and even they are not rallying to your cause, Mr. Henry. Even they realize that a white nation has a right to select white rulers.”
“We are not all white,” said Shawn.
“But you are the minority, Shawn. This is a democracy. Majority rules. The majority of the people are white, so the whites rule. This is a white nation. You can’t sensibly sit there and say that it is socially unacceptable to have a white nation ruled by white rulers when everybody accepts it. That is proof enough that it is acceptable. What is not acceptable is your disrupting class to say something that is manifestly untrue, that white rule for a white nation is not acceptable.”
Shawn shook his head.
“Now, Shawn, I’m sorry about your father, but you need to make a place for yourself in the world now.”
“I’m hearing that voice again, Ms. Miller. ‘Toby, how can you say that it is not acceptable for white people to hold black people as slaves when, quite obviously, white people accept it. You’re statement is manifestly untrue. Black slavery quite obviously is acceptable, as I can prove by the simple fact that you are a slave.”
“We are not talking about slavery, Shawn.”
“We’re talking about a government coercing its students into adopting a view that patriotism and pledging allegiance to white power are the same thing.”
“Shawn, I really would like to help you. Unfortunately, you have to take the first step. You have to admit that need help dealing with the loss of your father, and that fighting and drinking and disrupting class are not acceptable ways of acting out.”
“Ms. Miller, I admit that the things I did last year were wrong. I was hurt and angry, just like you said. But my mom showed me that I don’t honor my father by turning into a violent drunk. To honor my father I have to be the type of person he would want me to be. He was willing to risk death for what was right. I’m willing to risk suspension in order to fight against the government’s practice of teaching children that patriots must pledge allegiance to a white nation.”
“My door is always open, Shawn,” Ms. Miller said as she collected her gear and stood up to leave. “Some people need to hit rock bottom before they start to claw their way up. Some people never make it back. I’m here to help, so, when you want help, please come see me.”
She tried to shake hands again, but her shifting bundle of papers made that difficult. Shawn walked past her to the door and held it open for her.
“Good bye, Shawn.”