I think that I owe an answer to this question:
Are you not bored with this yet? I used to be a regular reader here, but I have to tell you, this pledge thing is not that interesting. But every time I drop in for a visit, God and the Pledge is within the last few day's topics. Yawn.... While I am an atheist, and I don't like the phrase "Under God" anymore than you do, I just can't understand why you think this is such a large grain of sand in the Vaseline jar.
The Pledge Project ends on July 7th.
Specifically, I expect that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to give its opinion between June 26th and June 30th. Whatever the date, I will then post a directory of postings written up to that time linking to the various arguments that I have discussed. Hopefully it will serve as a useful resource for those who will be engaged in the debate that follows.
NOTE: 6/23. I have discovered that the above prediction was based on false assumptions.
I have already asked for the time off from work for the week following the anticipated decision date so that I can fully participate in the debate.
The national discussion will probably go through the July 4th weekend where people will use the patriotic holiday to muster support for ‘under God’ in the pledge, then the story will fade as the nation moves on to other issues.
I will move on as well. However, the U.S. Supreme Court will likely hear the case late in 2009 or early 2010, rending a final opinion on the issue of ‘under God’ and ‘In God We Trust.’ I sincerely believe that if these moral arguments can be pushed into the public light before the Supreme Court hears the case, that there is a chance that the Supreme Court may decide correctly on these issues. Otherwise, the Court will give us a new and extremely narrow interpretation of the Establishment Clause that will prohibit nothing less than fine and imprisonment for not attending Church.
So, why am I putting so much energy into this?
(1) Because I think these policies are extremely destructive – far more destructive than most people realize.
(2) Because the principles on which my objections are based have implications across a number of areas where discrimination and religious conflict are an issue.
The Costs of the Current Policies
A lot of people are significantly underestimating the harms of having ‘under God’ in the Pledge and ‘In God We Trust’ as our motto. In particular, they are ignoring the psychological harm being done to young children.
There have been a great many psychological studies done about what happens when you divide a population up into an in-group and an out-group. These experiments have involved differences as subtle as giving one group a blue ribbon to wear on their shirt and the out-group a green ribbon - or dividing a room between 'those on the left' and 'those on the right'.
The out-group becomes submissive and servile. They find it difficult to look members of the in-group in the eye. They become underperformers, suffering from a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence that keeps them from even trying to accomplish some of the things they might have otherwise strived for. At the same time, the in-group becomes dominant and aggressive. "Believing in themselves", they become much more willing and able to assert themselves against others, particularly members of the out-group. Because of the extra effort, they actually become more successful.
It does not matter whether we are talking about Arians and Jews, blacks and whites, males and females, theists and atheists, the psychological dynamics of in-group and out-group relationships follow the same pattern.
I see that pattern to be blindingly obvious whenever I read news stories about some abuse or insult inflicted on atheists and their passive response to these assaults.
How can you get 6 million Jews into the forced labor camps and gas chambers? How can you get millions of black slaves to work the fields with just a few overseers? How can you treat women as property for thousands of years and have women submissively believe that this is their rightful place, and keep them in that place even in several regions of the world today?
These things happen because the human brain is wired in such a way that out-group membership makes people submissive and obedient, unwilling to take a stand against their own victimization.
President Bush, when he said that he would not appoint anybody to be a judge who does not believe that our rights come from God, should have seen that as the end of his political life. It should have been like claiming that he will only appoint white judges or Christian judges. Yet, nothing happened.
Monique Davis, in claiming from her chair as a Illinois state representative that atheism is a philosophy of destruction, should have seen this as the end of her political career - the way that Trent Lott's career suffered with a single comment praising segregationist Strom Thurmond. She apologized only for raising her voice.
Kieffe & Sons, the Ford dealership telling secularists to sit down and shut up in their advertisement, should have been met with protests that would have threatened to shut down their business unless they gave a serious apology. For a few moments it seemed that they were actually worried about the response. Then they realized that the people they were dealing with were too passive to be much of a threat.
These are real-world observations that make it obvious that we are dealing with a situation with an aggressive and dominant in-group culture of theists against a passive and submissive out-group culture of atheists.
This comes from a program that teaches children on the first day of school, and on from there, that those who support ‘one nation under God’ and who trust in God belong to the in-group, and those who do not belong in the out-group.
In addition to creating a society of aggressive theists and passive atheists, the Pledge and the motto do an excellent job of serving their primary purpose of steering children away from atheism (because no child wants to be a part of the out-group of he can help it) and towards theism (because children have a deep need to be a part of the in group if they can get in).
It does so in a way that shuts their mind to atheism, because atheism comes at too high a cost. Adopting atheism means entering into the out-group. Evidence that atheist claims might be correct stirs an emotional response – a level of anxiety that overrides rational thought and fixes the person’s brain on a belief that they cannot afford to let go of. They feel the anxiety and they conclude that atheism must be wrong. Somehow – someway – it must be wrong.
This is amplified by the fact that in-group members tend to assist in-group members up the social, political, and economic ladders. Presidents appoint only those people to be judges who believe that our rights come from God. Military officers recommend promotions and key assignments to members of their prayer groups. Voters bar from elected office anybody who is not willing to pledge allegiance to ‘one nation, under God’.
You do not need to have a person sit down to do a cost-benefit analysis for these types of considerations to have an effect. All you need is the emotional response that comes from recognizing that adopting a particular attitude towards God (or towards those who do not believe in God) puts certain values at risk. The emotional response is enough to generate the agent’s decisions on the matter with almost no cognitive input. “I do not like the way that your ideas make me feel, so your ideas must be wrong.”
The power of teaching young children that those people who support ‘one nation under God’ and who trust in God are good, and those who do not support these values are bad, is the power of the emotional associations that these practices create that will be with the child far into adulthood.
No amount of anecdotal evidence to the contrary has any relevance here. Anecdotal evidence is always (and rightly) highly suspect. We have the observed results that I have mentioned above of political leaders and businesses making hostile and denigrating comments about atheists without repercussions. No anecdotal evidence can change those observed facts.
Finally, the stigma (the socially manufactured aversion) of atheism gets attached to anything that can be linked to atheism. By associating evolution with atheism and creationism to ‘In God We Trust’ and ‘under God’, proponents of creationism can touch basic emotions that the government has planted in children at a very young age.
By associating Democrat with atheist political factions can cause people to transfer the uneasiness that they have towards atheism to Democrats, and turn more than a few elections in their favor.
People are using the bad name of ‘atheism’ against some worthy causes, but the passive and servile atheist is unwilling to do anything to challenge these practices.
One option that those who support these good causes can do in order to save themselves from these associations is to strongly join in the denunciation of atheism and to assert, “Religious people can believe in evolution,” and “Democrats can have faith, too.”
Of course, nobody thinks to deny the ‘badness’ of the object of the original association – of atheism, in this case. One side tries to link what it wants people to hate with what is already hated (atheism), while the other tries to deny the link with what is already hated (atheism). What they share in common is the sociological fact (and it is a fact) that the comparison object is hated.
It is a hatred that is only made worse by the fact that the government is teaching young children that those who do not support ‘one nation under God’ are bad people (just as those who do not support ‘liberty and justice for all’ are bad people), and telling citizens, ‘do not think of those who do not trust God as being one of us’.
I am well aware of the fact that I am taking on a topic that out-group members are going to find . . . uninteresting. I am making claims that are completely at odds with the passive and submissive nature of out-group psychology.
However, the fact that people find the topic uninteresting is not an argument against my position. The empirical evidence to support my position is there. We see it every time elected officials and business leaders trash atheists and atheism wand receive an impotent protest in response.
It is exactly the type of behavior we were taught in grade school, where the school ritual was to denigrate those who lacked support for 'one nation under God', and we were told at best to take the insults in silence or at worst fiegn acceptance of those same standards. So, now, when politicians and business leaders denigrate atheists, we still follow our old school lessons and take the insults with silence or, at best, a weak and impotent protest that goes nowhere.
Yes, I think that this issue is important. I think it is worth every bit of the energy that I am putting into it. Soon, this issue will be front-page news and we will have a few days' opportunity to expose people to arguments that they have not had to deal with before. I want to be as prepared as possible to take advantage of that opportunity.