Sunday, March 16, 2008

Perspective on the Pledge Book Ready If Needed

Greetings Readers:

I spent the weekend working on the book A Perspective on the Pledge. I read the book out loud in order to try to catch every error that might be contained within. I rewrote a few whole sections, and read them out loud again, until everything sounded the way I wanted it to.

This has taken away from my opportunity to work on this blog for the past two days, but I think that the project is important and worth the effort.

I still have not heard from Prometheus Books - either in the form of an invitation to submit the manuscript, or in terms of a rejection letter. However, it is possible that the 0th Circuit Court of Appeals could release its opinion on 'under God' and 'In God We Trust' any day, and I simply want this to be available at that time.

So, I built a version that I could make available on a moment's notice.

Now that I have this version done, I want to address the question, "Why do you think that this project is so important?"

I have one argument for saying that it is not important. I have argued repeatedly in this blog that the propositions, "God exists" and "God does not exist" are morally irrelevant. Neither proposition tells you anything about what you should or should not do. Those moral principles all come from the things that one adds to the propositions "God exists" and "God does not exist." On both sides, those propositions are widely varied, allowing theists and non-theists alike to give their allegiance to the most noble and the most horrendous human enterprises.

So, this is not a defense of atheists, and is not a part of the atheist/theist debate. One of the features in this story is that two of the heroes in the story are white characters.

For any reader who is not familiar with the story, it concerns a black student's protest over a pledge of allegiance to 'one white nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.'

It is no more problematic for a theist to recognize the injustice of a government declaring that those who hold 'a God exists' are to be favored over those who hold 'it is not the case that a God exists', then it is for a white person to realize the injustice of a pledge of allegiance to a white nation.

Yet, it is also the case that atheists are the victims of this injustice - whether they realize it or not. (I do draw an analogy in this story between an atheist who finds no problem with a pledge of allegiance to 'one nation under God' and a black student who sees no problem with a pledge of allegiance to 'one white nation').

The harms that I believe can be attributed to this injustice include:

Psychological harm done to children who adopt atheism, many of whom are made to feel ashamed of themselves or 'anxious' about the hostility they might receive - a hostility that begins with and has the official endorsement of the U.S. Government. I hold that this is why atheists are politically impotent - because atheists, from a very young age, are caused to think of themselves as unworthy and, as a result, would rather hide than protest the injustices against them.

The Pledge and the Motto do, I argue, have the effect of turning people off to the idea that no God exists. Young children are simply made more comfortable in the 'accepting' climate of being 'under God' and in trusting in God, and so form an aversion to the possibility of not having these qualities.

The Pledge and the Motto promote the idea that atheists do not share American values - that a patriot has to be 'under God' and 'trust in God'. This is what makes it possible for one President to say that atheists are not patriots and are not really citizens, another to say that he will only appoint judges who agree that our rights come from God, for every major political candidate to declare his or her belief in God, because half of the people are taught by the government to vote against anybody who is not 'under God' or who does not trust in God.

So, we have a political system that allows a candidate to be a fan of evidence-based rationality, or to be honest, but not both.

This is not to say that every atheist would be a better candidate for public office than any theist. What it says is that if there is even one good atheist candidate - one who is a fan of evidence-based rationality and who is honest, we should not have a political system that bars her from public office. That is certainly not in our nation's interests.

Furthermore, as the story points out, 'under God' in the Pledge and 'In God We Trust' means that our national motto and our national pledge is to be a nation of bigots. This is not a state to which a great nation should aspire. In fact, it is a state that a great nation should seek to avoid.

When the story breaks that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has once again declared 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, we will once again hear a great hue and cry against the forces of secularism. Candidates who appeal to fundamentalists will use this as a rallying cry to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. Candidates who appeal to a more liberal crowd will need to declare their opposition to this ruling. A few dissenting voices will attempt to defend the court using traditional arguments grounded on church/state separation - arguments that nobody has listened to before, and will ignore in the future.

This book attempts to present a new argument - to give a new perspective to the Pledge debate. In the book, I am not concerned with the Constitution. The story might as well have been sat in a country that does not believe in the story's equivalence to church/state separation. It argues that, even in a country that does not have Constitutional provisions prohibiting the establishment of a religion, fair and just people would have to oppose 'under God' in the Pledge and 'In God We Trust' as the motto.

Another argument that we can expect to hear when the news once again breaks is the offense argument. I actually expect this to show up as a fundamentalist's straw-man characterization of the secular argument, than to show up as the secular argument itself. The claim will be that secularists are grounding their opposition to the law on the basis of offense. "I am offended by any mention of God in the public square, so I am going to seek to prohibit it." Of course this straw man is easy to defeat, which is why fundamentalists will offer it as the secular 'justification' for opposition to these practices.

Rather than repeating the same old arguments, which will likely have the same old results, I want to throw a new argument out there for people to consider, in the hopes of generating some new results.

It is an argument that, unlike a technical legal brief, does not require an advanced degree to understand. And it is an argument that, unlike the offense argument, actually provides justification for taking a stand against 'under God' and 'In God We Trust'.

So, these are the reasons why I am putting my effort into this project.


Rich said...

Wha... Could you not at least give us a clue. I may forget to buy your book and then when the 9th gives us the benefit of their wisdom and we hear all the old arguments, I will not have your argument to parry and thrust against the fundies.

Hume's Ghost said...

I would suggest submitting the original Pledge story to magazines like American Humanist and Free Inquiry, too. If one of those gets excepted the author description would point out its an excerpt of a book available [wherever].

Of course I'm biased since I already think highly of the essay, but were I an editor of one of those magazine I'd be thrilled to publish the Pledge essay.

CrypticLife said...

I publicized the book a bit on a forum for teachers, Alonzo -- hope you don't mind.

CrypticLife said...

Incidentally, the Texas Pledge is:

" 'Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.'

The pledge was again amended by House Bill 1034 during the 80th Legislature with the addition of "one state under God." The revised wording became effective on June 15, 2007."

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Sorry, I have been developing this idea for a while and wrote with the assumption that readers would be familiar with it.

To see the main argument in its original form, see the first post in which I used it:

A Perspective on the Pledge

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Cryptic Life

I would like to recommend that you take the first post in the series, the one I linked to above, and copy and paste that into your discussion forums to stiumate discussion.

Most people will not click through to read the PDF version. This should stimulate more discussion.