Monday, June 20, 2011

"The Pledge of Allegiance": A Socialist Masterpiece

The NBC television network this weekend apparently edited out the words"under God" from two montages of readings of "The Pledge of Allegiance." during its coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament. The network subsequently apologized after the twitterverse exploded with outrage. A brief history of that subversive "Pledge" is now in order.

The Pledge was originally written by the eccentric Baptist minister and novelist Edward Bellamy. Mr. Bellamy was a socialist and didn't mention "God" in his version. It was his intention to use the Pledge to bring people together of diverse beliefs following the bloodshed of the Civil War. Bellamy was an idealist, and he used the phrase "a flag" because he wanted both supporters of the Union and of the extinct Confederacy to move past their bloody political divide over slavery and secession and to unite under what he saw as the key word "republic."

The Congress added "Under God" in the McCarthy era to contrast the US with the "godless" communist Russians. The concept of God was being used for cheap political propaganda.. It was part and parcel of a campaign by the political right to demonize the entire American political left - not just communists, but socialists, New Deal liberals, supporters of black civil rights, the ACLU and other supporters of free speech and free association, and religious dissenters such as the secular, agnostics and atheists. The phrase, under the guise of piety, aimed to divide, not unify as Bellamy hoped.

Non-believers are Americans too, regardless of what the Christian Right insists. I don't wish to enable cynical politicians in their attempts to demonize their political opponents when I express my loyalty to my country. I never utter "Under God" when the Pledge is delivered for this reason. I know Bellamy wouldn't and I expect that our Deist Founders like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine wouldn't either.

Michael Phillips is the author of "White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001" published in 2006, and "The House Will Come To Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics," co-written with Patrick Cox and published in 2010 by The University of Texas Press. His essay “Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” appears in "Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations," edited by Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León and published by Texas A&M Press in February 2011. He is currently coauthor of a new edition of "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story."

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