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A Timely Reminder

 

The Ninth circuit panel got exactly one thing right in its ridiculous ruling regarding the Pledge of Allegiance: that the “under God” phrase is the same (as far as Constitutional character is concerned) as “under no God”.  Both are expressions addressing the status of mankind and, though opposite sides, are of the same coin.  In the very same breath the judges exercised their general sloppiness with references to Jesus and Zeus and Vishnu-- particular Gods, and therefore distinct from the class to which “under God” and “under no God” belong-- surprising no one who follows the antics of this most-frequently-reversed appellate court.  In fact, this court so routinely plumbs the depths of socialist theory for nuggets of nonsense in service of a stubborn Marxism that only lazy journalism would cause a commentator to dwell on the subject, though many can’t resist.

However, even those commentators eschewing the easy target on this story are generally missing, as did the court, the real issue here, which has nothing whatever to do with religion.  Frankly, if the issue was religious, the Ninth would deserve more sober attention to its reasoning, for on the face of it, at least, they would be right.  After all, no one should have to tolerate their money or their child being sent-- through actually and/or practically coercive means-- to an institution deliberately established to convey an understanding of reality which chooses one with which they disagree.  (When is someone going to step up to the plate here and get the Ninth to ban socialism from the schools for the same reasons?) 

But the real issue here is not religious, it is political, in the broad and fundamental sense of the word.  If there is a God, then it is from that source that unalienable human rights, which adhere to us simply for being human, which are not dependent upon or reducible by human art, and which predate and supercede all acts of man, come.  If not, then the virtues and benefits of being human depend for their character and defensibility on the craft of the ethicist or logician, are prey to the Big Lie and the demagogue, can be reasoned away with sweet practicalities and expediencies, or may be lost to short memories and ignorance.

 

“Endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” goes the declaration, not “Agreed to by all right-thinking men as having unalienable rights”, or “Determined by the best available science to be entitled to unalienable rights”, or “Granted unalienable rights by their benevolent and representative government”.  In the politically pertinent sense, “Under God” means that the unalienable sovereignty which is the birthright of all humans and from which all other legitimate power to affect human liberty flows, comes first; is outside the reach of human interference, manipulation, or approval; and interposes an infinitely potent counterbalance of authority to the otherwise dangerously overwhelming aura of authority and righteousness that an omnipresent and overweening state can and will bring to bear upon the subjects of its attention.

 

I have no quarrel with the view, which I suspect is correct, that those who added the phrase “under God” to the Pledge in 1954 meant no more by it than a simple sectarian exercise of power and piety, if not defiance.  But in so doing they were unknowingly invoking the political principles to which I have referred.  Thomas Jefferson said, “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God”, meaning that only God has the authority to rule men without their consent, and any other who presumes to do so is illegitimate and a right object of overthrow and destruction.  This was not an expression of piety, it was an expression of sovereignty, and of hierarchy.

The Founders frequently observed that the success of the American project depends upon a virtuous and religiously conscious citizenry, but not because of any superstitious expectations that God would smite the enemies of his pious servants, or visit upon an irreverent America the ten plagues of Egypt.  These men were, for the most part, “Deists”, acknowledging God as the divine Prime Mover and the righteous object of man’s reverence, gratitude and hope for redemption and ultimate reward, while rejecting the notion of an activist God who might interfere with free will and the earthly consequences of human behavior.  God, to them, had his place in the day-to-day affairs of mortal humanity (outside the areas of psychology and spirituality) through preeminence in the political continuum.

In fact, the time of the American revolution was one of general religious liberalism, characterized by a throwing off of rigid and dogmatic doctrines like the near theocratically predisposed Calvinists and Puritans; the period was crowned the Age of Reason, and the Enlightenment.  But even while the Founders asserted the power and right of the human mind to conceive and erect governments, a key part of their astonishing exercise of that power was recognition that by virtue of his equally divine origin even the rudest and meanest vagabond is secured the same rights as a Senator or President.

 

Relatedly, it is no mere coincidence that socialism and other -isms which celebrate the State and deny the individual sovereignty of the people despise, fear and seek to do away with religious consciousness.  The intellectual servants of all such exploitations and tyrannies have confidence in their power to control or dominate a hierarchy determined solely by reason.  They are conscious of a competitive edge through their willingness to lie, obfuscate, and corrupt; and if need be, buy or terrorize the support of enough raw numbers to win any political contest in which the only factors are earthly and mortal.  The concept of divine origin is a fatal stumbling block to their ambitions.

Their goal-- to subordinate, by principle, the individual to the State-- is thwarted when it is understood that man comes from God and the State comes from man.  Without God in the equation the State can claim its rule to be the natural order of things, a righteous dispensation from Reason, as the divinely righteous Kings of earlier tyrannies who, having imposed themselves by the sword interposed themselves hierarchically between God and the People by claimed self-evident favored status to their own persons.  The discorporeal State cannot claim such personal favor, in fact, it must stand below the citizen when God stands above them both, but if God is not in the equation an individual man has only the rights and legitimacy accorded him by his fellows, and can ‘reasonably’ be held subordinate to their superior number, and the institutions that they ordain.

 

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The Supreme Court will doubtless overrule the foolish Ninth circuit (if its own inevitable en banc review doesn’t do so first), but almost certainly using reasons as wrong as those it sets aside.  Our national habit, after all, has become political expediency rather than political principle; thus do we sow the wind.

Good may yet come of this however, for perhaps some Americans will find in the occasion of this controversy (so providently coincidental with the anniversary of Independence Day) cause to reflect upon our heritage and its origins.  The thoughts of one well-known writer might help set the course for such ruminations:

Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty”.

The Bible, II Corinthians 3:17. 

 

© Peter E. Hendrickson