Anyone who grew up during the Cold War was subjected to anti-communist propaganda in school and in the media. For those who are old enough, you’ll remember Senator McCarthy and the ensuing Red Scare first hand. Readers of my generation will, one hopes, remember studying it in U.S. history classes and in reading The Crucible. From the 1950’s through the 1980’s, from The Manchurian Candidate to Rocky IV our films featured Russians as the villains. Even into the 1990’s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, movies like Air Force One and Goldeneye dipped into the Russian/Soviet villain pool.
It was during this time, in 1954, that the phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance as a way of setting the U.S. apart from other countries, especially the godless Communists. Currently the most vocal opponents of saying the Pledge of Allegiance are atheists because of the “under God” phrase. It is my charge that the most vocal opponents ought to be Christians because of the “under God” phrase. It would be one thing if “under God” had been included as a term of humility, that we are under God in the sense that we recognize He is omnipotent and omniscient and that we ought to conduct ourselves, as a nation, in a way that is pleasing to Him. However, the intention behind “under God” is to further the idea of American exceptionalism, the idea that our nation is the greatest on earth and is somehow more in God’s good graces than any other.
Some people insist on keeping the Pledge out of fear that removing it (or removing “under God”) will incur God’s wrath. They believe the political pundits who claim that tragedies like Sandy Hook happen because we “don’t let God in our schools, anymore.” And worst of all, they believe America is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principals. This is going to rattle some chains, but America is not and never was a Christian nation.
Was Britain abusing us? Certainly there were practices we didn’t care for like taxation without representation (though it’s interesting to note that as a minor I paid taxes but was not allowed to vote until I was 18). But was Britain doing anything utterly immoral? One could argue that our rebellion against Britain broke God’s command to obey the governing authorities. It is one thing to rise up against oppression, it’s another to rise up because you think your taxes are too high while claiming you have God’s authority because “all men are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights,” only to build your new nation on the backs of slaves and treat women as second class citizens.
· systematically committed genocide against the Native Americans
· incited a war to gain land (Mexican-American War)
· supported a coup d’etat motivated by business interests (Kingdom of Hawaii)
· created Japanese relocation camps during WWII
· had Jim Crow laws until the mid-20th century
· uses waterboarding
· legalized abortion
· legalized capital punishment
· has a racially unjust legal system
· spends more money on its military than the next eighteen countries combined
· cuts funding for social programs, education, and art before touching anything else
· still has a culture of blaming the victim in cases of rape
· still has pay inequality among the sexes
· harms the environment by subsidizing and not regulating CAFOs, and other businesses that are environmentally “unconscious.”
· mistreats its military by covering up sexual assaults on female soldiers
If you think this describes a Christian nation, you may want to reconsider your definition of Christian. I want to make myself very clear. I love America. It is my home and it is a great country. For every negative thing I listed, I can list a positive thing about America. My point is not that America is awful, just that it is not Christian and we should not idolize it. Too often we think that our religious freedom here protects us, when sometimes our spiritual lives are more threatened by our culture than if we were living under an oppressive regime. Because of our freedoms, we get lax in our thinking, and our culture starts to wheedle its way into our lives, poisoning our theology. I think we like the “under God” part of the Pledge because everyone likes to feel special. We like to think that God’s on our side. God is on our side. It’s just that the “our” in that sentence isn’t America, it’s humankind.
Rather than fall into the very human trap of categorizing people into “us vs. them” as we did with communists and now do with Arabs or Muslims or whoever our scapegoat of the week is, we ought to view people through God’s eyes even if that is hard to do sometimes. We ought to develop our ideas about culture and politics based on our understanding of the Bible, not based on what our countrymen teach us. The irony behind the anti-communist sentiment among American Christians is that while communism as practiced by the Soviets was atheist, the basic idea behind communism is a Christian one. In Acts we read, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” and “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” The early Christians practiced a form of communism. Yet, because our culture was so loaded with anti-communist propaganda Christians cringed at the mere mention of communism. Now that communism of the Marxist kind is a mere shell of what it once was, the new bogeyman of right-wing fearmongers is socialism. Any mention of universal health care, educational grants, funding for the arts, or welfare programs is derided as “socialist” and we are to understand that that is a bad thing.
It is time to rethink our assumptions about peoples, cultures, politics, and economic systems. Does Jesus promote the concepts of competition and greed that go along with capitalism? Or does He tell us to care for the widow, the orphan, the foreigner? When He separates the sheep from the goats, will He do it based on who was most successful? Or will He say, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was in prison and you visited me?”
American Christians ought to love our country. We show that love by pointing out the areas in which our country could improve and working toward that improvement. Getting angry about criticism of America does not demonstrate love of country, it demonstrates pride (of the “seven deadly sins” variety) and idolatry. Just as a bad parent fails to discipline his child, so a bad citizen turns a blind eye to his country’s ills. As we love our country, let’s be sure to remember to Whom we ultimately pledge our allegiance.