When Nation Was Deified And God Was Nationalized

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy. That was in 1892. Then, in 1941, Congress officially made it into the pledge. There was no ‘God’ in the wording for 64 years of its existence and for the first 13 years of its official use.

The Man Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance
By Jeffrey Owen Jones
Smithsonian Magazine

“I first struggled with “under God” in my fourth-grade class in Westport, Connecticut. It was the spring of 1954, and Congress had voted, after some controversy, to insert the phrase into the Pledge of Allegiance, partly as a cold war rejoinder to “godless” communism. We kept stumbling on the words—it’s not easy to unlearn something as ingrained and metrical as the Pledge of Allegiance—while we rehearsed for Flag Day, June 14, when the revision would take effect.”

That wasn’t that long ago. It was about 20 years before I was born. My father was 12 years old and my mother was 7 years old when God was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

I asked my father about it. He says he remembers when he had to learn the new wording. It was in Boy Scouts when he was in 6th grade.

The Scout leader told them that it was “One nation under God” with no comma and so he explained they weren’t to pause between “One nation” and “under God”. I suppose the implication was that nation and God were to be treated as a single entity. But my father notes that everyone pauses between the two, and so apparently most Americans came to disagree with that scout leader.

As for the issue of adding God, many diverse Americans have disagreed about ending the clear separation of church and state, as the founding fathers intended (for those who genuinely care about original intent):

“Atheists are not the only ones to take issue with that line of thought. Advocates of religious tolerance point out that the reference to a single deity might not sit well with followers of some established religions. After all, Buddhists don’t conceive of God as a single discrete entity, Zoroastrians believe in two deities and Hindus believe in many. Both the Ninth Circuit ruling and a number of Supreme Court decisions acknowledge this. But Jacobsohn predicts that a majority of the justices will hold that government may support religion in general as long as public policy does not pursue an obviously sectarian, specific religious purpose.

“Bellamy, who went on to become an advertising executive, wrote extensively about the pledge in later years. I haven’t found any evidence in the historical record—including Bellamy’s papers at the University of Rochester—to indicate whether he ever considered adding a divine reference to the pledge. So we can’t know where he would stand in today’s dispute. But it’s ironic that the debate centers on a reference to God that an ordained minister left out. And we can be sure that Bellamy, if he was like most writers, would have balked at anyone tinkering with his prose.”

What the media too often ignores is the major divides in our society aren’t between conservatives and fundamentalists on one side and secularists and atheists on the other side. No, the deepest cut in public opinion happens within religion itself. Most Americans on all issues are Christians. It was originally Evangelicals who pushed strongly for a strong separation of church and state, for they understood in their own experience the dangers of that lack of such a separation. It’s a shame that Christians on the political right have such a short historical memory.

5 thoughts on “When Nation Was Deified And God Was Nationalized

  1. Ah the good old Pledge of Allegiance. I had much the same issue with god being in it. In school i would just stay silent during that part. If i remember correctly i stopped saying the pledge all together myself.

    To blindly except the government and everything it does just isn’t my style. I prefer to work on a case by case basis.

      • It was around late middle school were i began to notice. It was also around that time i decided i was atheist as i never really had any religious leanings. Well other than going to a UCC church all of my elementary school years. It’s was more of a positive fun environment and i had never felt pressure to believe anything really. Though i find now that it had quite a influence on me too this day. I am discovering this as i look into the religion i once had.

        I’ve never been very Patriotic myself either.

  2. The issue is the implications. One nation under god. I don’t believe most Americans quite understand what they are saying.

    The idea that religion should override empirical evidence, scientific research, or facts when deciding public policy, is very dangerous for many reasons. The other is the fact that the church has control. That is very much a feudal society.

    I think this is something that should be discarded altogether. Instead, something about building a better society as a citizen should be emphasized, particularly because civil society has seen some drastic declines.

    • “I don’t believe most Americans quite understand what they are saying.”

      There is no doubt that most Americans don’t understand what they are saying. Most Americans don’t give much thought to anything of significance. And there is very little in mainstream media and politics to cause most Americans to question or doubt any aspect of mainstream society.

      “very dangerous for many reasons.”

      Yep. Many things that threaten democracy are dangerous to our rights, our freedoms, and every aspect of our lives. Few people seem to understand how it is easier to attack and destroy a free society than to build and maintain a free society. But they sure will miss it when its gone.

      “I think this is something that should be discarded altogether. Instead, something about building a better society as a citizen should be emphasized, particularly because civil society has seen some drastic declines.”

      How about:

      One nation under universal human rights.

      You could go into more detail, but that would be a good moral foundation for a democratic society.

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