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.

Godless Communists

Okay, some more thoughts on the Cold War era.  There was definitely a very weird sense of paranoia.  People were afraid of the paranormal at the same time they were afraid of atheism.  The greatest crime of communists was that they were Godless, but both USSR and US governments were doing paranormal research.  And everyone all around was afraid of what UFOs were up to.

In hope that God would save us from communism, religion became embraced by the government.  Our manifest destiny as a world power was also our manifest destiny as a Christian nation.  The two were always linked to an extent, but the founding fathers had been careful to keep them somewhat distinct.  In 1955, however, “under God” was officially added to our pledge and “in God we trust” was required by Congress to be on all currency.  Why all of a sudden in the 1950s did we have to become a Christian nation?  And how did Christians finally after a few centuries get the power to enforce their God on the nation?  The founding fathers fought tyranny and founded a nation without needing God’s overt approval.  What was different during the Cold War?

Why did politicians feel that they needed to clarify that God was on our side?  Maybe WWII had made us a bit wary about our standing in God’s eyes.  US had always saw itself as the enemy of imperial power but we were suddenly in the position of being an empire.  We had new power, but we gained it by dropping nuclear bombs.  Such unreserved annihalation of cities had always been the sole providence of God.  Now, we were meddling in dangerous territories, not only dangerous politically but dangerous spiritually.  By invoking God in our patriotic propaganda, we were trying to reassure ourselves that we were still on the side of good.  If we as a nation had felt truly certain about our alliance with God, we wouldn’t have had to declare it so loudly.  And then a couple of decades later the gold standard was ended.  So, our economy became a system of faith.  The line between faith in capitalism and faith in God became very thin indeed.

Oh, the irony of it.  To Jesus, money was the ultimate symbol of world power… render unto Caesar and all that.  Money represented to the early Christians all the false power and pleasures of the world that distracts the believer from the true path.  Our placing God’s name on money only demonstrated that we actually weren’t a Christian nation.  Or, rather, it demonstrated that we were a Christian nation in the historical sense all the while betraying the authentic Christian values that Jesus taught… but that is nothing new for the Christian tradition.  Actually, ever since the Roman empire took over Christianity, it had been a religion of political power.

Constantine’s Sword is a good documentary about Christianity and the military.  Evangelism rose to popularity along with the power of the military-industrial complex.  Manifest destiny was taking on new meaning.  Fighting communism became the modern equivalent of crusading against the heathens.  Spreading democracy to the world became equivalent to spreading the gospel.  This wasn’t entirely a bad thing.  Civil rights took on a truly religious moral tone which gave great power to leaders such as Martin Luther King jr.  But obviously there was a dark side to it as well.  Homosexuals and space aliens became the focus of fear in the way that Jews and witches once had.