Sometimes I say it. Sometimes I don't. Social context generally determines what I do, with the main criterion being not wanting to embarrass anyone or make anyone feel uncomfortable.
I also struggle with not saying the Pledge as I don't want to be taken as being ungrateful or dismissive of those who have made sacrifices for everything I enjoy in America.
So I'm trying to walk this line between being socially appropriate, respectful to others (particularly to those who have lost loved ones in war), deeply grateful, and yet holding onto the belief that the Pledge of Allegiance is inherently idolatrous. That's a tough line to walk and I don't walk it well or very consistently.
The problem is that it's a pledge of allegiance. If were a pledge of respect, love, or gratitude there wouldn't be a problem. I feel all those things. And I feel those things for our military personnel. I respect them. I love them. I want to express my gratitude to them. But as a Christian I can't pledge allegiance to a nation state. But by and large the only way are asked to show these feelings of respect, love and gratitude is through the Pledge. So it sticks a bit. I have a certain set of feelings I want to express but I'm being asked to express those feelings through a Pledge of Allegiance. Hence all the mixed feelings.
Can't I just say Love and Thank You without pledging allegiance?
You might be able to identify with all this or you might not. I suspect that my Christian anarchist friends won't like my ambivalence here very much. But nor will my conservative friends. I'm going to get dinged on both sides here.
But that's not really why I'm writing this.
I was thinking the other day about just war theory. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that there is such a thing as a just war. That there are times when going to war is the lesser of two evils. Evil, yes, always evil, but the lesser evil given the choices before the nation.
If this is granted then it must also be granted that the nation could engage in an unjust war. That is, there are just wars and unjust wars and Christians should support the former, albeit reluctantly, and object and refuse to participate in the latter.
And it's this last bit that I'd like to talk about. That is, it must be granted by all Christians--pacifist and just war proponent alike--that Christians should refuse to participate in unjust wars. There are wars where pacifists and just war Christians are on the same side of the picket lines and in the same jail cells as contentious objectors. This, it seems, must be universally admitted as a theoretical possibility.
But the trouble isn't with the theory. The trouble is in the practice and implementation. Because it seems to me, if we look at history, that this theoretical possibility rarely, if ever, comes about in practice. If there is a war, any war, the just war Christians tend to go off to war and the pacifists conscientiously object. Just war Christians and pacifist Christians rarely move in concert, despite everyone recognizing that this should happen from time to time. And it might ought to happen most of the time.
So what's the problem?
Well, it could be one of two problems.
First, it could be the case that every war declared (and undeclared) by the American government has been a just war. That would explain why every American war has been supported by the majority of Christians, particularly politically conservative Christians.
The second possibility is that American Christians aren't spiritually capable of resisting the patriotic call in a time of war. That is, when the patriotic call comes it is so powerful that Christians will make any rationalization necessary to fit the current conflict into the mold of just war criteria. At the end of the day, all wars are just wars because they are American wars.
Now the point I want to make is that this last bit--that all wars end up being rationalized as just wars by patriotic Christians--is a real possibility. I think even the most politically conservative Christian would have to admit that this could be a real temptation. And if that is so, then we finally get to the point of this post and back to the Pledge of Allegiance.
My question is this: What skills do we need to practice--today--if we are to be ready to face this temptation?
Because it seems to me that when the patriotic fever starts to boil and the flags start to wave and the war drums start to beat that we're going to have needed to have built up some immunity to this sort of thing. Otherwise, it seems to me, we'll quickly fall for the rhetoric and the social pressures. War is a fever. And we might need to get vaccinated before it reaches our community.
What might such a vaccination look like?
Well, doesn't it have to look like a restless patriotism? Doesn't have it look a bit like my struggles with the Pledge of Allegiance? Doesn't have to look like some sort of reluctance, hesitancy and doubt about the righteousness and religious exceptionality of the nation? Doesn't it have to look like attempts to hold patriotism at arm's length?
Again, this isn't about being a pacifist or a liberal or a hippie. It's about emotional preparation. About building up a reservoir of spiritual antibodies. About creating a bit of sunlight between God and Country so that the two aren't mistaken for each other when the drums start to beat.
And to clarify once again. This isn't about saying there are no just wars. I've granted that part of the argument.
This is about something different.
It's about creating the ability to notice the unjust one.