Bible Freedom ScienceCopyright © 2010, Charles Henry Johnsen III

The Phrase under God in the Public School Pledge of Allegiance

..under God and In God we Trust

A Personal History

Ben, thanks for sending me a copy of the circulating email about under God in the Pledge of Allegiance. I have a personal history with this phrase I would like to tell you about.

I was in parochial school in third grade when these two words were added to the Pledge. A little atheist (and commie!) at the time, I refused to say them. The teacher was a German immigrant, it was right after WWII, and he was proud of his new country. When he noticed the omission he made me say the Pledge with the two new words alone in front of the whole school. When I still refused he hit me across the knuckles with a ruler. I bear the scar, now hidden by sixty year old wrinkles, to this day.

For years I kept this attitude, even after the atheism and communism were discarded in a splendid conversion experience. As a very traditional pastor (Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) I did not, and do not, want God talk from the government because it would naturally be a watered down, generic, and not so biblical God. Then I came to realize a very important secular function for these two phrases. I now hope to lead both libertarians and conservative Christians away from opposition to both …under God in the Pledge and In God we Trust on our money.

First, the problem is not the under God but the Pledge itself. It comes from the Progressives after the Civil War who started the public school movement and the politics that led to the horrors of Wilson, TR, FDR, etc. They wished to establish a central, national government, in part to prevent another Civil War. The Pledge, without the God phrase, was created for public schools to teach children that their first loyalty was to the nation, not to the individual states. As they envisioned it, the recital was not voluntary. While some of their motives sound positive (social welfare programs, women's suffrage, control of monopolies and banking, end poverty, end drunkenness, end corruption in state governments, etc.), the cost was the end of frontier freedom, sterilization of genetic defectives, class consciousness, the end of social and economic mobility, and the end of private property and free enterprise. Today we call this totalitarianism, the ancient idea that the king or state is supreme. On the way to this goal the Progressives destroy or absorb or hyper regulate one after the other of the local, voluntary, ad hoc structures Americans are so good at creating: unions, churches, clubs, businesses, insurance cooperatives, towns, states, markets, corporations, newspapers, universities, schools, trade organizations, stock markets, banks, hospitals, and any other organization that stands independent and free of government power.

Oh, but they are so democratic! The majority rules, after all. Is not democracy the best countermeasure to monarchy and theocracy? No, it is not. If the Athenians, with all of their wisdom, could not curtail tyranny through democracy, what makes us thinks we can? All of the Founding Fathers rejected direct democracy in favor of a republic, indirect democracy limited by the Constitution. The only way individual sovereignty can work is if the dominant culture is Judeo-Christian. We cannot remain free without checks on our personal opinions, fads and enthusiasms, greed for power, and crime. We require a value system and an ethic that is above voting, above all majorities, above consensus, above government, above force, above human law, above democracy. In God we Trust!

This is exactly what President Thomas Jefferson was driving at with his phrase …wall of separation between church and state. Conventional wisdom, wrong as usual, takes this phrase as a rule that protects government officials from criticism by religious leaders. It was and is exactly the opposite. Jefferson meant to protect the freedoms of speech, assembly, and conscience from the State! The churches have no powers but words (Pray those words be The Word.) and the faithful loyalty of the people to their God. The true danger comes from those who have the guns and the jails, those delicate and helpless elected officials.

So, when you read the words of the Pledge, read them carefully. We are Americans. We do not equate the government with the nation. Our loyalty to any government is conditional. For first we are loyal to our God and second to the rights He has provided for us, which we have expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. Any one particular elected official, including the president, is far down the list, somewhere below loyalty to one's local high school football team.

We should have a Pledge of Allegiance. But not to the nation or flag. We should love the nation, even die for the nation. We must defend the flag and, again, risk all to honor it. But our oath of allegiance should be to the Constitution, as oaths of office are for military and elected officials. Actually, the flag would fit well into such a Pledge as a symbol, not of the nation for which it stands, but for the Constitution, for which it would better stand. What is the difference? Profound. For loyalty to the Constitution puts that document ABOVE the current government and current officials. And that insight is how I came to love the addition of under God to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Both sides of the Civil War got this wrong. One side, expressed a little later by the nationalists, wanted allegiance to a central national government and wanted to turn the formerly sovereign states into provinces. The other side wanted to give loyalty first to the individual state and let it decide on federation with any larger national unit. That is why the North calls it the Civil War and the South called it the War Between the States. Both are wrong. For in America we, the individual persons, are sovereign. Our political loyalty is not to any human organization or group or nation but to our Declaration and Constitution. This does not mean that these two documents are perfect or come to us from heaven on golden tablets. But it does mean that they stand ABOVE the government structures and officials, be they the mayor, the governor, the president or the congress or even the almighty Supreme Court. The very idea of two sovereign structures, states and federal government, is one of the ways the Founder's balanced powers so that the real sovereigns, you and I, had a chance of ruling. To tip the balance between these two centers of political power is to compromise the individual's central role in self rule.

What the War Over Slavery did proved was that there was something above even the Constitution. That document allowed human beings to be held as property. The God of the Bible did not. …under God… and In God We Trust express this all important ideal that above all human structures and writing there is a Judge with final moral authority and actual power.

For me, and I hope for you, God is the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible. But even for those who have a less than orthodox doctrine of God, even for those who call Him Allah or even, dare I say it, for those who call Him she, it is still a power or force or devotion or rule ABOVE the State. I do not agree with pagans, I verily hate the lie that our God is female, I resent the offhanded, generic religion of the mainstream churches. I do not plan to pray any time soon with Muslims. But there is this, and in the secular sense it is essential, that even the generic or pagan god is set ABOVE the State. Without some religion in the hearts of individuals, be it ever so pagan, the State is everything and individuals are nothing.

This is not a plea for theocracy but a plea against it. For this American value is clearly from the biblical religions: that the human will is free and individual. Conscience is personal, not group. Deep, deep in the American soul, in the American Christian soul, is this fundamental belief that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. These simple doctrines lead away from monarchy and political monotheism. They lead to tolerance, open debate, free speech, and free inquiry. Liberty and truth are as dear to us as our faith. And we understand that if an atheist does not have this freedom, neither do we. A point often lost is that it was a Christian nation, America at its founding as a federation of sovereign states, that invented the very idea of a secular state. Every other government, king, and empire in history has pretended divinity and enforced some level of religious establishment.

The pagans and thoughtless Christians among us have faithful Christians to thank for this freedom and for the ideal of truth and liberty beyond the dictates of government. For it is our tradition that grants freedom of conscience to individuals no matter how lowly and rejects the aristocracy of elite power. It took a long time to free ourselves from the Greco-Roman Empire's ideology of pyramid authority, justified by political religion. It took a series of reformations, it took blood and faith, it took a more literal reading of the Ten Commandments, it took time and sailing the sea to America. But by this rough path we alone have come to this wonderful pattern of a religious, Christian!, nation with a secular government. And if in these tiny phrases this secular government proclaims its limitations, we should rejoice, even those who reject God in any form, should rejoice. For without something in authority above government we are doomed to totalitarianism. It takes no gift like Isaiah's to predict what will come of Europe in two more generations, the same thing that happened to them two generations past when Fascism and communism became the state religions.

I cannot make this point strong enough. No other god, no other cult, not even Reason itself, has accomplished this freedom, this prosperity, this tolerance, this level of scientific achievement. Those who place reason or Allah above the State failed everywhere to make it so except for our frontier nation, this nation of Christians and Jews. The Greeks did not do it. The Romans did not do it. The pre Reformation Church did not do it. But the Christian God did it, the biblical God did this thing. He provides this freedom. So for me, these phrases are not theological or rational agreement on all points, but rather an alliance among all sorts of people to keep the State from ultimate power. We are not asking an atheist to go to mass every week, although it wouldn't hurt. All we ask in these phrases is an agreement on this one thing, that the State is lower than the people, lower than their judgment of justice and their values and common sense. Whatever else we disagree about, we join in this, that the State is not supreme.

Perhaps we could find phrases that say the same thing without reference to any deity. Jefferson used words like Nature's God and Providence. My personal favorite would be Abba, the Father in the Lord's Prayer. But so far I have found nothing better than the generic word, God. And since the whole point is a secular alliance among disagreeing theologies and philosophies, perhaps, for now, such a search should be put aside.

Finally, the debate is centered on the wrong topic. The problem is the very idea of government run schools, public schools. How can this possibly work? We can neither teach nor refrain from teaching about religion and values without a law suit from somebody. Never mind evolution! As we see young people leaving high school and, more so, college, thinking that true religion is environmentalism and knowing nothing about our Judeo-Christian traditions and history, we must recognize the folly of a public school system. Lots of things can and must be secular—but not, ever, schools. For without God, our God, before the children, the only replacements for the highest principles are the State and the current secular fads and enthusiasms.

Doubt me on this? Look at the fruits of this public school movement: poor education, Fascist (so-called liberal) political ideas, leveling efforts to keep us all cogs in their machine, skeptical views of our traditional values, the oppression of boys, mockery of orthodox religion, science ruled by vague ideas of social justice, political feminism, and an explosion of children born without a father. This is not what the public schools were like when we went but this is what they are like today. And more to the point, this is the kind of outcome the founders of the public school movement hoped for.

One example. We have a President, educated in our best schools, the elite of the elite, who actually believes that destroying the private economy will save it, that government spending creates jobs. We made this fool by our neglect of what our schools and universities have become. Forgotten is the historically validated truth that an open and free market is the natural order of things. All government is a parasite on this natural, living organism of trade and the division of labor. You may believe this was created into us by the biblical God or evolved into us by Natural Selection, or both. But rational or faithful or both, all of us need an alliance against The Parasite.

We need a new amendment: Congress shall make no law establishing a school. Of course, the military academies are a clear and necessary exception. But in my view such a limit on government power is essential if we are to survive as a culture, as the Christen West. And atheists, please recognize that if Christendom goes so will science, so will you. Sadly, reason alone is not an option for human societies. The only alternatives to our ancient faith and Book are not so tolerant, not so rational, not so generous.

May we ever hold His Will above our votes and above our government.

Not a big deal. There were twelve students total in eight grades.

President Teddy Roosevelt is the only president who refused to have a Christmas tree in the White House. You may judge the significance of that for yourself in light of what follows.

Communism is one of the most irrational religions, using force to replace the biblical God with vague claims about ahistorical and deterministic synthesis and antithesis.

This is a critical point. The Ten Commands present a radical new view of the relationship between deity and man. Every other cult placed the king and priests at the top of a pyramid, an elite funnel, that was the only access to the deity. Moshe carried to us a covenant between the lord and the individual human being. Notice that every single command is to an individual, to personal responsibility. This Covenant was a contract of gratitude, that we love each other because He first loves us. It is the fountainhead of all Western civilization. Greek individualism never grew out from under their pagan theology and was buried by the Greco-Roman Empire's political monotheism.

For example, the French Revolution.

Now there is an oxymoron. True justice comes from the Lord, not from majority vote. Or, if you wish, true justice comes from reason and natural selection, not from majority vote.