The original Pledge of Allegiance was written in the aftermath of the Civil War and was intended, at least partially, to help promote unity after a bloody and bitterly divisive conflict. No phrase in the pledge underscores this more, than the three words “one nation, indivisible”.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Let’s not debate whether this country is truly a “republic”, since the concept of a republic is at least partially related to a meritocracy. The only merits most of our leaders have, compared with ordinary citizens, involve the ability to raise exorbitant sums of money to fund their campaigns. Let’s ignore the fact that there are countless Native American nations within the borders of the USA. Let’s ignore the fact that, in the civilized world, we incarcerate more people in our prisons (as a percentage of the population) than any other country. And let’s ignore the fact that true justice generally has a prerequisite of being able to pay the finest lawyers’ costs.
The phrase “under god” was added in 1954, in an attempt to distinguish us from our then-enemies, those “godless communists” in Russia. This same time period is also the general origin of just about all places where the government makes reference to god in our day-to-day life. This is also why our money says “In god we trust.” (I often cross out the word “god” on my money, replacing it with “ourselves”. That’s something much more concrete.)
A lot of atheist groups feel as though the phrase “under god” represents an unjust breach of the separation of church and state and is thus unconstitutional. Although I agree with this sentiment, at the end of the day its presence or absence is entirely subject to judicial review.
You don’t need to be an atheist, though, to recognize that the very presence of the phrase “under god” undermines the word that immediately follows it: “indivisible.” Whatever else can be said about religions — both positive and negative — you have to admit that they are quite skilled at fomenting divisions within communities and our society as a whole. The town where I live — which had a population of about 24000 people as of the 2000 census — has at least four churches within its borders (I’ve given up trying to get an exact tally) and one more that’s currently under construction. And that’s not counting the ones that are quite literally on the other side of the township line in a neighboring town.
Take the three big monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They all worship the same god, who, according to a common mythology, created the universe in six days before resting on the seventh. Right there, we’re fomenting division by virtue of the roles played by their respective founders: Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammad.
It gets even more divisive when you drill down to the various subdivisions within those religions. For the Jews, you’ve got Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist. The Hasidic and Lubavitcher sects are subdivisions of the Orthodox. The Israeli Knesset passed a law about ten years ago which holds that you’re not a Jew unless you’re an Orthodox Jew.
The big division in Islamic territories is the distinction between Shi’ite and Sunni; they’re arguing over who is the rightful claimant to be the heir and successor to their founder (his brother-in-law, or his son?)
And Christianity’s the worst of them all. You’ve got Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Mormon. Orthodox divides along the lines of Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox. Catholics have the Episcopalians as a subdivision. And I know I’m missing a few groups here, but when you’re a protestant, does that mean you’re a Lutheran, Baptist, Quaker, Methodist, Presbyterian, UCC, or some other branch?
I’m not even getting into the divisions caused by eastern and polytheistic religions.
All of these groups essentially conform to their members’ worldviews by reinforcing an “us vs. them” mentality. I’m not saying god exists and I’m not saying god doesn’t exist. (At least, not in this essay). But I will say that with all of these divisions of people trying to stand “under god”, we are, and probably always have been, quite divisible.
Assuming someone can provide a compelling reason to keep the pledge of allegiance, the least we can do, if we want to honor the true message and its underlying intent, is to excise the phrase “under god” from it.