National PrayerApril 1st, 2012

Let’s parse: “I pledge allegiance . . .” When I pledge allegiance I promise to support my sovereign whatever he or it may do. You can look it up. If the commander of my government’s armed forces decides to send soldiers to kill babies in foreign countries, my allegiance obliges me to support him in that. All the famous totalitarian regimes from Rome to Yokohama had oaths of allegiance. As we take this pledge, we might reflect on the courageous and principled heroes who refused to vow fealty to murderous governments.

“to the flag of the United States of America . . .” I’m promising loyalty to a piece of rag? Or am I praying to a woven idol? The flag of the USA is ubiquitous these days. Schools plaster them everywhere for the children to ponder. Car lots attract customers with flags bigger than your house. People who want to ingratiate themselves with strangers wear them in their lapels. Most people seem to be tired of them. Children say the flag part of the pledge mechanically, just like specators at a ball game sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Nothing inspiring about it at all, and all this hand-over- heart stuff is obvious posturing.

“and to the republic for which it stands . . .” Finally, something substantial to advocate: a republic. Like China and North Korea? Like ancient Rome? Does our flag stand for a government that wields the power of the people through representative government, or does our government wield the power of wealth over the people by means of a sophisticated election industry? Our central government punishes advocacy and even charity. It runs a for-profit prison system that thrives on racism. It lies to us, and it spies on us, in a blatant exercise of repression that rivals the German Reich of the last century. We used to mock repressive governments that called themselves republics. Can’t do that anymore, because we have one.

“one nation . . .” You can go through the Constitution with a nit-comb, and you will find no reference to a “nation” but only to a “union.” It was meant to be a union of sovereign states, wielding only such powers as were explicitly delegated to it by the states. Lincoln’s brilliant rhetoric notwithstanding, the United States were a plurality, and a contentious one at that. If a nation consists of a unified people with values in common, this never was a nation before the Civil War, and it certainly hasn’t become one in the intervening years. The “values” we do hold in common seem to revolve around consumption and personal gratification, hardly the sort of principles around which to build a nation.

“under God . . .” Really? Because I say so? The government to which we pledge allegiance kills babies–not a huge number, the President insists–and we claim to be a nation under God?

“with liberty and justice for all.” If this were true, the last five presidents, including the one sitting now, would have been held accountable for the corruption of the tax system and the consequent corruption of finance and elections. With the full support of Congress, the five Reagans (Reagan I, Bush, Clinton, Bush II (Reagan IV) and Obama) used the tax system and government credit to redistribute wealth and power, enhancing and consolidating the holdings of a few rich people at the expense of the rest of us. We sense that this is unjust, and we experience it as a curtailment of our liberty, even as we mumble the final words of the pledge.

If you get a chance to talk with your children and grandchildren about our national prayer, it might be a good idea to let them know what they’re saying and doing when they take this solemn vow.