Friday, March 26, 2004

Under God

When I did basic training in the US army last summer some of my fellow soldiers and I would often have conversations about religion. My fellow soldiers seemed to find me particularly interesting to talk to because I was the only soldier in my platoon who was Jewish and went to Jewish service, and I was a "professor" in civilian life. (They did not really grasp what an adjunct is.) So people asked me a lot of questions about God, and Jews' understanding of Jesus and things like that. What was particularly strange about me, as they saw it, was also that I do not believe in God.

So after they heard that I do not believe in God, the next question I always got was "What do you believe in?"

The answer I usually gave was some variant on "I believe in freedom, liberty, democracy, and the American way". Which is entirely true. I believe very much in personal freedom, liberty, truth, and justice, and all that stuff. If I didn't I would not join an army which swore to protect it.

But that answer was never really satisfying to my battle buddies. I am not sure why. I would sure be frightened if I was in a firefight and the soldier next to me thought that his God would save me, and he wouldn't have to worry. We all took oaths to defend the constitution and obey the president and our superiors. The constitution which I swore to defend guarantees that the state will have no say in my religious life or lack thereof.

They seemed to always think that if you do not believe in God, you really don't believe in anything. For some reason everyone has to have some belief in some greater being, even though the Commander in Chief was the highest authority.

The supreme court is also trying to take this approach. (I wrote about this before.)The phrase "under God", said Justice Stephen G. Breyer, has now been broadly construed in a "civic context" and inclusively. This seems to be saying that "under God" means anyone's God, even the non-believer's God. I am not really sure what that is supposed to mean. It is however quite reminiscent of the Bertrand Russell anecdote where he was once being led to jail as part of some anti-war related event. In filling out the paperwork, the person processing him asked his what his religion was and he replied "agnostic". To which the guard replied something like "well, whatever you call him, I guess we all worship the same God". Russell found this amusing enough to get him through the few days he spent there.

God is out of place as part of our pledge of allegiance. Let us right this wrong and reclaim America for the true patriots, those who believe in America, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

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