I have begun to wonder of late if it is appropriate for citizens of the Kingdom of God to pledge allegiance to the flag of a nation that is not under God. The question is occasioned by the various lawsuits making their way through the courts on behalf of those who feel their rights to non-belief are trampled when they are forced to include the phrase “under God” in their national identity, contradicting their atheism. The courts have not been too comforting to the Christian community in their refusal to take the case or in the rationale for the decisions they make to retain the phrase. As nearly as I can tell, the logic for retaining the phrase boils down to this. The phrase “under God” is a cultural icon and, as such, has no inherent religious content. It is the same argument that has been used to preserve crosses on public lands and to argue for the display of the 10 Commandments in public courtrooms.
It presents a fascinating paradox. Atheists, on one side, claim the phrase is rich and full with religious meaning. Christians, on the other side, argue that the phrase is void of religious significance. I suspect that many of the Christians who celebrate the decisions are not aware of the rationale, and that those who are think the end justifies the means – keeping the phrase is worth removing any religious content it might have.
Considering the origin of the phrase and the background of its inclusion in the pledge in the mid-1950’s, the atheists appear to have the better case. “Under God” was inserted into the pledge, in part, to differentiate Christian America from atheistic and Communist Russia. Christianity was used to sharpen the differences with our enemy during the Cold War. Even then, however, it could be argued that the phrase had more political than religious content – much in the way conflicts between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland or between Christians and Muslims in some of the wars in the world are more about politics than religion.
But it did get me to thinking. Does a country really want its citizenry pledging allegiance unless they are under God? Promises made that are not under God don't seem to have much likelihood of fulfillment. Of course, followers of Jesus can't make a pledge of allegiance except under God, whether the phrase is included in the pledge or not. And that is what makes them good citizens - they are under a higher authority that makes their pledge good, or even possible.