To Pledge Allegiance?

–Originally published 20 years ago today in the Baltimore Sun.

Half a century ago, when I possessed the charming innocence of a 12-year-old, I took offense at the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Why, I wondered, was I expected to pledge my allegiance to a flag? Proclaiming loyalty to my country I could understand. But to a piece of fabric?

That wasn’t all. Having concluded with unshakable, preadolescent self-confidence that human existence is nothing more than a cosmic accident, I found the phrase “under God” offensive as well.

And so, while my classmates were dutifully reciting the full text of the Pledge, I was quietly editing my own recitation: “I pledge allegiance … to the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation … indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

By my final year in high school, however, I had acquired enough sophistication to appreciate the importance of symbolism. I no longer resented being asked to swear loyalty to a flag as the embodiment of the noble ideals it represented. However, by that time we weren’t reciting the Pledge anymore, so I had no chance to mend my ways.

I was also less certain concerning the existence of a Creator. Even those few years of secondary education had opened my eyes to a universe so enormously complex that to embrace any worldview as absolutist as atheism seemed the height of arrogance. Indeed, the phrase “under God” struck me as a comforting expression of humility, that we as a nation recognize the grandeur of our universe and acknowledge it as unfathomable.

The letter of the law?

Perhaps the judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who recently ruled the phrase “under God” unconstitutional, might have interpreted the law with more humility had they familiarized themselves not only with the letter, but also with the spirit of the Constitution.

Perhaps they might have better understood the intent of the framers had they read, or remembered, the words of Alexander Hamilton:

The sacred rights of mankind … are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.

Considering the many references to the Almighty included in the writings of the Framers, it’s astonishing how often we hear the Constitution invoked as the basis for expurgating every reference to God from the public arena. If the Founding Fathers weren’t afraid of mentioning God in the Declaration of Independence, why should we fear the utterance of His name in our courthouses or schools?

But many among us are afraid, trembling with fear born of insecurity. For what is more terrifying than the unknown? And what is less known than the destiny awaiting us when we depart this mortal coil?

Nothing to fear but…

For the militant atheist, there is no greater dread than the haunting suspicion that he might be wrong, that there might truly be a Creator, and that we might have to make an accounting before Him upon arrival in the hereafter. Every reference to God challenges the faith of the devout atheist, reminding him that the rest of the world is far less certain that our existence is random and without purpose.

The great Joseph B. Soloveitchik, one-time chief rabbi of Boston and teacher of countless Talmudic scholars, summed it up like this: “All extremism, fanaticism, and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist.”

And, indeed, extremism in the form of either radical religion or radical nihilism is one and the same. The 19th-century anarchist employed techniques not unlike the suicide bomber of today to advance his own variety of jihad. Modern anarchists, some wearing judicial robes, manipulate the law to advance their cause, supremely confident that they understand the Constitution better than its authors.

It has been observed that the word ego is an acronym for Elbow God Out. A daily reminder that we should receive our national freedoms with humility is among the surest means of preserving those freedoms for our children and their children after them.


Yonason Goldson
Yonason Goldson
Yonason Goldson works with business leaders to build a culture of ethics, setting higher standards to earn loyalty and trust. He’s a rabbinic scholar, repentant hitchhiker, and co-host of the weekly podcast “The Rabbi and the Shrink.” He has published hundreds of articles applying ancient wisdom to the challenges of the modern world, and six books, most recently “Grappling with the Gray: an ethical handbook for personal success and business prosperity.” The ninja were covert agents in feudal Japan who practiced espionage, deception, and surprise attacks. Doesn't that make Ethics Ninja a contradiction in terms? Not at all. Just as the master of martial arts turns an opponent’s strength against himself, the Ethics Ninja turns attacks against moral values back against the adversaries of ethics, exposing groupthink and double-standards through rational argument in asymmetrical battle to vanquish the enemies of moral clarity.

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  1. Thanks, y’all.
    My BS alarm always rings when anyone, myself included btw, paints with anything but a very fine brush. The degrees of atheism are not different from the degrees of Judaism or Catholicism. I went to a Spirituality Day in Balboa Park in San Diego some years ago. Lots of booths. Only one booth was filled with smiles, under a large sign that announced “There is life before death.” It was the atheist tent. They were not extreme in any way, simply having decided, securely, to let go of the necessity to subscribe to dogma.
    For anyone to say, “My God” as in ‘my car” or “my house” implies ownership. To think that s/he belongs to me is mind-boggling. Why must we inscribe “Under God” unless we are afraid to leave it out? “EGO” could equally mean “Exclusive God Only.”
    Be well. Be blessed. Be forgiving.