The Pledge of Allegiance: Is it Idolatry?

The Western Confucian has lately linked to arguments ( here and here ) for abolishing the Pledge of Allegiance on the grounds that it is idolatrous. Considering the contribution of the Knights of Columbus to the Pledge, I have a hard time believing that it is idolatrous by Catholic standards. The Catholic Philippines, for example, has a similar Pledge:

I am a Filipino
I pledge my allegiance
To the flag of the Philippines
And to the country it represents
With honor, justice and freedom
Put in motion by one nation
For God, Nature,
Humanity and
Country.

I don’t see any idolatry there.

I do have reservations about oaths in general, and the U.S. Pledge in particular. For the Catholic, an oath of allegiance is always contingent. A good Catholic will “rebel” against the directives of any government insofar as it persecutes the Faith, requires its citizens to do something immoral, or otherwise denies or perverts the truth. We have only one absolute loyalty, and that is to God. Therefore we should be up front about this: our allegiance to the Pope and the Church precedes our loyalty to our flag and country. That’s always made some of our fellow Americans nervous. There is no reason why these loyalties should be in conflict, but it is possible that they might.

Let’s examine the American Pledge of Allegiance:

I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America,

Nothing wrong with that, so long as “allegiance” is rightly understood.

“and to the Republic for which it stands,
one Nation under God,”

So far as I can tell there is nothing wrong with this either. We do live in a Republic, which is indeed “one Nation under God”, and we ought to be loyal to our Republic.

“indivisible”

This is my one criticism of the Pledge. Our nation is not “indivisible”, in point of fact. Neither do I believe it was intended to be. Neither do I want it to be. Our nation will not last forever, undivided. If there is idolatry in the Pledge, it is contained in this one little word, which seems to almost – almost – ascribe to the nation an eternal, immutable, god-like character. So when I put my hand on my heart and recite the Pledge, I chalk the word “indivisible” up to rhetorical excess and practice the art of mental reservation.

“with liberty and justice for all.

A noble ideal to which I gladly give my allegiance.

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11 thoughts on “The Pledge of Allegiance: Is it Idolatry?

  1. The word “indivisible” is there on purpose, it is the heart of the Pledge. The Pledge was introduced as a loyalty oath on the defeated South after the Civil War. It’s a plain lie that was forced on a vanquished foe, requiring them to deny the legal and moral basis of their revolt.
    It’s why I refuse to say the pledge and will not allow my children to say it.

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  2. Danby: Well, suit yourself, but at this point I think refusing to say the Pledge is an overreaction to a singular flaw that need not be fatal. “Indivisible” can and should be understood as hyperbole in the service of national unity. Nevertheless, I can understand why a person might want to omit this word when saying the pledge – just so’s there’s no misunderstanding.

    TSO: Long time, no see! Hope all is well. I agree that TWC can be overly critical of the U.S. at times, but I don’t doubt his patriotism at all. He clearly loves America and considers it home.

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  3. For years after saying “with liberty and justice for all” many in our Catholic community add “born and unborn. God bless America.”

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  4. Thanks, Jeff. I do indeed love America and consider her home. My thoughts on my country are similar to these of G.K. Chesteron on his:

    “The British Empire may annex what it likes, it will never annex England. It has not even discovered the island, let alone conquered it.”

    Reading your comments, I realize that perhaps I used the word “idolotrous” in haste; I’m not a Jehovah’s Witnmess after all.

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  5. Hi Jeff. Here in (Eastern) Texas, kids are also taught the Pledge of Allegiance to the state flag of Texas in public elementary school:

    Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.

    The part about “one state under God” was added just last year by the Texas legislature, becoming effective on June 15, 2007.

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  6. At my Knights of Columbus Council we used to add “born and unborn” to the end of the pledge of allegiance, but we were told by our district deputy that the Supreme Council wanted the practice to stop.

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    • Ben, Has the practice stopped yet? I am wondering this because I am a member of Student Government at a college in Colorado and we say the pledge of Allegiance and I ( with my Catholic perspectives, as well as KofC viewpoints) have always said “Born and Unborn” after the Pledge, and have recently been asked to stop saying that, so I just want to look further into why it is wrong to add those words, and to find out if it stopped.

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  7. +JMJ+

    Jeff, the Philippine Pledge of Allegiance you mention is very rarely said in Philippine schools. I can remember saying it during only two school years of my life–and even then we alternated it with the “Patriotic Oath.” Today, it’s said “Patriotic Oath” that everyone has memorised, while no one can really remember the Pledge of Allegiance.

    Here is the translation of the Filipino version (which, strangely, is not the official translation in English):

    I love the Philippines,
    The land of my birth,
    The home of my people.
    It protects me and helps me
    To become strong, hardworking and honorable.
    Because I love the Philippines,
    I will heed the counsel of my parents;
    I will obey the rules of my school;
    I will perform the duties of a patriotic citizen,
    Serving, studying, and praying faithfully.
    I offer my life, dreams, successes
    To the Philippine nation.

    I became really uncomfortable with it a few years ago and started changing “Philippine nation” in the last line to “Catholic Church.” No one has ever noticed. =P

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  8. I believe it is important to define words as you have done with a couple of the words. Why did you not define pledge? God takes very seriously pledges, whether to God or to inanimate objects of devotion.

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  9. I take exception to the term “indivisible” for the same reason many have already said, that according to the laws of the United States, the union is NOT indivisible. Indeed, I would go so far as to argue that holding the United States to be indivisible is in fact UNpatriotic, for that notion is contrary to the founding principles of the republic.

    Furthermore I must reject the term “one nation” for precisely the same reason. We are not “one” nation. We are FIFTY nations, in voluntary compact with each other for mutual trade and defense. For me to say that we are one nation would be a lie, for I do not believe it to be true, and unpatriotic, for I hold it to be contrary to the basic principles of that republic.

    As for the flag itself… In its present arrangement, it is insulting to its own laws, for the southern states are legally a separate federation.

    So I propose the following:

    I pledge patriotic fidelity to the American State (or Commonwealth or Republic as the case may be) of which I am a National, and to that republic whose membership she enjoys, under God, with Liberty and Justice for all.

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