New Sherwood

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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May 13, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

10 Comments »

  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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    Comment by Danby | May 13, 2008 | Reply

  2. I think the Western Confucian is closer to idolatry in his obsessive anti-Americanism than the Pledge.

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    Comment by TSO | May 13, 2008 | Reply

  3. 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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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | May 13, 2008 | Reply

  4. 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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    Comment by Maria | May 13, 2008 | Reply

  5. 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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    Comment by The Western Confucian | May 13, 2008 | Reply

  6. 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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    Comment by Alan Phipps | May 13, 2008 | Reply

  7. 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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    Comment by ben | May 13, 2008 | Reply

    • 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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      Comment by Brian Casaus | October 7, 2010 | Reply

  8. +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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    Comment by Enbrethiliel | May 14, 2008 | Reply

  9. 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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    Comment by Pastor Mic | October 15, 2008 | Reply


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