Monday, July 04, 2005

'It is their right, it is their duty'

Every 4th of July, I try at least to look at the Declaration of Independence, if not to read it in its entirety. That we can be biased, as Americans, does not prevent it from really being true, that this was the stellar product of a stellar generation, not just in the history of this nation, but of mankind. (British historian Paul Johnson makes this point in his History of the American People.)

I love the Declaration, and the Constitution that followed it. The text that scrolls on my computer screen, when it is idle, is as much of the text of the First Amendment as Windows will allow. I'd have the Second Amendment -- equally as important -- if I could.

Does this sound odd for a priest?

Well, I am an American, and proud of it. (I laugh as I consider that the folks who usually speak of "American Catholics" don't have me in mind--I wear a cassock, own a biretta, pray the office in Latin part of the time, and I know how to offer Mass ad orientam, in latina...)

Also, I used to work in politics. Some like to suggest I've "cleaned up my act" in becoming a priest, but I'm proud of what I did in politics. There's plenty to be cynical about, but I maintain: politics is a noble profession.

On this Independence Day, I'm heartened by something I read at Fr. Jim Tucker's Dappled Things (http://, about the Pledge of Allegiance:

The consideration of mindless nationalism leads me to the second part of this post, which will seem to be something of a political heresy to many. All sorts of people got their drawers in a knot over the decision to take "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance in California (or somewhere out there in the dusty West). All of a sudden, "under God" buttons started showing up, and petitions were circulated to "keep God in the Pledge" and not to "let the Pledge be mutilated." I scandalized more than a few people, including some well-meaning Knights of Columbus, when I responded that I don't believe in the Pledge of Allegiance to begin with and that not only do I think it's fine to take "under God" out, I'd be happy to see the whole damned thing discarded.

Fr Jim goes on to say:

The Pledge, unique (to my knowledge) in the history of nations, comes mighty close to being an oath. If allegiance means we won't commit treason against the United States, fine.

But it seems to me that allegiance goes a bit further than that, more along the lines of "My country, right or wrong," and I can think of all sorts of circumstances in which the Republic has been on the wrong side of wars and has perpetrated all sorts of mischief, and my allegiance certainly isn't with that.

Likewise, the notion that allegiance can be given to the flag in addition to the "Republic for which it stands" is just silly.

...which, to my mind, sounds an awful lot like idolatry. What if we reversed the words, to say: "I pledge allegiance to the Republic, and honor the flag that is its symbol"?

I likewise reject the notion that the nation is indivisible. People have a natural right to dissolve political bands that become odious or injurious to liberty, as the Declaration of Independence (the signing of which we are celebrating on Monday) declares as its foundational principle, and this applies to the United States just as much as it applied to the British Empire in 1776.

That reminds me of the modifications I've discovered people offer, here and there, to the pledge.

I used to live in Northern Virginia, as Fr. Jim does now; I don't know if he encountered it, but it was customary, at Knights of Columbus meetings, when the pledge was recited, for most to add, at the end, "born and unborn." Coming back home to Ohio, I haven't heard it here; I'll see what I can do to spread it.

Far more subversive, uttered sotto voce by some of my fellow right-wing crazies, was the modification of "indivisible" to divisible; perhaps Fr. Jim will want to mutter that softly at future Knights' Council and Assembly meetings.

He linked a site with a fascinating account of the pledge (I am a little skeptical about such things, but it may well be genuine, you decide for yourself):

The origins of the Pledge.
The original salute to the flag.

Go to Fr Jim's website, look for July 2 entry, to read it all.

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