The ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ is one of those weird American traditions that everyone acknowledges as a little sketchy; more often than not we just go along with it. For our entire developmental stage, from the first day of kindergarten until the day we receive our high school diploma, we are obliged every morning to stand in unison with our hands on our hearts and recite ‘the pledge.’
Most people, myself included, just kind of zoned out and vaguely participated. That kid who did morning announcements led us on via the school loudspeaker. The kid whose voice we came to dread. You know, that kid.
Sometimes, we’d give the last couple phrases of the pledge a little extra flourish depending on our mood. Mostly, we just concluded the ritual as innocuously as it began. We’d embrace the last milliseconds of freedom before settling back in our seats and waiting for our teachers to begin their soul-fulfilling lessons.
The Pledge of Allegiance has come under fire in recent years. Whether because of its blatant promotion of Christianity or the fact that it was written in a socially backwards era (1892), the homeroom staple is on the defensive. Many schools and teachers force students to participate, and a lot of parents don’t like it.
In a lot of ways, concern over the context and explicit meaning of the pledge is understandable. But in reality, I think it is full of messages that perfectly fit the current time. It is a structural tradition that is worth preserving.
The statement preaches loyalty and equality. Granted, equality 125 years ago meant something much different than it does today, but the message can still be translated.
If you forgot, here it is. Recite it in your best teen angst high school voice:
I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America,
And to the republic for which it stands.
One nation, under God;
Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The first line says that we should act to honor the symbol of the flag, and that we should to the best of our ability obey the authority of the government. It’s a little on the nose, but the statement isn’t meant to be lengthy. Basically, we commit to do no harm to fellow Americans and to act in accordance with our laws. Really no problems there.
The final line is perfect. We pledge every morning to be ‘indivisible,’ united as a nation in the face of opposition. We guarantee liberties to all, regardless of race or religion. (Say what you will about events and their consequences over the past few years, but the fact that we at least verbally commit to these things every day is a positive.)
For a long time, Christianity and its subletting religions were the only commercially acceptable faiths in America. The ‘one nation, under God’ line is understandably concerning. We appear to nominate Christianity as the ‘American’ religion, and may make those who don’t believe in God uncomfortable and unwelcome.
But we can take those words and turn them to our own progressive contexts. Now, when I say, ‘under God,’ I really just mean, ‘united.’ God, religion in general for that matter, was cultivated under the guise of unification. Whether existent or not – that’s another hundred articles for another day – religion was made popular, almost necessary, in a time where there were so few unifying institutions. Those who don’t believe in the Christian God need not be offended by those four words in the pledge.
Now that we’ve looked at the lyrics, lets talk about the structure. The act of saying the pledge itself is very important. To be honest, it may seem a little crazy. Before school started, we would all just accept it, stand up and for thirty seconds recite the pledge like robots. On one side, it seems like schools were breeding us to be respectful, docile corporate cogs. However, I’d like to have a little more faith than that.
I’d like to think that the morning recitals taught us valuable lessons. We learned to respect authority; when the teacher tells you to do something, you do it. We learned that sometimes, we have to do things even if we don’t like them. We learned about consequences. I remember very early instances of students acting out or mocking the pledge and getting in serious trouble.
Sure, it has its contextual hang-ups and questionable background. But I like the pledge of allegiance as a patriotic starter pack. It is good to be proud of your country, just as much as it is good to maintain a healthy level of skepticism.