meaning of "under God"
SLevinson at mail.law.utexas.edu
Wed Mar 31 22:15:40 PST 2004
Mark Scarberry suggests that
that the phrase refers to the source of a limitation on government power that has been understood throughout our history...
I'm sure that others have made the following point, but isn't it the case, empirically, that governments claiming to operate under God's authority (or judgment) are just as likely use such claims to defend governmental power as to limit it. I think, for example, of Mark Osiel's excellent book on Argentinian torturers. He points out that many of them had their moral doubts assuaged when they were assured by Catholic priests that they were engaged in a holy war against terrorists who were trying to undercut the legitimate Argentine regime. Or a more benevolent reminder of Catholic theology concerns the Christian Democratic (or Christian Socialist) movements of the 20th century that attacked laissez-faire notions of limited government in favor of the duty to embrace the welfare state. And, as many people have correctly pointed out, the civil rights movement would never have taken the form it did without its saturation in theology. But, then again, the Virginia judge whose decision was overturned in Loving claimed divine authority for keeping the races separate in marriage. All of this is by way of saying that I just don't see that anyone gains much purchase on a concrete politics by evoking God unless one is very confident that one knows God's views on specific issues of the day. I find most such claims highly hubristic (except when they conform with my own politics, which scarcely defeats my main point).
The principal problem, though, is that no one seriously believes that teachers will act on Mark's invitation to contemplate seriously the various meanings of the pledge, since, inevitably, that would open the classroom to some quite seditious ideas (such as John Lofton's eloquent jeremiad, in the great tradition of Puritan divines (this is not meant as an insult)).
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