Tuesday, March 13, 2018

So help me, Monotheistic Entity

My job requires me to attend public meetings where people stand up and say things to flags.

Last night was our monthly city council meeting, where our newly re-elected Mayor took the oath of office along with two council members who were re-elected without opposition.

The oath concludes the vow with "So help me God," and thus I noted once again that our entrance fee to civic life is affirming belief in a deity.

When I recite the pledge of allegiance (which essentially began as copy for an advertising campaign) I omit the words "under God" (added during the Eisenhower Administration to distinguish us Americans from godless commies - I guess that showed them).

I do not assent that my citizenship requires taking a side on the question of whether anybody's flying spaghetti monster exists.

No one has called me on the omission, and as for the rest, I don't mind participating in a brief secular rite and paying respect to a symbol of the republic.

Yet is not a little monotheistic white lie simply the glue that holds society together? I question this, friends, though that is what we have been told.

The Supreme Court punted on this when a test case came before them, and it got kicked around in lower courts. The last ruling (in 2010) held that it doesn't establish religion to pressure people into saying they believe in an almighty God.

Well, it certainly appears to establish something.

Those of us who attempt to engage conversation about this are usually told that by talking about God, we aren't actually expressing a religious idea. We are told this is simply paying respect to tradition. The nation was founded, we are told, by people who believed in God.

(Not all of them, friend. The range of religious belief amid the revolutionary generation was diverse and complex and included non-theists. Thomas Paine may have been unusually outspoken about this for his time, but his critical views of religion were not alien to his generation.)

The little reminders of Judeo-Christian dominance that are everywhere, like "In God We Trust" being written on our coins, are actually used to argue that God doesn't really mean God, it means an idea of God, an idea that there is an authority higher than the Constitution that gives the Constitution its legitimacy. Because human legitimacy is not enough, I suppose.

None of this strikes me as persuasive. If I am in a social situation where I feel obligated to affirm the existence of a God in order to play along and behave like a citizen, then a particular religious belief is being established. It serves no practical purpose whatsoever. Let us recite secular oaths in the legislature and leave people to exercise their religious liberty on their own.

Anyway, we all got up and spoke to the American flag. We skipped the pledge to the New Mexico flag, which I rather like - a brief statement affirming friendship between united cultures. I haven't yet grasped which entities say the New Mexico pledge and when. I know they do it in school every day, in two languages. Flags get a lot of attention around here.

Anyway, the officers put their hand on a book and recited an oath that sounded secular enough - promising to uphold laws - and then the religious button at the end. I suspected the book was a Bible. I texted one of the council members and asked if that was so, and he wrote back that it was indeed, hadn't I noticed him getting burned?

I answered: "That's because God wants secular democracy."

I have heard of cases where officers requested to put their hand on a United States Constitution rather than a Bible, which seems more fitting. If, however, I am asked to consider "God" not as God but as a token of tradition that is the basis for our laws, then I affirm the following:

In the exceedingly unlikely event I am ever sworn into public office, I will insist on placing my hand not on a Bible, nor on the measly American Constitution, but on full-size stone tablets like the ones revealed to Moses.

And concluding my oath, I will turn to the assembly and recite, from Plutarch:

Let us begin with a prayer to Lord Zeus, the son of Cronus,
That he may grant these laws good fortune and acclaim.

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