How Americans Can Reach Agreement on the Pledge of Allegiance Issue

Sep 13, 2011 by

by Robert Oliphant –

During anxious times like these, America’s national monuments surely call for reverence, not revision. Hence our national concern about recent assaults upon our Pledge of Allegiance, including a Brookline, Massachusetts group that wants to deep six the phrase “under God,” according to CBS reporter Christine Hager (Sept. 7, 2011)

Originally, as older Americans will recall, the Pledge did not mention God: Unfortunately the change, made in 1954, replaces the earlier phrase “one nation, indivisible” with “one nation under God, indivisible,” thereby creating serious interpretation problems for American religious leaders, along with fractious politicians and wild-eyed reformers.

Had the change read “one nation, indivisible, under God, any first grader would interpret the first phrase as “one indivisible nation.” But the 1954 change placed “indivisible” directly after “God” and therefore invited the provocative interpretation “one nation, under an indivisible God.”

Along with evoking futile debates about punctuation, syntax, juvenile comprehension, and the right of the United States Government to do as it pleases with the American language, the concept of an indivisible god represents an official endorsement of monotheism worldwide, including Islam. Even worse, it represents a rejection of a traditional trinitarian theology, i.e., “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” as many of us will remember from our hymn books.

But who on planet earth actually forced this painful ambiguity upon us in 1954? Was it an attempt to legislate religious unity? Or was it an attempt to forge a religious coalition of nations to fight newly powerful nonreligious nations like Russia, China, North Korea, especially in 1954? More important, how can Americans agree on a nationally acceptable way to cage this terminological tiger?

My personal feeling tilts toward a grammar-centered compromise that would keep the original phrase “one nation indivisible” and follow it with the new phrase “under God.” Like our motto “in God we trust,” this change eliminates implications of sectarian bias. Even better, it literally pushes “religion” out of politics, especially in the central dictionary sense of an explicit and divisive “set of beliefs,” cf. the Random House Unabridged entry for RELIGION, definitions 1 and 2.

So why not bypass religious controversy and vote for “one nation indivisible, under God”? If we do, He will stay as He is and wants to be without divisive interpretations by government bureaucrats or arrogant theologians.

Surely even rapacious lawyers will accept a grammatical compromise that pushes readers and speakers more swiftly to our Pledge’s closing words: “IN div VIS i BLE with LIB er ty and JUST-ice for ALL — a solid hexameter line capped off with a sprightly cadence velox worthy of the King James Version itself.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR. . . . Robert Oliphant earned a PhD in English Philology at Stanford (1962). His best known book is the anti-Alzheimer’s “A Piano for Mrs. Cimino” (1980), the film version of which won a Monte Carlo award for Bette Davis. A U.S. Army veteran (air corps), he now writes a column for

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