I attended grade school in the late 90s when it was common to start each day with both the National Anthem and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I also grew up in a family of atheists. So I was taught by my parents from Kindergarten to omit “under God” when reciting the Pledge.
After all, this country was founded on the separation of church and state, and the original Pledge of Allegiance didn’t even include the words “under God”–– but more on that later.
Imagine a 5-year-old in round glasses and a bob cut going silent at that part of the Pledge and looking around at her Kindergarten classmates as they continued the theistic part of the Pledge.
As I got into my teenage years and started attending more sporting events, I began to question why the National Anthem had to be played before so many events. Basketball games, football games, dance competitions, tennis matches, soccer games, swim meets, pep rallies–– everything. And it wasn’t just professional televised sports where broadcasting the National Anthem would actually make sense–– it was even at rinky-dink, amateur kid’s sports games where there were only parents in the stands.
By the time I reached adulthood, I decided I was altogether done with both the Pledge and the National Anthem.
It’s Weirdly Nationalistic
When I started working in the gymnastics industry, the full weirdness of the National Anthem finally hit me. A gymnastics meet is broken down into sessions, and a session is typically two hours. A meet usually takes place over a weekend when there can be multiple sessions back to back. They play the National Anthem before every single session.
So if you’re at a gymnastics meet all weekend, there’s a good chance you’ll have to stand for a recording of the National Anthem once every two hours. That can be something like 6 to 10 times in a weekend. Most Americans will probably read this and nod like this is no big deal. But most non-Americans reading this are completely mind-blown that we’re that obsessed with hearing the National Anthem. Really, no other developed country does this as much as we do.
Guys, it’s really weird how often we play the National Anthem and it’s really weird how readily we’ll stand and put our hands over our hearts, no matter the setting. It’s not all that patriotic–– it’s very nationalistic behavior.
Nationalism is defined as “identification with one’s own nation and support for its interest, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.” A nationalist is proud of their country no matter what, but a patriot’s pride is contingent on what a country does.
Blindly participating in the National Anthem or the Pledge has become such a norm that it’s literally considered a protest to not participate. That’s not the thinking of a patriot–– that’s nationalistic thinking. Nationalism is arrogance, void of critical thinking, and I have no longer have any interest in supporting such a thoughtless concept.
Swearing Your Allegiance to Anything is a Big Deal
When I first started reciting the Pledge as a kid, I’d just skip over “under God.” Contrary to popular belief, the original Pledge of Allegiance didn’t even include those words. Yeah, shocking, right?–– it’s almost like this country doesn’t have an official religion or something!
The original Pledge was created in 1892 by the socialist minister (yes, a socialist!) Francis Bellamy: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Simple, right? That’s actually a Pledge I could stand behind. Then in 1923, the words “to the Flag of the United States of America” were added. Makes sense, less generic of a Pledge, but it’s perhaps something I could have stood behind at one time.
But then in 1954, President Eisenhower urged Congress to add the words “under God” in response to threats of communism. This was a mistake, and it makes no god damn sense (pun intended). We are not a nation “under God” because we are not a Christian nation.
So as a staunch agnostic, there’s absolutely no reason for me to utter those words. But as I got older, I realized that it was not just ridiculous for me to pledge my allegiance to a country using the words “under God,” it’s also ridiculous to pledge my allegiance to a country that literally expects me to.
Allegiance is defined as “loyalty or commitment of a subordinate to a superior or of an individual to a group or cause.” I eventually realized I can’t swear my loyalty to a country that doesn’t swear its loyalty to me. With how much money and corruption lies deep within our political system, our politicians aren’t representing the people–– they’re representing the highest bidder.
My loyalty is a big deal, so why would I hand it over to a country whose leadership has barely any respect for its citizenry? You wouldn’t want to make a verbal promise to an employer that you’ll be loyal to them if they don’t give you something in return, right? So why would you do it with your country?
PS. “Because our troops” is not a good reason to pledge your loyalty. Sorry to break it to you, but the troops don’t “fight for your rights.” If you really think the US has been at war for 222 out of the 239 years we’ve been a country (93% OF OUR EXISTENCE) just to fight for your rights, you need to think again. The troops are fighting to feed the military-industrial complex, not for your freedom of speech, Chad.
The Reaction to Black Men Kneeling During the Anthem is the Real Outrage
Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality against Black Americans. (White) folks reacted as if it was an attack on America. That alone, without the above reasons, is enough to reaffirm to me that not participating in the National Anthem is the right choice.
I already feel passionate about the issue of racially targeted police brutality, but when the reaction to this simple protest is vitriol and abhorrent racist remarks, it just further proves the point that this type of protest is necessary.
It also proves that the National Anthem is a nationalistic display and not a patriotic one. You can both be a proud American and also publicly condemn institutionalized racism in the US. What you cannot do, is be a nationalistic American and condemn institutionalized racism. Because if you condemn anything the US does as a nationalist, you’re not being “loyal.”
Have You Ever Really Thought About Why You Participate?
Think about it: Why do you participate in the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance? If your answer is “that’s just what we do” or “everyone else does it,” you need to dig deeper. Sure, those are reasons, but they’re pretty shitty reasons, don’t you think?
After all, a true patriot doesn’t display patriotism simply because that’s what everyone else is doing (now are you starting to see how this behavior is weird?).
So why do you really stand for the National Anthem? Why do you really put your hand over your heart and recite the Pledge? Do you truly feel proud of your country? If yes, are you proud enough to defend the way our government treats its citizens, immigrants, and the rest of the world?
I encourage you to take a step back and ask yourself why you really do this. The outcome could be that you strengthen your sense of patriotism. Or it could be that you don’t really feel a strong reason to participate in these displays other than groupthink or social pressure, and there could actually be a lot of reasons that you DON’T feel patriotic.
Take stock of your behaviors. Question yourself. Reassess. Then let me know what you think.