Friday, September 16, 2005

"Okay, now answer the question as The Bostonian Exile: the man."

The Midwestern Progressive posed some good questions to me in the comments to the last post. (Full disclosure: I have not touted his new (three-day-old) web presence nearly enough. He, too, blogs anonymously, though if you know me as of today, you probably know him as well. He's off to a roaring start, so go check it out already -- after you finish reading here, of course.) I had thought they were lost in a Blogger malfunction, but I managed to find them sitting in my inbox. They are as follows:

I wonder though - law aside, what do you think of Newdow's (and ultimately the "real" complainants') case?

Is it proper to have public school students recite the pledge as it is worded today?

Or would it be preferable to go back to the original wording of the pledge and leave it in public classrooms?

Alternatively, should the pledge be left out of public school classrooms altogether?


To give the simple answer, I am somewhat agnostic on the propriety of public school children reciting the Pledge in its current form. But let's go through the questions in somewhat greater depth.

I'll start by saying what a lot of people believe: Michael Newdow is a self-aggrandizing blowhard with dangerously thin skin. To this assessment I will add that, particularly for someone educated at the Michigan Law School, his writing and reasoning abilities are incredibly underwhelming. Even a marginally less arrogant front-man would work wonders for their cause.

I would support the recitation of the pledge in either form and, though recitation is my personal preference, doing away with the Pledge altogether would not bring about the apocalypse.

If the words of the Pledge are edited, though, I am more concerned about the distant effect than I am about the immediate one. Religious discourse is increasingly marginalized, discounted, and disregarded in our body politic, which to me strays from something valuable the Founders assumed about the republic they created. In the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, who was not himself a religious man, wrote:

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a people to advance from that subordination in which they have hitherto remained, and to assume among powers of the earth the equal and independent station to which the laws of nature and of nature's god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the change.

Emphasis added. To me, the fact that a nonreligious Deist like Jefferson conceived of human freedom as arising from a divine source is instructive of how many viewed the world in which they lived and the republic they were creating. Prevalent among many people of that time was a notion that divine providence, scientific advances, and the progress of man were all somehow inextricably linked. Certainly, there were disagreements over this, and certainly there were atheists in the group (Thomas Paine comes to mind). I suppose it helps that many of the Founders (John Adams, for example) and their Enlightenment cohort were Unitarians. I suspect things would have been more turbulent had they been largely Baptist, Catholic, or any number of other faiths less open to divergent views. All the same, invocation or recognition of some divine power has a long history in how our body politic and the individual people who formed it expressed and understood our new nation, if not in how they defined it. That there were other understandings of the world and the political order at the time of the Founding, to me, does not discredit this construct, but rather enriches it.

Of course, I am concerned about too much spiritual invocation in public matters, so I do recognize the opposite position. I think that it is not necessarily excessive today, but it could be so in the near future. However, I am more immediately concerned that we are at the beginning of a new movement (one I am sure Newdow sees himself as leading) to sterilize public discourse of any and all references to God. The Pledge. The national motto ("In God we trust"). The appointment of a congressional chaplain. All play a role in this greater idea that was prevalent at the time of the Founders.

Americans have a notion of continuing progress throughout history; our nation may have represented an ideal at its inception, but it was far from perfect. Today, on the eve of the two hundred twenty-eighth anniversary of our Constitution, it is still far from perfect. However, I think we need neither disregard our past nor completely disassociate ourselves from it to advance to a better future.

2 Comments:

Blogger Midwestern Progressive said...

I don’t think I’ve ever read a better stated snark than this, and I mean that in a very good way – one of the most brilliant I’ve seen:

Michael Newdow is a self-aggrandizing blowhard with dangerously thin skin. To this assessment I will add that, particularly for someone educated at the Michigan Law School, his writing and reasoning abilities are incredibly underwhelming.

I appreciate your agnosticism on this, and share it, to some degree. But when Newdow first won his case in the 9th curcuit last year (I think it was) it came at the same time that the religious “right” was agressively on the march in this nation.

(Obviously, I disagree with “ I think that [spiritual invocation in public matters] is not necessarily excessive today, but it could be so in the near future.”)

And, this seemed to me to be a good time to stand up to them.

Additionally, I still believe that Congress under the Eisenhower administration in the 50’s was misguided to add the words “under God” to the text that was recited by public schoolchildren nation-wide. And Newdow alone today is standing up to correct that misguided action.

I find myself uncomfortably positioned in Newdow’s camp – ugh, does that make me a Newdie?

5:11 PM  
Blogger Bostonian Exile said...

*Bow*

I aim to please. When I am in such a mood I follow an overriding principle, WWSD: "What Would Scalia Do?" And, Newdow always puts me in such a mood.

If you are a "Newdie," I would recommend that you not appear on television until you get that taken care of, lest children be scandalized.

(Obviously, I disagree with “ I think that [spiritual invocation in public matters] is not necessarily excessive today, but it could be so in the near future.”)

You may be right about that; it is, after greatly a matter of individual opinion. I would note that it seems so might be intensified by the fact that secularists seem more vocal than they were in the past about this. Religious themes in public discourse appeared during the Reagan and Bush 41 admistratons, were somewhat disfavored during Clinton's first term, but then were brought back noticably in the second term when he needed all the help he could get (and succeeded, I might add). That's where I was coming from. W. might make more references to God than Clinton, or even the two Republicans before him, but I think part of that perception is further underscored by the opposition to it by those (such as Newdow) who would rather remove religion from public discourse altogether.

5:13 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home