When the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Pledge of Allegiance phrase “under God” unconstitutional, my mind conjured George Clinton. In the song “One nation under a groove,” the preternaturally cool leader of the eternally hip Funkadelic imagined the country in a unified rhythm. Where are you, George? We need a groove, but we’re in a rut.
Intellectual debate about the separation of church and state threatens to perpetuate superficial thinking. That means we’ll continue to miss the symbolic meaning of this newest national stumbling block. Perhaps we’re being stripped of the words “under God” because we don’t deserve them. Do you live as if integrity, honesty, commitment and genuine love were supreme? That’s what “under God” means: to live in constant awareness of the presence of the Holy.
I believe God is a gender-neutral, trans-religious experience that consistently permeates every aspect of one’s being and life. God inspires us to do what is right when wrong is easier or promises more obvious material gain. Each member of the pantheon of praised deities (Yahweh, Allah, Jehovah, Krishna, Shiva, Buddha, Odin, Quan Yin, Athena, Yemoja or the latest entity channeled by some suburban housewife) is a cultural attempt to personify an experience, to name the unnamable. But as theologian Paul Tillich pointed out, there is always “A God beyond God.” When we attempt to name God, the true experience of God is beyond our reach. Nor can God be solely understood as a higher power, although I can appreciate how that term induces the ego to submit to change. More accurately, though, God is the only real power. The various cultural translations of the experience of God separate us and inspire lawsuits and wars.
If we lived “under God,” there would have been genuine outrage when Bill Clinton lied about his extra-marital affairs. Or when Jesse Jackson, Clinton’s religious counselor during that period, was outed as having an extra-marital affair himself that produced a baby girl. Instead, we were nonchalant about Clinton. “The economy’s great, so who cares?” In that moment, we agreed that truth-telling and integrity were without value in our society. That’s a green light to our Enrons.
Despite pastors and pundits predicting that September 11’s legacy would be national unity and an increased interest in world news, we didn’t resurrect a new national life. We’ve resuscitated the old veils of illusion. Example: Our government pretends a hard line against Saddam Hussein, yet imports 700,000 barrels of oil per day. As writer Sandra Mackey notes, “Americans depend to a certain extent on Saddam Hussein to heat their homes, run their utilities and fuel their cars.” After September 11, a few such voices glimmered then were lost amid the exhortation that, to save the country, we should buy and buy. Our addiction (consumerism) was sated, but the real affliction—a dearth of ethics—remains.
Losing “one nation under God” is a shake-up call. A child (of an atheist) led us here with the message that it’s painful not to belong. Hmmm. Considering our inability to hold our own ethnic identities as equal to or less than our biological one (human), we ought to strike out “indivisible” too. Oh, and those who call themselves “spiritual, but not religious” are divided, too. Otherwise they would identify themselves as spiritual and religious or move beyond the need for labels altogether.
One nation under God? Yes, if we’re willing to choose integrity, honesty, commitment and genuine love in every situation and insist on the same from others—especially our leaders. Now, that’s one nation (grooving) under God, indivisible.