It seems like this argument rears its head every few years in some form or another.
This time, just across the mountain, the “Pledge of Allegiance” is once again the center of debate and once again it boils down to two words, “under God,” and once again fact, logic and the broader point are being shed faster than my dog’s fur when he hits the East Tennessee summer heat.
In case you missed ABC’s Monday report there are now six billboards in North Carolina, including one on Billy Graham Parkway and another in Asheville, that read “One nation indivisible,” a reference to the Pledge of Allegiance that deliberately omits the added words “under God.”
Paying the tab for the signs is the North Carolina Secular Association, a coalition of groups including the Western North Carolina Atheists. The coalition is trying to make a point and chose this time to avoid the usual niceties and subtle legal filings generally employed to express the point that they can be patriotic without being required to believe in the Judeo-Christian All Mighty.
In not all that surprising a response, an Asheville church — with dollars from the church coalition, We Still Pray — is firing back, putting up its own billboards with the words, “One nation, under God.”
And so with more money than material the debate over religion and government and how they shall and shall not mix moves from the classroom, courtroom and halls of Congress to a series of lighted monstrosities on the side of Interstate 40. Though to be fair, more money than material might also be applied to Congress, which in its infinite wisdom created this particular thread of the religion-government knot.
As a history refresher, the Pledge of Allegiance was adopted in 1892 and for the next 62 years — which encompassed both the Great Wars — there was no mention of God — that would require Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare of the 1950’s. Congress, in an effort to thwart the “Godless Commies subversion of Americans” added the two words in question in 1954.
After 56 years and counting of arguing over the addition, Stalin must still smile in his grave as to how that has turned out for us.
Take what secular spokeswoman Jennifer Loveday told ABC.
“I don’t believe in God and I don’t believe that our country was founded on Christianity or any religion,” she said. “I’m not taking away anyone’s belief in God. Many of our forefathers feared God, but I think they feared religion more — and what it could do to the country if any one religion was allowed to be in control.”
To which the Rev. Ralph Sexton, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, replies, “The biggest thing that bothered me as a person of faith was I thought, at best, it was disingenuous. … Our very Constitution, our law system, everything is built upon the word of God.”
It’s obvious that both Sexton and Loveday believe with absolute certainty they are the side of Good in a Good vs. Evil debate and it’s also equally certain the arguments have little regard of either the history in question or the true nature of the issue on which they speak.
So first let’s straighten some things out historically.
Despite the elementary school versions we all heard, the Founding Fathers did not all agree on this stuff. And even if they had they were not infallible, slavery coming quickly to mind.
There were colonies, that would become states, founded solely to get religious trouble makers out of Europe. Others were founded more for profit-driven motives or as prison-clearing buffers against other European powers. State taxes to support a particular church did not die out with Constitution. It took a few more decades to end the practice completely.
Reading George Washington’s reply to a letter from New York’s Jewish population in his early years as President, it’s best to say the United States was, in the beginning, set to utilize the religion of the majority while maintaining toleration of all faiths. Several of the founders went so far as to comment on the necessity of a people with a strong moral discipline, instilled from one religion or another, to help our experiment in a government ruled by the people succeed.
So to a degree, both sides are right, both wrong and both equally unable to accept the latter on their own parts.
More importantly think beyond the now and realize the very slippery slope this question leaves the nation teetering atop. We can’t ignore it and we can’t put the mess back in the toothpaste tube.
Remaining the same or changing to the original, someone will feel they have suffered an injustice in these sensitive times.
And in that, at least, we can all agree
Marcus Fitzsimmons is a multi-platform editor at The Daily Times who does believe in God and enjoys reading rational counterpoints and snide remarks posted to the online version of this column on thedailytimes.com/opinion.
“We really haven’t grown enough to be a championship team. We still have some time to get that going, but obviously we’re running out of time.” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl Monday following the Vols’ 77-55 lost to Southern Cal and former UT coach Kevin O’Neill. It was the worst loss in Pearl’s five seasons at Tennessee.
Despite UT’s 99-78 win over North Carolina A&T Wednesday night, many of the Volunteer faithful are obviously restless about the team’s lack of enthusiasm headed into a New Year’s Eve date with Memphis.
So with all due apology to Clement Clark Moore …
’Twas the eve before Christmas, and throughout Big Orange land
The faithful were nervous, a big week was at hand.
Game tickets had been stuffed into stockings with care,
A victory in Memphis? Could Pearl get them there?
The Vols were nestled, all snug at their homes,
Ready for stuffing and another nap soon to come.
With Wayne in his kerchief, and Tyler in a sprawl,
The Volunteers looked lazy, not ready to ball.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
They moseyed from their beds to see what was the matter.
Away to the window they moved like little snails
None prepared for the sight to assail
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to their tired, drooping eyes should appear,
But Coach Pearl and a goal and a bag labelled ‘fear.’
With a rod for a driver, and a whistle to his mouth
He let out a cry that rattled the South.
Frustrated and frazzled, his patience undone
He sweated through his shirt, screaming ‘boys, get it won.’
“Now J.P.!, Now Bobby! Now Scotty and Tatum!
Get out here Brian and someone wake Chism!
To the ends of this court, to the top of the hill,
You want motivation, I’ll run you I will!”
“Till you dry heave and pant and collapse in your sweat
Inspired you will be, I’ll get the best from you yet.”
So up and down the bleachers the players they flew
Shedding pounds and excuses and a mild curse or two.
And then, in a moment they fell to the floor
Their energy gone, they could run on no more.
With a shake of his head and a look of near hurt,
Pearl broke loose in rage and tore off his shirt.
Painted in orange from his head to his toe
He asked them all quietly “where’s this season to go?”
“Rank means nothing but a target on your back
You boys coasted to Cali, you didn’t even pack!”
The guys looked around, heads down in shame,
It was all true, they’d played down, no spirit, no game.
With a small quiet sigh and a look in the eye
One player shifted, then bounced up quite spry.
He ran to his coach and put up his hands,
‘I’ll defend them like this, you jolly little man.”
A smile on his face and fire in his gut
Pearl smiled and said, “Go earn your strut.”
Then another big arm joined the first to its right,
And one, then another, the Vols found their fight.
A leader had emerged and with a twitch of his head,
Tennessee was a team, and one again to dread.
“Run us and teach us, you maker of men,
Mold us the to be a top-seed again!
Bring on the Tigers, the Wildcats and Gators
The Gamecocks and Jayhawks and all UT haters!”
Pride back in their step and game on their ball
They loaded up for Memphis and the cross-state haul
And the fans heard them exclaim as they drove out of sight,
“Merry Christmas to y’all, you can sleep well tonight!”
Marcus Fitzsimmons is a sportwriter for The Daily Times and just a bit too festive for the staff to tolerate any more this week. Please posts any witticisms or critisims to the online version of this column on www.thedailytimes.com
After the Maryville Christmas Tree Lighting
The ghost of Christmas future came to visit last night.
“See what may be,” he told me and whisked me away.
We stood atop the stands looking down on a long field under the lights of a dome.
“Where are, spirit?” I inquired. “What is this place?”
The spirit said nothing as a voice boomed forward, “Welcome to George Quarles Memorial Sports Dome on the campus of Maryville High School. Tonight, the Red Rebels welcome our visitors from Don Sundquist High in Bolivar for this sixth-round, TSSAA semifinal playoff game. The winner advances to the state finals played on Christmas Day on the campus of Lincoln Memorial University.”
My brain swirled and blocked out the rest as I digested what I’d heard and took in a field that looked a good 40 yards longer than the football field I saw 15 Friday nights a year.
Only when a group of angels rose from midfield, could I refocus my amazement. Looking closer I realized it was a choir and that they were on a floating platform of some sort. Only when I looked towards the immense scoreboard screen that also hovered free above the field did I see the choir surrounded a priest.
The voice boomed again. I recognized it was speaking Spanish but I could not understand it until it repeated in English.
“Would you please rise for the greeting, Penitential Rite, Kyrie, Gloria and Opening Prayer to be presented by Bishop Norberto Rivera Carrera to be followed by the National Anthem.”
My confusion deepened as I watched the crowd rise and heard “The Lord be with You” spoken first in one language then the other.
“Spirit, what is this?” I asked. “What has happened?”
He handed me a cup of coffee and smiled in amusement at my reaction as the cup disappeared as I drank, apparently self bio-degrading at the rate that I sipped.
“This is what may be,” he finally said as we watched Maryville return the opening kickoff 73 yards to set up a first-and-20 at Sundquist’s 65-yard line.
And the scene faded away shimmering as another shimmered in to focus.
We were in a school cafeteria, judging by the tables and chairs and children, but something seemed wrong.
A student walked right through me to a table, apparently I wasn’t really here. As I gathered myself from this unnerving experience I took in the sign, “Alcoa High School: Talley Cafeteria” and still could not place my finger on what was odd. True there were no books and most seemed to be using a little flat screen box or a projection coming out of one, but that wasn’t it.
Then it hit me. No one was eating.
I looked around for the little girl, who’d walked through me. She sat outside eating with a small group.
“It’s the ninth day of Dhul Hijja on the lunar Islamic Calendar,” said the spirit. “The Day of Arafat. This place serves no food on a day of general fasting, but they allow those, who believe otherwise the freedom to eat by themselves, just somewhere else from the faithful.”
I had no chance to ask any of the million questions flooding my mind before we were gone once more.
Sitting on a roof top looking down on something I knew, a Christmas tree in a Maryville park with a crowd gathered.
“What may be, didn’t begin here, but was made possible here,” the spirit said as the tree came on in a glow of lights. “Events great and small, over time they change the majority and alter the traditions. What was done by one, can then be done justly done by another citing their example against those who object.”
We sat there together. I pondering what had been said and trying to find explanations to what events could have taken place. I grew cold sitting there as I decided the how’s didn’t matter. The result mattered to me though. I certainly didn’t want my grandchildren, or however many greats it might be, to experience what I’d seen as either the Catholic or Muslim majority or as one of those children eating in a corner as an outcast.
“This is the other side of the coin isn’t it?” I asked the spirit. “This is what could happen if we don’t monitor ourselves and how we mingle our faith in God with our politics and government.”
“Nothing is as easy and innocent as it appears,” said the spirit, then paused and faded a bit.
“I find you’re lack of faith disturbing,” the spirit said in its darkest version of that voice.
“I hold my faith,” I replied, angry I had been challenged. “I believe. I’m not a perfect Christian, I can’t be. But I do try. I don’t know how to resolve this conflict between honoring what I believe and honoring the rights of my neighbors to believe as they wish.”
“As you wish,” the spirit said.
I sat there mulling over the night so far, and reaching no answers, no plan of action.
Just maybe, a little more aware of my world and my actions.
Marcus Fitzsimmons is a web and copy editor for The Daily Times who enjoys wisely considered and crafted responses as well as snide remarks posted to this blog.
NOTES: In the first visit I presumed both a continued influx of immigration from Spanish speaking, predominately Catholic nations to the United States and in the second that either war or environmental conditions had forced a mass migration from the Middle East.
The final scene was from the roof of The Daily Times building looking down on the City of Maryville Christmas tree lighting in 2008, when an official prayer was included in the tree lighting ceremony.
On the six-hour drive back from USA South football media day Monday I couldn’t help but wonder why.
Why did everyone drive all that way for a few hours of hand shaking?
The coaches and SIDs had the chance to see each other and iron out details for the new season over an hour or so but the ‘media’ part of the day was a step back.
The media present amounted to five for eight schools. As much as colleges are hurting, let’s face it newspapers have been hurting even during the ‘good times’ and travel budgets are smaller where they exist at all. Just having the staff to afford to send somebody away for a full day is a lot more challenging these days.
But for the ones who made the effort and had the circumstance, the usual rah rah speeches were fine but no one was hanging around for long. The unoffical question and answer time during lunch suffered as people ate and headed out.
Maybe it is time for the conference to consider something different. If the goal is to reach the media then a pdf file of the media guide and a conference call with coaches where a lot wider group could ask questions might be more benefitial.