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An essay by John Kyff, Jr.

"One nation under God?"


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I believe that the First Amendment clearly forbids the government from using any preposition or adjective in conjunction with the noun God. As I perceive it, the constitutional issue is not that the noun "God" has made it into governmental proclamations, money, documents, the motto and the Pledge. The operative and problematic word is not the noun "God," rather it is the preposition "under" (as it would be with the preposition "within" or "over" or "without" or whatever preposition or adjective you can name) defining or modifying the concept of God.

By definition, according to The American College Dictionary, a preposition is "one of the major form- classes, or parts of speech, comprising words placed before nouns to indicate their relationship or their function in the sentence." Thus, in the phrase "one Nation under God," the preposition "under" indicates the relationship of the Nation (i.e. the People) to God and God�s relationship to the People. By definition, that is theology (i.e. defining God's relations with the universe). Specifically, our government declares that the People are "under" God, not "within," God or "above," God, or "around" God or "One with" God. In doing so, it declares that the People are separate from God or "without" God. After all, if one is not "within" God, one must necessarily be "without" God.

If the intent of Congress was to declare a close relationship of the People with God, it has done just the opposite. It has separated the People from God and God from the People. How ironic. But then government is a poor theologian. It really should leave theology to theologians. Is not that the meaning of the First Amendment?

I do not agree with those who assert that the phrase "under God" in the pledge of allegiance is a trivial or unimportant issue unworthy of consideration by the Supreme Court. It is a fundamental theological (religious)and therefore Constitutional issue of far reaching consequence. If indeed this is truly a trivial issue, change (or even propose to change) the pledge to read "one nation, within God" and see the furor that erupts within the so-called religious right! I guarantee it! Or how about, "one nation, over God."

Indeed, there are those Christians and others (the majority of Americans at this point in history) who believe that they (and all) are indeed in actuality "under" God. They believe and assert God is up there while we are down here. It is a fundamental theistic belief and teaching. A non-theist objection is that being "under" God separates one from God. This concept of separation is fundamental to Christian fundamentalism and "Fall/Redemption" theology in general. I -- and many other Christians and non-Christians -- do not believe that we are "under" God and, therefore, separated from God. We are not theists. We reject theist beliefs. Nor are we atheists whose beliefs we also reject. We are panentheists who believe in panentheism. Like many native Americans, we believe that we are "within" God and that God is "within" us. We are One with God. Heaven is not "up there" someplace. Heaven is all around us and within us. We are not born "sinners." We are born "blessed."

In his book "Original Blessing," Dominican scholar and theologian Matthew Fox writes:

"C. G. Jung has written that there are two ways to lose your soul. One of these is to worship a god outside you. If he is correct, then a lot of churchgoers in the West have been losing their souls for generations to the extent that they have attended religious events where prayer is addressed to a god outside. The idea that God is 'out there' is probably the ultimate dualism, divorcing as it does God and humanity and reducing religion to a childish state of pleasing or pleading with a God 'out there.' All theism sets up a model or paradigm of people here and God out there. All theisms are about subject/object relationships to God. Agnosticism and eventual atheism finds its logical antecedents in religious theism itself, which kills God and the soul alike by preaching a God 'out there.' What is the solution to the killing of God and the loss of human soul? It is our moving from theism to panentheism [which is] altogether orthodox and very fit for orthopraxis as well, for it slips in the word 'en' and thus means, 'God is in everything and everything is in God'."

He writes much more. The above is but a brief sample. A sample of others whom he quotes in support of his theology include the following:

  • "God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God And God in her." 1 John 4:16
  • "It is in God that we live, and move, and have our being." Paul in Acts 17:28
  • "God created all things in such a way that they are not outside himself, as ignorant people falsely imagine. Rather, all creatures flow outward, but nonetheless remain within God." Meister Eckhart
  • "Make your home in me, as I make mine in you, I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, Bears plentiful fruit." John 15: 4,5
  • "Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you: I have given them the glory you gave to me, That they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me." John 17: 21,22
  • "The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God and God in all things." Mechtild of Magdeburg.

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I think the point is that the preposition "under" in the phrase "under God" clearly "respects an establishment of religion" i.e. theism to the exclusion of panentheism and other ideologies/theologies. It also prevents "the free exercise of religion" such as panentheism by making me choose between pledging allegiance to our country and adhering to a fundamental religious belief by not sinfully proclaiming myself to be "under" God.

That the Fall/Redemptionists have managed to get the backing of the United States government to promote their controversial Fall/Redemption, theist theology to the exclusion of "Original Blessing" and other theologies such as panentheism is shocking and unfair. I believe it to be unconstitutional.

As previously stated, I believe that the government has no business or right to use any preposition or adjective in conjunction with the noun God. When it does, it is preaching. It has entered the realm of theology and is truly taking sides promoting a particular, controversial religious belief and theology. Describing God and/or God's relationship to us -- no matter how seemingly trivial to some people -- is truly neither trivial nor the legitimate province of government. It is the province of theology and theologians, pure and simple.

Some proponents of the current pledge point to our motto and money arguing that since the word God is in our motto and on our money it therefore can also be in our pledge. But, that misses the point. Think about it. "In God we trust." It says simply (or seems to say) that we trust in God. It describes us. It does not describe God or God's relationship to us in any way. Now, let's describe God. We trust in a "female/male/shemale" God. We trust in a "black/white/yellow" God. We trust in a "loving/hateful/indifferent" God. We trust in a "vengeful/forgiving/uncaring" God. We trust in a "smart/stupid" God. Get my drift. You cannot describe God without invoking controversy -- without violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Perhaps the pledge might Constitutionally be changed to read "one nation, trusting God" because "trusting" describes us, not God. Describing God -- defining God -- is left entirely up to the individual. It would also affirm in our Pledge of Allegiance what we seemingly proclaim in our motto and on our money i.e. that we trust in God -- wherever, whoever or whatever God might be.

That the word "God" is in our pledge is, I think, unfortunate but in the final analysis I can live with it. But the preposition "under" has got to go for me to recite the pledge and for the First Amendment to retain its intent and meaning.


Reference:

  1. Matthew Fox, "Original Blessing," Bear & Company, (2000). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Copyright © 2004 by the author
Originally posted: 2004-JUL-22
Latest update and review: 2008-DEC-02
Author: John L. Kyff, Jr.

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