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Elbowing God Out

Elbowing God Out

The ruling barring "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance shares a similar hubris that contributed to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.


Back when I possessed the charming innocence of a twelve-year-old, I took offense at the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance. Why, I wondered, was I expected to pledge my allegiance to a flag? Proclaiming loyalty to my country I could understand, but to a piece of fabric?

Moreover, as I had concluded with unshakable, preadolescent self-confidence that human existence was nothing more than a cosmic accident, I found the phrase "under God" equally offensive.

So while my classmates were loudly reciting the full text of the Pledge of Allegiance, I was quietly editing my own recitation: I pledge allegiance... to the United States of America... one nation... indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

By my final year in high school, however, having acquired a sufficient measure of sophistication to appreciate the importance of symbolism, I no longer resented being asked to swear loyalty to a flag. But we weren't reciting the Pledge of Allegiance any more, so I had no chance to mend my ways.

The phrase "under God" struck me as a comforting expression of humility.

I was also less certain concerning the existence of a Creator. Six years of secondary education had opened my eyes to a universe so enormously complex that to embrace any world view as extreme as atheism seemed the height of arrogance. The phrase "under God," therefore, struck me as a comforting expression of humility, that we as a nation recognized the grandeur of our universe and conceded its unfathomability.

Perhaps the circuit court judges who ruled the phrase "under God" unconstitutional might have interpreted the law with more humility if they had familiarized themselves not only with the letter, but with the spirit of the Constitution. Perhaps they might have better understood the intent of the Framers if they had read, or remembered, the words of Alexander Hamilton: "The sacred rights of mankind... are written, as with a sun beam in the whole of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power."

If the founding fathers weren't afraid of mentioning God in the Declaration of Independence, why should we fear the utterance of His name in our schools?

Considering the many references to the Almighty among the writings of the Framers of the Constitution, it's astonishing how often we hear the Constitution invoked as the basis for expurgating every reference to God from the public arena. If the founding fathers weren't afraid of mentioning God in the Declaration of Independence, why should we fear the utterance of His name in our courthouses or schools? But many among us are afraid, afraid with a fear born of insecurity.

Indeed, what is more terrifying than the unknown, and what is less known than what awaits us when we depart this mortal coil? As Prince Hamlet pondered: "To sleep? Perchance to dream! Ay, there's the rub." For the devout atheist, there is no greater dread than the haunting suspicion that he might be wrong, that there might truly be a Creator and an accounting before Him upon arrival in the hereafter. To the atheist, every reference to God is an unwelcome reminder that the rest of the world is not so certain that our existence is random and without purpose.

The great Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik summed it up like this: "All extremism, fanaticism and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist." And, indeed, extremism in the form of radical religion or radical nihilism is one and the same. The 19th century anarchist used techniques not unlike the suicide bomber of today to advance his own variety of jihad. The modern anarchist uses manipulation of the law to advance his cause, supremely confidant that he understands the Constitution better than its authors.

The Talmud describes how, during the last days of the second Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people observed the law of the Torah meticulously according to its letter. But they failed to look beyond the letter of the law, to strive for understanding and fulfilling of the spirit of the law, to labor in applying the essence of the law toward the transformation of their character. This failure, together with a senseless hatred born of mutual suspicion, mutual contempt and, ultimately, the uncompromising assertion of their own egos, resulted in the destruction of the Temple, the deaths of millions of Jews, and the beginning of our long, dark exile scattered among the nations of the earth.

The word ego is in fact an acronym for Elbow God Out.

It has been observed that the word ego is in fact an acronym for Elbow God Out. A daily reminder that we should receive our national freedoms with humility is among the surest means of preserving those freedoms for our children. Close to two thousand years ago, instead of subduing their egos before the Highest Authority, instead of subjugating their ideological differences to the pursuit of shalom, peace, the Jews distorted Divine law to serve their own agendas, thereby sealing their fate and the fate of the Temple.

The sages teach that any generation that does not rebuild the Temple is considered to have destroyed it. But if we return to the law with humility and reverence, then we can truly hope to rebuild that which for so long has been lost.

For further reading, visit our Tisha B'av Site.

July 6, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 29

(29) Anonymous, October 23, 2012 2:42 AM


The words "under God" were never in the original Pledge of Allegiance. As users before me have pointed out, they were only added on the 1950s with the express purpose of showing off how superior "Christian" America was to the "atheistic" USSR. It was conceived purely in arrogance and has nothing to do with respecting theists of all kinds, only with respecting Christianity and Catholicism. (I keenly remember the day when I would not stand for the pledge, and my classmates flung verbal abuse and accusations of being a morally depraved communist at me, while the teacher almost sent me to detention for not having participated.) Besides the atheists and non-religious people whom the current Pledge so blatantly disregards, other religious groups such as the Quakers have taken issue with the Pledge as well. (Quakers consider swearing oaths, even in a court of law, to be idolatrous, because to them no physical emblem of a power should take the place of direct worship of G-d.) State-mandated recognition of a higher power leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of many Americans who know that it is not the government's place to legislate religious profession.

(28) Dina Normatova, July 11, 2002 12:00 AM

Your artical really touched me. I also want to say that, I also belive that if you don't rebuild the Bais Hamigdash (The Temple) it is if we have destroyed it. Please keepSending me this heart touching articals.
Thank You!

(27) Dutch, July 11, 2002 12:00 AM

Seperation between Church and State

First of all I love your site. That being said I do believe on this one you miss the mark. I have been in many schools growing up. Depending on what school you go to, in witch town, and what religion is in control, you must pray to there God at every meeting. I love God and have him in my life always. The reason it is important to keep Churh out of State is clear if you grow up in most places in the worl. I have spent a lot of time in the Southern states while growing up where the Flag is used for hate. When you say the Pledge you are expected to keep to there rules and there hate. I those small towns one religion is in control. Where I may not have a problem with the Pledge for me many who do not believe as you and I must in some places recite the Pledge or be beat up after school. I feel that protecting that seperation is the reason we are Americans not Arabs, Jews, Christians etc.... We are Americans all. One religion can not talk control or it could push all other thought out.

(26) Robert Tolchin, July 11, 2002 12:00 AM

Severely misguided

Your comments about the pledge of allegiance demonstrate that you really haven't thought this issue through.
America is not a religious state. It does not owe its existence to a religious body. The fundamental aspect of America is that it is a land for all people, of all beliefs, including religious and atheist. That you and I might disagree with the atheists, the pagans, and the Christians who live here is our right. But they are free to disagree with us, too.
You can't force people to understand or appreciate what "God" is. Ultimately, the existence of atheists and worshipers of other religions serves to make us stronger. If everyone is of a similar mindset, it is easy to forget what the mindset is all about. If you have to confront people who disagree with you, it forces you to explore a deeper understanding of your own beliefs. For example, as frustrating as it is to argue with "Jews for Jesus" missionaries, doesn't arguing with them force you to go back to the sources they cite and deepen your understanding of why they're wrong? Ultimately, this dialogue is good for you. Hashem put a yetzer ha-rah into the world for a reason. You need black in order to truly appreciate how bright white is.
The "God" in the pledge of allegiance is not Hashem, it is Jesus, at least according to most Americans. Contrary to what you seem to think, most Americans when they here "under God" are not thinking of humility, but are rather thinking that America is Divinely ordained and has God on its side, which actually leads to arrogance and intolerance. Remember, these words do not date back to the Declaration of Independence, but were added during the Cold War in an effort to show superiority to the Russian Communists. America of the 1950s was not very tolerant of different views at all; remember how many scholars, actors, and artists were blacklisted, and remember Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Far from being arrogant or misguided, the Ninth Circuit's decision barring the words "under God" is actually an enlightened ruling that checks arrogance, encourages humility, and leaves religious belief where it belongs: in the hearts and minds of citizens, not in the official policies of a secular state.

(25) Avi Penkower, July 9, 2002 12:00 AM

I humbly disagree.

I believe the decision to remove the words "under God" has absolutely nothing to do with hubris, and everything to do with what the United States of America is about.

The United States was established by white Protestants, but they, and those who followed them, made heroic efforts to make the U.S. a haven for everyone, regardless of ethnic or religious background. One of the ethnic/religious groups that have most benefited from this attempt has been the Jews, and I believe the Jewish people owe a debt of gratitude to the United States, for enforcing individual liberties. (I do not mean to ignore the fact that there have been many times when racism and anti-minority actions, including of course anti-semitism, were rampant in the U.S. I am simply making the point that these were exceptions to the rule, rather than the rule.)

Had the United States not been founded on individual liberties, Jews would have had far greater difficulties than they did. As a result, I believe that it is our duty, both as "menschen", and as Jews, to support separation of religion and State in the U.S., whenever possible.

Finally, I take this opportunity to remind my fellow Jews the world over, than the true home of the Jews is Eretz Yisrael. Israel is the ONE land where Jews can live "under God", and any Jew who believes in God, and postpones moving to His land - the land He gave the Jews, is in reality rejecting God's gift.

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