For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt a little weird about things like the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. Well, I’ve felt particularly weird about the Pledge of Allegiance, but all around, the whole “America is the bestest country God has ever put on this planet” thing has always kinda bothered me. More than bothered me. It’s left a rotten itch in a place I just can’t scratch.
I don’t like it.
Or maybe, what I really don’t like is that to think any differently is completely un-American.
America seems to require this identity that we are the absolute best. In everything. And part of that bestest-ness includes how we respond to things like our National Anthem and our flag.
I get the concept of allegiance. As an American, who relies on the things our country does for us, who believes in the freedoms afforded us by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, we should make claim that we will support our country and, you know, not be all treasonous and junk.
But…the reverence we put behind the flag, behind that song, behind our country…it’s almost a religion. Heck, it is a religion, because we put so much effort behind the concept that God is what makes our country the bestest country ever in the history of the world (because Americans are now God’s chosen people? Or just because he likes baseball and apple pie?).
And so we have our children memorize a chant, a pledge, and hold up their hand to their heart as they give reference to a symbol for our country.
If you put a cross in front of them instead of a flag, we would call this worship.
We teach our children to worship America.
And it terrifies me.
Because it allows our country to be so terrible. Because it gives us this concept that America can do no wrong when it so obvious does plenty of wrong.
Now, to be fair, there are very few adult Americans who believe America is doing everything completely right. Just pay attention to the political rhetoric coming from your friends and neighbors and family and you’ll hear about at least a few dozen things going wrong in this country today.
But to actually state that our country is wrong, that our country is terrible, that our country is undeserving of worship (or that any other country is better)…that is heresy.
And so when folks such as Colin Kaepernick choose to not worship with the rest of us, we get mad. They are treasonous assholes who do not recognize the wonderful country God made for us.
It’s un-American to not give reverence to the flag. But for folks like Kaepernick, they see things. They believe there are issues with our country, things which cause it to be undeserving of our worship, things which need to be changed because they are just downright evil. Kaepernick is not worshiping. And we’re mad.
I recently came across a post from an old high school friend of mine, who happens to live (or used to live…I’m not really sure) in Washington, you know, the state where the Seattle Seahawks are from, claiming how he would now be cheering against his home team for as long as they had team members refusing to stand during the National Anthem. For as long as they had unbelievers in their midst.
Why does this rile us up so badly? Is it because we think that what they are trying to say is unnecessary? Is it because we hold this country is such high reverence that even if you have something to say against it, you should continue to worship at its symbol? Hell, why do we even play the National Anthem prior to sporting events? Is it like the dinner prayer, asking the country to bless this match? It was played prior to a monster truck rally I went to a few weeks ago…should it be played at theaters before movies?
There are so many questions we just gloss over in our eagerness to condemn. But the biggest one is, at what point should we be allowed to protest in such a way? At what point is our country no longer deserving to be worshiped? At what point do we actually recognize that there may be people inside our country who simply feel as though our country has failed them? Has wronged them? Has wronged an entire group of people? Time and again?
At what point is it okay to stop believing in the god we have made America into and actually require it to change?
I stand with those who choose to kneel. Because they should be allowed to stop worshiping at the feet of the god who has turned its back on them. Because America isn’t a god. America is a body of people, a community, who have chosen to remind themselves at every chance that they are the best community in the world, thereby allowing itself to ignore the things it is doing wrong. The people it continues to wrong. The peoples it continues to wrong.
We pledge allegiance to this country once we enter the school system, before we even have a concept of what this country is. And we do so daily, pointing our bodies at its flag, covering our hearts to show we are honest (i.e. cross our hearts and hope to die), all the while having absolutely no concept of what we are pledging ourselves to.
This is nationalism. A blind faith that our country can do no wrong. That our country deserves to be worshiped by one and all, the world over. And this is what we should consider when we see what our sports figures are willing to go through in order to make their statement by simply taking a knee.
But America has never been known as the country with an open ear to debate. It does not listen to protest. It does not consider its implications or its history. It simply expects what is to be done and gets mad if it isn’t.
This is not freedom, folks. And if a person (or many people) are willing to put their multi-million dollar sports contracts on the line to show how they believe something is wrong with this country, we might want to take a second to consider they could have a point…instead of simply suggesting that they are entitled assholes who don’t love our country enough.
Because the reality is: our country isn’t that great and it isn’t that free…and we definitely aren’t all equal.