Nationalism and the Primacy of the Conscience


I can't remember exactly when it happened, but sometime in the last 15 years, I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

The day and time are unmemorable because how often does a grown woman find herself in the position of being required to actually say the Pledge of Allegiance? It can't have happened often in the past decade and a half, but still, if I'm going to write on this topic I would like to have a handle on when it was. Instead, all I can tell you is that I no longer do, and I won't teach my children to either.

I have gratitude for my country and for the liberties that are afforded to me here (like the freedom to write a blog post saying I don't recite the Pledge of Allegiance without fear of any consequences beyond fits of rage in the combox). I am the daughter and granddaughter of Army veterans, and while I am a conscientious objector to almost all war, I respect the fact that most individuals in the military are sincerely trying to do the right thing and make the world a better place. (And for the record, my sentiments toward war have been largely influenced by the voice of my post-Vietnam father.)

My gratitude and respect for my country do not conflict with a mind that is determined to think for itself. And over the years I simply realized I could no longer in good conscience pledge allegiance to anything but God alone. Because if it came down to it I would not follow the United States of America or her leaders past the edge of my conscience. I won't, and although you clearly have your own freedom, I don't want you to either. And I certainly don't want my children to.

One thing I love about being Catholic is the degree of felt connection to fellow believers worldwide. Certainly, I hope Protestants experience this gift too, but there's something about your religious affiliation literally meaning "universal" that hammers it in. (Not to mention the fact that our central authority is outside of the United States and that most of our beloved saints are of non-American origin.) You can travel anywhere in the world this week and find a Catholic mass that will be nearly identical to the one in my central Iowa parish on Sunday morning. The Christian faith supersedes nationality, and it should always be that way.

I know that the latest news headlines with the NFL, President Trump, and the Star Spangled Banner are not the same thing, in that what's happening here is not a protest of the actual lyrics in the song. But in some ways, it is the very same thing; because another thing I love about the Catholic Church is the seriousness with which we regard the human conscience. In fact, we hold it in such high esteem that it is discussed thoroughly in the Catechism.

Let's look at a very brief slice:





1776 "Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths."47

and wait for it, 'cause there's more (emphasis mine):

1778 Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right.

If the actions of the football players who are taking a knee during the National Anthem were repugnant to me (they're not), I would respect the fact that they are human beings doing their best to live according to their consciences, in protest of a systematic racism that lingers after a national history of slavery and oppression of rights. Whether or not you or I would take the same course of action is frankly irrelevant.

In just the same way as I, a white middle-class mother, can be moved by my conscience to not profess devotion to country above all else while still retaining gratitude for said country, my brothers in the NFL (an organization and very idea that I deplore, by the way) have the right to be moved by their conscience to make the same sort of stand. When any human being is attempting "to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right", who can stand in condemnation of that man?

Maybe a better question- why would you?

Christians, can we honestly imagine Jesus rebuking these men for a lack of patriotism when their hearts are to draw attention to a social ill? That is not our Christ, that is a red, white, and blue god of our own making. May He remove the plank from our eyes and have mercy on our souls.

Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)