Friday, June 16, 2006

A Brief Detour - an "establishment of religion" issue

After a prolonged period of moderate ill health, I'm recovered enough to start to think and write again.

I had intended to proceed to a further examination of "subversive prayer", using the "Our Father" as the model for the expression of recurrent Jewish and Christian counter-cultural themes.

But the noise of our current hoo-ha over cultural orthodoxy has deflected my attention. The orthodoxy in question is Honoring The Flag. The hoo-ha is over the proposed constitutional amendment to permit laws banning flag "desecration."

Nobody seems to have looked closely at the "desecration" word. Only something sacred can be desecrated. The core meaning of "sacred" has to do with religion -- "dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity".

Therefore, I object to the idea that the flag is sacred. The proposed amendment amounts to an establishment of religion -- and an idolatrous one, at that. It's literally a state religion: the state and its symbol are the objects of worship.

Metaphorical uses of the word "sacred", such as "our sacred honor", are fine, but they shouldn't be enshrined in law or in the Constitution, which itself is "sacred" only in a metaphorical and thoroughly secular way.

Those who are supporting the amendment surely are familiar with the line "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." Clearly, whatever the things are that do belong to Caesar, they aren't sacred.

It's perfectly 'politically correct' to respect the flag as a symbol of civic values that we hope to live up to. We can do that best by actually living up to those values. Flag laws or amendments aren't necessary -- and they open up dangerously vague problems of interpretation.

For example: if some of us think that our national honor has been disgraced, would it be "desecration" to hold a public flag washing ceremony?

We have no flag "desecration" problem now. This amendment could create a wave of test cases like this hypothetical flag washing one. Thus we could wind up creating trouble where there is now calm.

Religious people in particular should speak out and say "no idolatry here".