ANSWERING MY CRITICS
My last blog, "The Home Depot Travesty," resulted in a profusion of mail. Much of it was thoughtful, and written from both the mind and heart. I always appreciate the fact that many of you carefully read what I write and take the time to respond to it. I regard your critical feedback as a treasure in my blogging life and believe that, whenever possible, a serious, substantive reply should be provided to you as a token of my appreciation.
In bold print are some of your comments. They are followed in each instance by my reply.
(1) Trevor Keezor's dismissal resulted from a company policy both legal and reasonable. The company approved of its employees wearing only company-provided pins and badges. When Keezor violated the policy, he was fired for good cause.
Please keep in mind I never argued that The Home Depot policy was not "legal." Law is a system of social constructs. Those constructs are what they are. But, if government enacts a law approving harsh employment discrimination against Jews, does this mean that the dismissal of Jews from their jobs is "reasonable" and for "good" cause? What an impossible idea! Some laws are reasonable and just, while others are not. I do not think it makes much sense to punish an employee for wearing a pin with the words "one nation under God, indivisible," especially since they are part of this country's national Pledge of Allegiance. Let's not conflate legality with morality. Keezor's dismissal may have been legal, but it is certainly not reasonable in any other sense of the word.
(2) The pledge has never, as a matter of conscience, been acceptable to some Americans. Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, refuse to salute or otherwise to honor the flag. Some Americans refuse, for one or more reasons, to recite the words "under God" in the pledge. How dare you assert that "every citizen, who honors the country and the flag which symbolizes it, recites these words."
It is a fact that the words "under God" were added to the Pledge in 1954 at the height of the Cold War. Part of their rationale was to distinguish America and its long tradition of religious faith from the atheist mindset of other nations which were in an adversarial relationship with America. The words "under God" resonated well with the religious, political, and social ideology of most Americans then and continue to do so today. They have an overwhelming appeal.
Having said this, it should be underscored that Americans have nonetheless honored in their political and civil society the freedom of conscience, at least to a point. Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as others, have been given broad leeway to conduct themselves as their conscience mandates. This freedom is part of what it means to live in this great country. While I think such toleration speaks well of the country, I do not think it necessarily speaks well of the citizenship of those who test the limits of toleration. Some religious groups strike me as almost subversive. Their presence in this country detracts from its national cohesion. As Justice Felix Frankfurter once emphasized, "National unity is the basis of national security." Those who resolutely refuse to salute the flag, or who unabashedly wage war against public prayer at a commencement exercise or sporting event are less than model citizens, in my opinion. John Locke, the legendary seventeenth century political philosopher, thought that atheists had no place in the commonwealth. To the extent that their ideas are countercultural and militate against national cohesion, I sympathize with Locke's point of view.
(3) We did not have a national flag until the late 1780s, and the pledge came along thereafter. Your notion of "public faith" may be a meritorious one, but the pledge and flag are not essential elements of it.
The Constitution was also ratified in the late 1780s. Are we to say that it is not integral to the public faith of this country? Give me a break!
It is worthwhile at this point to consider the difference between a "symbol" and a "sign." A flag is a supreme symbol of a nation, and is not merely a sign of it. A symbol participates in the reality to which it points, and is far from arbitrary. It has its roots in the collective unconscious. A sign, on the other hand, simply points to something else.
A flag, for this reason, provokes the deepest levels of community pathos. As Emile Durkheim explains it, "the totem is the flag of the clan." What he means by this is that social life itself is made possible by a vast symbolism, of which totemic objects, such as a flag, are central. Without the flag, American social life becomes a nullity. When someone urinates upon the American flag or flies it upside down, the gesture is a provocative and unsettling one because of the unique position the flag occupies in American communal life. Thus, to argue that the flag and the pledge are not fundamental elements of public faith is neither born out by American history nor by the most rudimentary principles of social organization.
My critics finally decide to hoist me on my own petard. (4) Since "the wall of separation" between church and state was not acknowledged in public education until after the mid-nineteenth century, and you view this "pre-wall" era with nostalgia and yearning, then why would you not also view with equal longing the Puritans' refusal to celebrate Christmas?
True, the Puritans did not like Christmas. They considered it a papist ritual, not founded upon holy Scripture. But Puritan influence was not always of the bellwether variety in American culture. Anglicans celebrated Christmas in a vigorous and joyous fashion. In states like Virginia, Anglican influence won out and became predominant in American culture. I have never denied that multiple trends have been represented in American culture; they have! Some eventually give way to others. There is no disclaiming the fact that Christmas is a powerful part of traditional American culture, although it hardly follows that there were never countervailing trends.
None of this affects my contentions that the concept of "separation of church and state" is invoked today in the most uncritical of ways and is being used to militate against the cornerstones of American culture. The Supreme Court is one of the most notorious culprits. It has warred for years now against one of the cornerstones of American public faith; i.e., the notion of a benevolent, providential deity.
I include one last criticism of my blog. (5) Why would you think that, if an employee were free to wear a "one nation under God, indivisible" pin that his employer could not, on anything other than a pretextual basis, preclude other employees from wearing Che Guevara or Osama bin Laden pins?
A workplace prohibition should be reasonable, should it not? Che and Osama have had no constructive roles to play in traditional American culture. If anything, they represent the kinds of fanatical and tyrannical forces we have fought against from our inception! Even a blind man can see this! An employee who comes to work on September 11 with an Osama pin on his shirt should be fired. This is America, and his pin is little more than a treasonous gesture transgressing the acceptable limits of toleration. The employee, by contrast, who wears a pin like Keezor's should be applauded as a patriot, since the pin bolsters national ideals and goals.
The Home Depot is a corporation the management of which is anti-American. I have no sympathy for the present leadership of the company and will never do business with the company until it is transformed. I again encourage my readers, when thinking of home repairs, to take their hard-earned dollars elsewhere.
November 3, 2009