A few years ago, I was chatting with an old friend, a wise woman who, while Jewish, is decidedly not religious.
Some lunatic preacher had proclaimed that God did not hear the prayers of Jews; by extension, no Jew could go to heaven. Right-thinking liberals were furious at such medieval bigotry. Dismayed and angry, I asked my friend what she thought.
"Well," she remarked with a smile, "He's absolutely right."
"What?" asked I, incredulous.
"Because there isn't any heaven, and nobody goes there, so why are you so mad? The poor man is happy with his delusions; why should his delusional thoughts bother you?"
It was a comforting and sensible way of looking at things. Seems obvious; be secure and content with your own beliefs, and don't waste your energy in angry clashes with folks whose beliefs differ from yours.
I called up my friend the other day and asked her for her take on the pledge.
"I used to get angry at all the public religiosity in this town," she said. "Pledges of allegiance, prayers at City Council meetings, Christian rallies in Acacia Park, all of that stuff. But then I figured out how to purge myself of all this anger.
"Whenever I hear the words 'God' or 'Jesus' or 'Jehovah' or 'Supreme Being,' I mentally substitute the words 'The Easter Bunny.' So instead of seeing religious people as fanatics who want to convert me, I just see them as sweet, earnest children who want to do the right thing."
I thought about it: "One nation, under the Easter Bunny, with liberty and justice for all." Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? After all, what curmudgeon could decline to pledge allegiance to a nation so pleasant and peaceful that it puts itself under the protection of the Easter Bunny?
Jokes aside, there's a larger point to be made. The vast majority of Americans are believers of one kind or another, and the inclusion of the words "under God" in the pledge is important to them.
How do those words injure those of us who are nonbelievers? Very slightly, if at all. Sometimes it's dignified and appropriate to let the majority have its way. And just because the noisiest defenders of the pledge are jerks (as in washed-up country singers and yelping politicians), that doesn't make the pledge itself stupid and toxic.
Meanwhile, as a patriotic American, I thought I'd try being vigilant for a day or so, just to help out Messrs. Ashcroft and Cheney in their struggle against the Evil Ones. Here's the schedule:
8:20 a.m.: Left the house for work.
8:23: Stopped at light next to nondescript white van. Two dark-haired men in this vehicle. Possible al Qaeda? Note legend on van: "Affordable Plumbing." Swarthy man in passenger seat glances at me, turns, smiles, yells: "Hey, John, how're you doing?" Strongly resembles man who installed new water heater in my house last month. Decide not to alert John Ashcroft.
8:33: West Colorado Avenue. Note three young men, presumably unemployed, sitting on ratty couch on front porch of scruffy-looking house. Two of them are smoking. Could it be marijuana? Or maybe hashish? Suddenly remember that the word "assassin" is derived from the word "hashish"! And what about the couch? With half the stuffing gone, there's plenty of room for guns, explosives, satellite phones, revolutionary tracts ... How do I call Dick Cheney, anyway?
8:38: At Pikes Peak and Tejon. Three young women in shorts and jogbras run across Pikes Peak Avenue. Suppose they're not women at all, but beardless youths disguised as females? And as runners? George W. runs a 6:45 mile (pretty good for a geezer!). Is he in town?
The Secret Service would never suspect a group of women runners! As soon as I get to the office, I'll e-mail George W., and tell him to stay away from scantily clad women. Come to think of it, I shoulda e-mailed his predecessor with the same advice ...
8:43: Arrive at the offices of the Independent. Co-workers mildly irritated; I'm late for a meeting. I tell 'em: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty! They guffaw.
But I'm serene, because I know that I'm doing the right thing. In the Easter Bunny I trust.