An essay by John Kyff, Jr.
"One nation under God?"
I believe that the First Amendment clearly forbids the
government from using any preposition or adjective in conjunction with the noun
God. As I perceive it, the constitutional issue is not that the noun "God" has
made it into governmental proclamations, money, documents,
the motto and the
Pledge. The operative and problematic word is not the noun "God," rather it is
the preposition "under" (as it would be with the preposition "within" or "over"
or "without" or whatever preposition or adjective you can name) defining or
modifying the concept of God.
By definition, according to The American College Dictionary, a preposition is
"one of the major form- classes, or parts of speech, comprising words placed
before nouns to indicate their relationship or their function in the sentence."
Thus, in the phrase "one Nation under God," the preposition "under" indicates
the relationship of the Nation (i.e. the People) to God and God©s relationship
to the People. By definition, that is theology (i.e. defining God's relations
with the universe). Specifically, our government declares that the People are
"under" God, not "within," God or "above," God, or "around" God or "One with"
God. In doing so, it declares that the People are separate from God or "without"
God. After all, if one is not "within" God, one must necessarily be "without"
If the intent of Congress was to declare a close relationship of the People with
God, it has done just the opposite. It has separated the People from God and God
from the People. How ironic. But then government is a poor theologian. It really
should leave theology to theologians. Is not that the meaning of the First
I do not agree with those who assert that the phrase "under God" in the pledge
of allegiance is a trivial or unimportant issue unworthy of consideration by the
Supreme Court. It is a fundamental theological (religious)and therefore Constitutional issue of far reaching consequence. If indeed this is truly a
trivial issue, change (or even propose to change) the pledge to read "one
nation, within God" and see the furor that erupts within the so-called religious
right! I guarantee it! Or how about, "one nation, over God."
Indeed, there are those Christians and others (the majority of Americans at this point in
history) who believe that they (and all) are indeed in actuality "under" God.
They believe and assert God is up there while we are down here. It is a
fundamental theistic belief and teaching. A non-theist objection is that being
"under" God separates one from God. This concept of separation is fundamental to
Christian fundamentalism and "Fall/Redemption" theology in general. I
-- and many
other Christians and non-Christians -- do not believe that we are "under" God and,
therefore, separated from God. We are not theists. We reject theist beliefs. Nor
are we atheists whose beliefs we also reject. We are panentheists who believe in
panentheism. Like many native Americans, we believe that we are "within" God and
that God is "within" us. We are One with God. Heaven is not "up there"
someplace. Heaven is all around us and within us. We are not born "sinners." We
are born "blessed."
In his book "Original Blessing," Dominican scholar and theologian Matthew Fox writes:
"C. G. Jung has written that there are two ways to lose your soul. One of these
worship a god outside you. If he is correct, then a lot of churchgoers in the
been losing their souls for generations to the extent that they have attended
events where prayer is addressed to a god outside. The idea that God is 'out
probably the ultimate dualism, divorcing as it does God and humanity and
religion to a childish state of pleasing or pleading with a God 'out there.' All
sets up a model or paradigm of people here and God out there. All theisms are
subject/object relationships to God. Agnosticism and eventual atheism finds
logical antecedents in religious theism itself, which kills God and the soul
preaching a God 'out there.'
What is the solution to the killing of God and the loss of human soul? It is our
from theism to panentheism [which is] altogether orthodox and very fit for
orthopraxis as well, for it slips in the word 'en' and thus means, 'God is in
and everything is in God'."
He writes much more. The above is but a brief sample. A sample of others whom he
quotes in support of his theology include the following:
- "God is love
and anyone who lives in love lives in God
And God in her." 1 John 4:16
- "It is in God that we live, and move, and have our being." Paul in Acts 17:28
- "God created all things in such a way that they are not outside himself, as
people falsely imagine. Rather, all creatures flow outward, but nonetheless
within God." Meister Eckhart
- "Make your home in me, as I make mine in you,
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
Bears plentiful fruit." John 15: 4,5
- "Father, may they be one in us,
as you are in me and I am in you:
I have given them the glory you gave to me,
That they may be one as we are one.
With me in them and you in me." John 17: 21,22
- "The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw
and knew I saw all things in God
and God in all things." Mechtild of Magdeburg.
I think the point is that the preposition "under" in the phrase "under God"
clearly "respects an establishment of religion" i.e. theism to the exclusion of panentheism and other ideologies/theologies. It also prevents "the free exercise
of religion" such as panentheism by making me choose between pledging allegiance
to our country and adhering to a fundamental religious belief by not sinfully
proclaiming myself to be "under" God.
That the Fall/Redemptionists have managed to get the backing of the United
States government to promote their controversial Fall/Redemption, theist
theology to the exclusion of "Original Blessing" and other theologies such as panentheism is shocking and unfair. I believe it to be unconstitutional.
As previously stated, I believe that the government has no business or right to
use any preposition or adjective in conjunction with the noun God. When it does,
it is preaching. It has entered the realm of theology and is truly taking sides
promoting a particular, controversial religious belief and theology. Describing
God and/or God's relationship to us -- no matter how seemingly trivial to some
people -- is truly neither trivial nor the legitimate province of government. It is
the province of theology and theologians, pure and simple.
Some proponents of the current pledge point to our motto and money arguing that
since the word God is in our motto and on our money it therefore can also be in
our pledge. But, that misses the point. Think about it. "In God we trust." It
says simply (or seems to say) that we trust in God. It describes us. It does not
describe God or God's relationship to us in any way. Now, let's describe God. We
trust in a "female/male/shemale" God. We trust in a "black/white/yellow" God. We
trust in a "loving/hateful/indifferent" God. We trust in a
"vengeful/forgiving/uncaring" God. We trust in a "smart/stupid" God. Get my
drift. You cannot describe God without invoking controversy -- without violating
the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
Perhaps the pledge might Constitutionally be changed to read "one nation,
trusting God" because "trusting" describes us, not God. Describing God
God -- is left entirely up to the individual. It would also affirm in our
Allegiance what we seemingly proclaim in our motto and on our money i.e. that we
trust in God -- wherever, whoever or whatever God might be.
That the word "God" is in our pledge is, I think, unfortunate but in the
final analysis I can live with it. But the preposition "under" has got to go for
me to recite the pledge and for the First Amendment to retain its intent and
- Matthew Fox, "Original Blessing," Bear & Company, (2000).
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Copyright © 2004 by the author
Originally posted: 2004-JUL-22
Latest update and review: 2008-DEC-02
Author: John L. Kyff, Jr.