By Tia Will
On August 21, the Vanguard ran an article on patriotic observances and protests to them. Enough points were raised about my position, and what others believed it to be, to raise my level of interest enough to write an article about my true feelings, not those that others would ascribe to me.
I believe that symbols, such as the flag, a national anthem, or those belonging to a religion are of variable importance to the people to whose beliefs they pertain. The degree of attachment to a symbol may or may not have any relationship to how intensely one feels about one’s country or one’s religion. For example, some Christians choose to wear a cross. Others do not. That certainly is no measure of the strength of their religious belief. I have no strong attachments to any purely symbolic item, be it flag, national anthem, or pledge. That does not mean that I love my country any more or less than anyone else. It simply means that I have not formed the symbolic attachment that many have.
I do not believe that my choice of means to show respect should be considered in any way as “patronizing” anyone else. We have a supposedly free country in which I should be able to express my adherence, or respect for the adherence of others, to a means of showing respect in any way of my choosing – be that remaining seated, standing, taking a knee, singing or pledging. That is my right as a citizen. I see no reason that my right should not carry the same weight or be more or less respected than anyone else’s.
I have also faced this dilemma of how to show appropriate respect in a number of religious settings. As someone who has developed a deep spirituality and system of morals not associated with any of the major religious traditions, it is often hard for me to know how to remain both true to myself and respectful of the worshipers at events I have attended. I have chosen to seek guidance from the congregants on those occasions. While in Turkey, on the advice of Muslim family members, I covered my head only when entering a mosque or other sacred space. When attending a Jewish ceremony recently, I asked about proper attire and was told that a head covering, while not necessary, would be appreciated and so I chose to wear one from those offered at the entrance. I rose and stood with the assembly and sat when they sat even though the ritual held no religious meaning for me. I did it out of respect as I had been assured was appropriate. At a Catholic memorial service, I likewise followed the advice of my friend and rose, kneeled and sat when they did, but of course did not take part in communion.
I do not know how any of those actions were perceived by the members of the various congregations who did not know me. There may have been some there who perceived my actions as insincere or egregious in some way. What I do know is that I had no such intent and was following advice from one of their congregants on the most appropriate behavior.
So now, back to patriotism. When I was in junior high, I was faced with a dilemma. I knew that I did not agree with the militarism of our national anthem. I knew that I did not see that the pledge of allegiance to a “flag” was in keeping with my growing sense of how our country often does not live up to our stated national goals. I could, however, see it as an aspirational statement that in my mind had nothing at all to do with the flag. Because we still recited the pledge of allegiance daily in school, and frequently sang the national anthem at assemblies, I asked for advice both from my mother and from my homeroom teacher. Fortunately, both took me seriously and we worked out a means that both felt would be acceptable. I was to stand silently out of respect for the beliefs of the other students. If there were parts of the pledge or anthem that I felt comfortable with, I could certainly join in. Never during the remainder of junior high school, high school, college or any public event has this ever been a problem. I have been asked on occasion, but never criticized once I have explained the reasons behind my choice.
One last question was asked that I would like to address. That is about what symbols would I like to see used that I could fully support. I like David’s response about the Constitution since it is both a founding document, and an eloquent statement of the aspirations of our nation which is not inherently militaristic in nature. As for a national anthem, I favor America The Beautiful as a statement of that which is cherished by all in our nation, without regard to militaristic prowess or superiority over other humans or their choices. I truly believe that it is possible to strongly adhere to our own beliefs, without adversely judging those of others. As a strong proponent of diversity, this mutual respect is what I would like to see for our country.