When I was in high school, there was a group of kids who would form a circle around the flagpole outside of the entrance every morning to pray, their entreaties to God echoing as Old Glory fluttered against the sky. Our town had a fair number of Born Again Christians, as did the small hamlets that surrounded it like remoras around a shark. Not that my town was a large aquatic cartilaginous predator in the literal sense, but looking back in some ways I can see that it had dangers of its own.
These Born Agains were friendly. They never caused trouble, and the kids tended to be polite, well-adjusted, and smart. They definitely had their own clique, but they weren’t cliquey. And often, kids I never expected to be particularly religious turned out to be members of one or another of the big churches in the area.
One time a friend of mine, knowing I was a musician and an artist and a Christian like him, invited me to a Christian rock concert at his church. I was flattered by the invitation and didn’t view it as a covert method of converting me away from Orthodoxy or anything like that. No, it was simply a guy I had a lot in common with letting me know one afternoon in art class that he thought I’d enjoy the show.
I drove to his church that night and saw a band called Manassas Junction play. There were a lot of people from my school; turns out a lot of their parents had become Born Agains at some point, rediscovering Jesus Christ or discovering him for the first time. One girl a year older than me that I was friendly with but not friends with per se was in attendance. She was cool. She played French Horn or something in band, and her younger brother was friends with my buddy’s younger brother. Small towns, you know? Everybody knows everyone.
The band was good. This was around 1998 or 1999, so it was proto-emo with a religious bent. I remember the drummer had a huge kit partially affixed to a mobile rack so they could just wheel it on stage. Pretty cool, although I laughed at how preposterous it would be to have a rock concert, no matter how religious the band was, inside of an Orthodox church or cathedral.
It’s kids praying around the flag outside of the school that I think about. I ponder their humility and their obedience to the powers that be, rendering to Caesar what his Caeser’s and all of that. You see, they were not allowed to pray inside of the school. The wonderful laws of this wonderful land prohibited them legally and Constitutionally from having a Bible study and prayer group on school grounds after classes. But the LGBT club—the acronym was only four-letters long in those days—was allowed to meet, full-speed ahead. What a wonderful country we have .
After-school Satan clubs are apparently okay as well, but filthy Christians have to keep our prayers to ourselves.
And still, these kids prayed around the American flag. I do not remember what they said when they prayed, and I never joined them. Should I have joined them? Perhaps. Perhaps it was cowardly of me not to. I didn’t proudly profess my faith in those days. If people asked, I’d tell them I was a Christian. I never denied my belief in God who created us, in Jesus Christ as the only begotten son of God who rose from the dead and defeated death by death, or the Holy Spirit. I do shamefully confess to, at times, denying that I believed in certain parts of Christian doctrine. I was what you might call a “cafeteria Christian” at the time. For a year I even thought I was an atheist. Hey, I was a moronic and arrogant seventeen-year-old boy—what can I say?
The devotion these kids had to a system that, let’s be honest, only tolerates Christians because there are too many of us was somewhat admirable. Remember, this was 20 years ago. We thought anti-Christian bias was pretty bad then. Our town also had a progressive type of woman—one of my classmate’s mothers—who was big into far-left causes like teaching third-graders about sex. That’s not hyperbole: She came into my third-grade class one morning to do just that. She also drove a successful effort to get the town to build a “Family Resource Center” that we all knew existed to hand out condoms and birth-control pills to high-schoolers and helped pregnant girls get abortions. Cool country!
At some point, though, what I viewed as admirable I now see as a form of self-abuse. The idea of abasing oneself before, or showing devotion to, those who hate you repulses me. We are not commanded to be self-loathing doormats. What about Shadrach, Meschach, and Abdenego, as chronicled by the prophet Daniel, refusing to bow to the golden idol?
What about them indeed.
It’s easy to say that maybe we should defy unjust and immoral laws and another to do it. There is no shame in trying to protect one’s livelihood until such an opportunity to resist, or exit the system, arises; we do have a duty to ensure our families’ well-being after all. However, we don’t have to actively participate in our own humiliation. And the well-being of our family includes the moral and spiritual as well as they material and physical. We might not be thrown into a firey furnace, but surely we can rely on divine providence to protect us from the worst.
I now see that flagpole prayer as a humiliation ritual. It was, I suppose, more excusable in 1998 or 1999. It’s inexcusable—I hesitate to say unforgiveable—now. There will come a time where what was ingrained into us has to be abandoned. We were lied to about so much by so many for so long. Many of these lies were truths when our parents and grandparents were young and learning about such things. Many of these lies were told to us by well-meaning adults for whom America worked as advertised for most of their lives. Many, however, were told to us by those desiring to turn us into unquestioning drones ready to pull the lever for two slightly different flavors of the same thing while consuming product. I’ve often said that my generation was subjected to psychological experiments without our consent, and I’ve seen little to convince me I am incorrect.
The cold, hard light of reason mandates that we stop showing obeisance to a system that hates us, but more importantly so does our consciences. I’m not saying it’s the time to actively press S to spit—after all, a nation is more than just its government at a given time—but it’s certainly time to stop pressing F to pay our respects.