“I Don’t Pledge …”

       And when the Roman Proconsul pressed him again and said, “Swear by the genius of Caesar,” Polycarp answered, “Since you are vainly urgent that, as you say, I should swear by the genius of Caesar, and pretend not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness:  I am a Christian …  [And] we [Christians] are taught to give all due honor to the powers and authorities ordained by God as long as it does not entail injury to ourselves.”   

                                The Martyrdom of Polycarp, X 

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Did you ever wonder why the national anthem is sung at major athletic events, and not at, say, rock concerts, ballets, symphonies, plays, poetry readings, or performances of Broadway musicals?

The reason is simple:  the professional sports establishment is, in effect, an adjunct of the State.  It’s a branch of the military-industrial complex, a tool for propagating patriotic sentiment, loyalty to country, and nationalistic pride.

It’s not without cause that in 2009, just eight years after 9/11, the U.S. Defense Department began paying the NFL to “encourage” its players to participate in the singing of the national anthem.  According to Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, “nearly $5.4 million were paid out to fourteen NFL teams between 2011 and 2014 to honor service members and put on elaborate ‘patriotic salutes’ to the military.”[i]  This is the reality behind President Donald Trump’s suggestion that not standing for the national anthem constitutes an affront to military veterans.

Trump’s critics have denied this, of course.  Fox News’s Shepard Smith, for example, has stated that players who take the knee are not “attacking the anthem, troops, and flag …”[ii]  Actor and civil rights activist Jesse Williams has gone even further, asserting, “This anthem thing is a scam.  This is not actually part of football.”[iii]

Unfortunately, it is.  Much as some of us may hate to admit it, Trump’s sensibilities are, in this instance, closer to the truth than Williams’s.  There is in fact an inescapable logic behind his excoriation of the protesting NFL players.  In the final analysis, football and the anthem do go hand-in-hand.  That’s because the sports establishment exists primarily to promote the interests of the State.

French sociologist Jacques Ellul understood this.  In his landmark 1954 book, The Technological Society (La Technique), he stated the case in the following terms:


          “It is needless to speak of the totalitarian frame of mind for which the exercise of sports paves the way.  We constantly hear that the vital thing is ‘team spirit,’ and so on.  It is worth noting that technicized sport was first developed in the United States, the most conformist of all countries, and that it was then developed as a matter of course by the dictatorships, Fascist, Nazi, and Communist, to the point that it became an indispensable constituent element of totalitarian regimes.

          “Sport is an essential factor in the creation of the mass man.”[iv]


It is also needless – or should be – to point out that this “totalitarian frame of mind” is not only incompatible with the Pilgrim’s identity as a stranger and sojourner in the world, but inimical to the Pilgrim’s determination to “pledge allegiance” to no one and nothing but his Lord.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick deserves a word of commendation for being Christian enough to decline participation in “elaborate patriotic salutes” that belie the Pilgrim’s fundamental calling.  In his case, there’s just one question remaining:

Is he also Christian enough to give up football?         


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[i] Melanie Schmitz, “How the NFL sold patriotism to the U.S. military for millions;” thinkprogress.org, September 25, 2017.

[ii] Steven Ruiz, “Fox News’ Shepard Smith on NFL protests:  They’re not attacking the anthem;” USA Today, For the Win, September 25, 2017.

[iii] Schmitz.

[iv] Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, pp. 382-384.

Absolute Enemy

“Power according to men, as well as the spirit of power which that brings about, is truly the absolute enemy of God.  God is with those who have little power whether they have chosen this way or whether they are found involuntarily in this situation; and at issue is both material and spiritual power.  Inversely, those who have power, of whatever kind, always turn away from God.”

— Jacques Ellul, Apocalypse:  The Book of Revelation, 138.


“I still love books.  Nothing a computer can do can compare to a book.  You can’t really put a book on the Internet.  Three companies have offered to put books by me on the Net, and I said, ‘If you can make something that has a nice jacket, nice paper with that nice smell, then we’ll talk.’  All the computer can give you is a manuscript.  People don’t want to read manuscripts.  They want to read books.  Books smell good.  They look good.  You can press it to your bosom.  You can carry it in your pocket.”

— Ray Bradbury

War Prayer

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them!  With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.  O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells, help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead, help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain.   Help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire, help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief, help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unbefriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun-flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!  We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.  Amen.”

— Mark Twain, “The War Prayer”

Thinking Christianly

” … Try the following experiment.  Take some topic of current political importance.  Try to establish in your own mind what is the right policy to recommend in relation to it; and do so in total detachment from any political alignment or prejudice; form your conclusions by thinking christianly.  Then discuss the matter with fellow-members of your congregation.  The full loneliness of the thinking Christian will descend upon you.  It is not that people disagree with you.  (Some do and some don’t.)  In a sense that does not matter.  But they will not think christianly. They will think pragmatically, politically, but not christianly.  In almost all cases you will find that views are wholly determined by political allegiance.  Though he does not face it, the loyalty of the average Churchman to the Conservative Party or the Labour Party is in practical political matters prior to his loyalty to the Church.”   

— Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind

Overcome Evil with Good

“The Son of the Highest, the great self-sacrificing Non-Resistant, is our prophet, priest, and king.  Though the maddened inhabitants of the earth have so long turned a deaf ear to his voice, he shall yet be heard.  He declares that good is the only antagonist of evil which can conquer the deadly foe.  Therefore he enjoins on his disciples the duty of resisting evil only with good.”  

— Adin Ballou, Christian Non-Resistance

Beware of Men

Beware of Men


Beware of men in suits, my son;

Trust not thyself to a woman in heels:

Whose hope is in the gleaming, glittering hoard;

Whose souls were long since traded on exchange,

Bought and sold

For silver and gold.


Follow them not down plushy corridors,

Through halls of vain regard and empty praise,

Up glassed and brassy steps to penthouse peaks,

Lush with cool-roof chambers,

Void of cheer,

Smooth and sleek with stain of dark veneer.


Beware of him whose name is on the door,

Keep watch on her who sits enthroned within,

Whose tongues like cooing birds behind their hands

Sift lies through smiles

And whispering wiles

And falter not while hope of conquest stands. 


Beware!  Their dewlapped hearts are far from thee,

Enwrapped in bills and bonds and shares and notes,

Blanketed and muffled to the ears

Against thy sad and solitary cry.      

Not fallen earth

Nor barren birth   

Can move them to the brink of bitter tears.   


Be not deceived nor follow in their way;

Forgo their cocktails, shun their happy hours.

No longer do they mind the soul’s bright spring:

They weep not with the dew

Nor shiver with the rain

Nor tremble with the leaf nor feel the pain.


Forsake the stocking sheer, the silken tie;

Return to the soil and taste the tang of earth. 

Put hand to plough, face front and trace thy furrow, 

Reclaim the dark and fecund fertile land.

Plant thy seed

Against thy need

And look not back where whitening pillars stand.

The Establishment

“The notion that this world, and the powers of it, are in the grip of evil, is too well established in Christian teaching to be lightly disregarded …

“By ‘the world’ I mean what the Church has always meant by ‘the world’ — and this surely includes the official and respectable earthly set-up, the thing ruled over by the Powers-that-be; indeed (there is no escaping the word) what we now call ‘the Establishment.’  This needs to be said, for we have now sufficiently secularized our minds to be in the habit of viewing the social and political set-up in which we are involved as something wholly, or largely, good in the eyes of God …

“… The Church can never truly ally itself either with our materialistic Conservatism or our materialistic Socialism.  For the Church is up against the Establishment.  It always was.”

                 — Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind    


“Public opinion surveys always reveal that people have opinions even on the most complicated questions, except for a small minority (usually the most informed and those who have reflected most).  The majority prefers expressing stupidities to not expressing any opinions:  this gives them the feeling of participation.”

                    — Jacques Ellul, Propaganda