The Flag Burning Amendment and Idolatry

We are getting on to summer,  and summer has always been a whacky season of the year, a time for fun and games, a time where people seem to loose their sense of seriousness and go out of their way to do things that they simply would not consider in other times of the year. Of course, politically, we are also heading for an election month, in November, so the politicians are working extra hard to show the people who they represent that they are working hard.

That is the preface to my discussion of the Constitutional Amendment to ban the burning of the American flag…an amendment that solves nothing, is not at all likely to pass, and is far more for show than it is for accomplishing anything substantive.

Mind you. I am very much against people burning the flag, and very angry at people who do so. For me, the flag is symbolic of many things that I hold rather dear …when I see the flag, I think of all those who came before and fought so that flag can fly. I think of Iwo Jima, of course, and what the raising of that flag on Mount Suribachi must have meant to those thousands of Marines fighting and dying in the heat and dust of a summer day on a volcanic island. I think of Major Arthur MacArthur, Grandfather of General Douglas MacArthur, carrying the Flag to the heights of Missionary Ridge, and waving it for his comrades. I think of the American Revolution, and the suffering of those at Valley Forge, men who persevered, though there was no hope or succor at the time…and I have been known to get very weepy. When someone who deliberately goes out of their way to show disrespect for something that I value is very low on my scale of what constitutes a human being.

However, the flag, itself, is simply a symbol. If I destroy a flag, I have not destroyed what the flag stands for, I have simply demonstrated my contempt for (and, often enough, the lack of knowledge of) what the flag stands for. The flag, itself, is simply an idol, a representation of something, but not that thing itself.

Idolatry is most often thought of in a religious sense. The Ten commandments cautions us against worshipping false idols. The symbol of the man on a Cross is an idol, something which is worshipped in lieu of worshipping the actual figure. Idolatry makes sense in a religious context. We rarely get to see the God we worship, and having a representation of the Gods gives us a focus.

Idolatry, the worship of a representation of an idea or a figure, inhabits the political arena. It serves the same function as it does in a religious context, serving as a focus for our political feelings, but, also, in that way it can become pernicious. We wind up worshipping the idol, itself, forgetting what the idol is supposed to represent and, more often than not, place the idol in a place of importance greater than what the idol does, in fact, represent. We forget that the idol is only a piece of stone or fabric, ultimately, not the thing. We do not have Gods inhabiting those idols; what they represent are ideals, and ideals cannot be destroyed by the destruction of the symbols of those ideals.

This is why I oppose the flag burning amendment, and am not unhappy that it is disappearing. We have a constitutional right, in this country, to be idiots. If we want to show how much we disrespect the nation which supports us, I do not think there is anyone who would argue that you should not have that right. That for which you show disrespect will still be there after you burn your flag, or sing mocking songs, or whatever form you want to demonstrate disrespect. Burning the flag will not destroy of what this country is made, and there are more appropriate responses to someone who does that than calling the cops. Punch the person in the nose, if that is what you want to do, or sing “God Bless America” or hold a pro-flag rally. Just do not ask the government to do your work for you. As an American, it is up to you, not the government, to protect your rights as an American.

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