On the Civil Religion and Kneeling

If you think that when Neo-Nazis and the KKK protested in Charlottesville, with a white supremacist murdering and injuring counter-protestors, that there were “some very fine people on both sides,” that this represents an insignificant fringe of American culture, and that media blew it out of proportion,

But also believe that black men kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism directed at their community is hugely disrespectful, and that they should be fired, you are probably racist.

If you think efforts to remove flags and monuments to the Confederate rebellion to preserve slavery, most of which were erected during the Civil Rights era, is a liberal assault upon American heritage, and that they should be left up,

But also believe that athletes kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racist treatment of black Americans is disrespectful, you are probably racist.

If you believe that left-wing protestors like Antifa have 1st Amendment rights to protest, but are exercising them in a way indistinguishable from mob action and evil rioting,

But also condemn athletes who peacefully protest by kneeling, you are probably racist.

If you think that America needs to be made great again because it is not great now, and elected a white man on that premise,

But are also disgusted at black men who say that America is not great now and show it in peaceful protest, you are probably racist.

I don’t think disapproving of the NFL protests makes someone a racist. Nor do I think standing for the national anthem or saying the Pledge of Allegiance makes someone an idolater. But there is certainly a coalescing in this issue of the American Civil Religion and our racist heritage. When the liturgy and symbols of the civil religion are disrupted, the worshippers become unhappy. I don’t know if the people condemning the protestors are racist, but it is easier to do so when the protestors are demonstrating against racism and are themselves mostly black.

The argument that these protests are disrespecting the flag, nation, and military, or are an unnecessary interjection of politics into sports are silly (I speak as a veteran).

So much of our regular customs violate the United States Flag Code, but sitting or kneeling during the national anthem are not some of them. There is a massive disconnect when players kneeling in protest is considered disrespectful of the national anthem, but fans booing the players during the anthem is not; these people are literally disrupting the anthem! Why are players being considered disrespectful for kneeling as a form of protest, but a police union refusing to participate in the ceremony (protesting!) because of the players is not a problem? Because the kneeling players are protesting our national sin.

With the NFL in particular, the practice of teams being on the field for the national anthem only began in 2009. Most of these very patriotic displays at sporting events are a post-9/11 phenomenon, with millions in funding by the Pentagon for propaganda and recruiting purposes. The congressional report done by Republicans calls them “paid patriotism.” The national anthem and these patriotic displays are themselves political interjections into sports, though not partisan or controversial. Displays celebrating the state and its agents, even if noble, are still political. The political interjection did not start with Colin Kaepernick.

The identification of the flag, pledge, and anthem with the military is one of the greatest propaganda coups of all time. These do not represent the military and its members’ sacrifices, but the nation and the state. The athletes kneeling during the national anthem are not protesting America, much less its military, but ongoing discrimination of American citizens. The military ostensibly fights to protect the rights of all Americans, and when those rights appear to be violated, protest is an acceptable way of honoring the military’s efforts. And many veterans agree.

If what is meant when it is said that, “the military sacrificed for your freedom” is really “the military sacrificed for your obligated support of state propaganda,” it is not freedom at all. Using the military’s service to guilt-trip people into standing during the anthem or pledging to the flag is to co-opt the very idea of freedom for which the military sacrificed.

None of this is to say that people are wrong not to kneel during the national anthem. But the events of the last few days have demonstrated the clear, underlying racism and idolatry of America among many Christians.

And of course,