Today I direct your attention to a post by Charles Featherstone which is timely in light of the increasing prevalence of football players at all levels protesting the national anthem. Featherstone’s jumping-off point is an article by NY Times columnist David Brooks which argues that protesting the national anthem is counterproductive because the national anthem is one of the rituals of a civil religion which binds us together as a people and thereby forms the basis for anyone to even begin to push for social change. Sit out the national anthem and you undercut our shared civil religion, you undercut the very thing which holds us together as a people, and you undercut any sense of obligation which your fellow American citizens might feel towards you.
Featherstone pushes back, arguing that the solidarity promoted by the rituals of American civil religion is one built upon deliberate exclusion, that the sacrifices demanded by American civil religion are not a two-way street. You can participate in the rituals of American civil religion all you want, but if its leaders and your fellow participants see you as an outsider, there is nothing you can do about it. Unlike religious ritual, the American civil religion provides no means of atonement for sin and restoration to community for those who are excluded for whatever reason. You can sing the national anthem or recite the pledge of allegiance all day long, but no mere recitation of words will change your status if you are excluded from the community of American civil religion.
In light of this, though I do not agree with Colin Kaepernick or any who follow in his footsteps, I certainly understand them. If I had experienced what they have experienced, I would probably be doing the same thing myself, or would certainly feel like it at least.