To what or to whom shall we pledge our allegiance?
I first created and published the Earth Pledge poster in 1992, 25 years ago. It has had an extraordinary shelf life. It was ahead of its time, which just means that although there were plenty of people back then who appreciated its sentiment, in the intervening years that group has grown larger and more mainstream. It has become increasingly difficult to ignore human accountability in the health or sickness of environmental systems that sustain life as we know it. And even though we, especially we as individuals, don’t exactly know how to change our ways, recognizing our responsibility is a step in the right direction.
I got the idea for the Earth Pledge poster from a child-illustrated postcard with an alternative Pledge of Allegiance a friend sent me. He was running a small alternative school at the time. An alternative pledge for an alternative school. I liked the idea and asked for permission to use the idea with my own wording.
When you make anything and put it out into the world, you get the chance to see first-hand how one item=many different opinions.
This poster has had its admirers and its detractors.
Since the traditional US Pledge of Allegiance shows up mostly in schools, The Earth Pledge has been popular with teachers who wanted to offer their students an alternative to God-appropriated, God-justified nationalism. NH and Maine Veterans for Peace used it on their high school book cover project (they offer free book covers to counterbalance those provided by the US military).
One woman who owned a store told me she could not carry the poster or notecard because it said “the Earth” instead of just “Earth” which she insisted was the correct name of our planet.
In 2012 a thread titled Found in a high school classroom opened up on Reddit/Atheism after someone posted an photo of the Earth Pledge poster. It was brought to my attention by a sudden spate of orders. In reading the thread I found out that my poster had been used more than once in 2009 by Glenn Beck to show exactly what godless liberal teachers foist upon their innocent charges. See: here and here (1.3 minutes in). I was honored, though of course Glenn forgot to mention the artist or where you could get your very own copy of this godless liberal alternative to the mom, apple-pie, love it or leave it, God-is-definitely-on-our-side Pledge.
The Reddit thread was a fascinating discussion — an inquiry into whether or not the Earth Pledge poster had anything to do with atheism. Very mixed opinions on this question. The fulcrum of the conversation was whether or not the artist was an atheist or a Christian. (The group as a whole seemed to ignore other faith possibilities.) Many decided I was a Christian based on other images I have made.
The reason the Reddit group had a hard time categorizing my take on reality is that it has always been my aim to point out that the sacred cannot be appropriated by anything less than itself. Trying to shove the sacred into a particular little club and then slam the door is like trying to fit Wilt Chamberlain into a VW bug. (Best ads ever dept.) The form cannot contain the content. It’s like trying to fit the ocean into a thimble.
A thimbleful of water from the ocean is no longer part of the ocean; it’s just a thimbleful of salt water.
Yet there is an even smaller category of particularity than a God club which has the power to perceive or at least intuit the whole and meet it with humility and reverence. And that, my friends, is us. Each one of us.
You can look at any number of images and photos of ‘the big picture’ to remember how big and complex is this world/universe/universes in which we live. You can look at the ‘you are here’ pics for a sense of your smallness in the universe, but few pictures show that the universe within is as big as the outer one and just as hard to fathom.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here. (Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann) I want the direct message, and I also want the context: the big picture and the intensely small and personal picture all put together. Using the world ‘child’ implies a mother, and it implies that you are wanted and that you are loved. When I made this poster I wanted to accentuate the personal in the context of the big picture.
What I have come to feel at this stage of life is that yes, we need to be reminded of the big and beautiful picture early and often, and we need to be reminded even more emphatically that we, each one of us, is the center of the universe in our responsibility to life — to our own brief and enigmatic lives.
By responsibility I don’t mean some heavy-handed king/dad telling you what you have to do; I mean that when we see ourselves as responsive beings then we can respond — we can take each moment as a new opportunity for creativity, accomplishment and love.
It is only when I align myself with the deep beauty and wonder at the heart of life that I feel brave enough and safe enough to perceive the existence of the unfathomable universe within. It is only by pledging allegiance to that place within myself that I find the courage and grace to grapple with the complexity of my weird little life on this planet.
Yes, we need to stop trashing the planet and each other.
Yes, we need to see that we are part of complex interconnected systems (the big picture) so that we can get out of our own way enough to see cause and effect. If we can do that we might be able to quit causing effects that don’t help and help to cause ones that do.
But the ‘we’ thing is only a you and me thing put together. Each one of us is the wo/man on the spot, in our own time and space location. So maybe I need to make a poster that says:
I pledge allegiance to myself and all the life which I support. One person, under the sun, irreplaceable, with humor and patience for all.
Because until you see yourself as the irreplaceable particularity you are, it is hard to know how to make the most of your moment under the sun.
Because pledging allegiance to yourself as an irreplaceable component of the big picture makes it easier to accept how valuable you are, and how much we need you.