“I kneel only to God. I don’t see him here.” –John Abruzzi, Prison Break
There is plenty of talk about sports players kneeling during the national anthem. They are using it as an outward sign to shine a light on the history of oppression of various groups in the United States of America. Or at least that is what I think they have been saying.
This poses some interesting issues. Considering the fact that kneeling has been the quintessential sign of respect and devotion for millennia, it is somewhat baffling that people take it as a sign of disrespect.
In the Catholic Church, we kneel before our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, during the transubstantiation. A man kneels to propose to a woman. A person would kneel or genuflect before a king or a pope to show respect, as a sign that their office is worth respecting.
But then there is the national anthem, during which people stand erect and cover their hearts. This has always been somewhat of a strange thing to me. If we are to recognize that the heart is the symbol of love, or of who we are, then why would we cover it up? Symbolism can be found in a lot of things with regards to gestures.
When I was a kid in Boy Scouts (before I quit due to artistic differences), my scoutmaster told me that everyone shakes hands with their right hand because the right hand is closer to the heart. That made perfect sense to me as a kid, because I did not have even a basic understanding of human anatomy. It does not make sense to me now.
Thinking of nonsense brings us back again to athletes kneeling for the anthem. Upon reflection, I cannot escape the conclusion that the gesture that offends so many patriotic Americans serves no sensible purpose whatsoever. Let’s start by accepting the assumptions of the kneelers: that the U.S. is poisoned with racism, that people of color are systematically oppressed by powerful White men, and that they are periodically executed by racist police officers. Now let’s assume that we are highly-paid and celebrated athletes, and we want to stop the oppression. What might we do?
We might decide to tell the story of this oppression to other people of color who might rise up to oppose it. This story, however, is already known to virtually every person of color in the country. Black History Month reminds every school child of slavery and Jim Crow. The last President of the U.S. was a Black man who regularly spoke about the continuing oppression of his people, and characterized police forces and other societal institutions as racist. Virtually every Black politician and nearly all White members of the Democratic party condemn what they claim is continuing societal racism on a regular basis. I’d venture to say that films and T.V. and Internet entertainments regularly condemn continuing White racism. Do you know a Black or Brown individual who is unaware of this characterization of our institutions? I don’t.
We might decide to appeal to sympathetic Whites and shame them into lifting their personal oppression and into persuading others to join them. Again, however, what White oppressor is so uneducated and so cut-off from popular culture as to be unaware of the complaints of those allegedly oppressed? There is no one I know off. Furthermore, the least effective way to persuade these people is to insult their country and disrespect their flag and their heroic relatives who served in the military.
Kneeling for the national anthem serves no educational purpose and serves no persuasive purpose. If we were out to persuade or educate we would not do so by using incredibly confusing symbolism. If we were rich, celebrated athletes we would write (or ghost-write) articles, we would give interviews, and we would organize to develop persuasive written and visual works. We would educate and persuade – not act out and offend.
The nonsense is not limited to the athletes themselves. Many, perhaps most, politicians, pundits, writers, and celebrities treat the kneeling nonsense as something important and worthy of respect. They scramble to show their support for the monumental silliness.
One of the reasons I love being a Catholic is because of the Catholic’s respect for the mind of God and the orderly universe He created. As a group, we try to follow in the mental footsteps of Augustine and Aquinas: we recognize that Faith and Reason can and must be reconciled. Following the precepts of the one true Church established by Christ requires respect for wisdom and prudence. It is the opposite of nonsense. It is transcendent sense.
That little boy who announced that the Emperor had no clothes – he was Catholic. Let’s follow his courageous example.