In symbolic gestures they trust
“This is simply an exercise in saying, ‘We’re more religious than the other people, we’re more godly than the other people, and by the way, let’s waste time and divert people’s attention from the real issues that we’re not dealing with,’ like unemployment,” [Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.)] said.
A GOP-backed resolution reaffirming “In God We Trust” as the national motto passed overwhelmingly in the U.S. House this week when all but eight Democrats (and one Republican) refused to step into a culture-war trap.
Given that there’s no movement afoot to alter the motto, is it an act of piety or a blasphemy to use the name of God for a cheap political stunt?
But beyond that, why is it the proper business of a nation with a secular government to officially declare that its people trust in God, particularly when the laws are quite clear that you’re no less an American if you don’t trust or even believe in God?
The U.S. Department of the Treasury explains that Salmon P. Chase, who headed the department during the Civil War, responded to calls from the clergy to “relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism” by asking the director of the U.S. Mint to craft a motto for coinage suggesting that “no nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in his defense.”
You don’t have to be an ignominious heathen to think a freedom-loving government oversteps its bounds when it issues an opinion like that, then, in 1956, cements that opinion by making “In God We Trust” the national motto.
But you have to be prepared to be portrayed as an ignominious heathen if you say so. The Republicans on Capitol Hill are well aware that many voters, even those who pay lip service to freedom of religion, feel that true patriotism and good character are impossible without a belief in some sort of God.
They are fine — more than fine — with an official, implicit endorsement of religion that marginalizes the minority of nonbelievers. They would freak out at the idea of replacing the motto with “In Reason We Trust,” even though a reliance on reason is fundamental to the crafting of our laws and the daily functioning of our society.
But anyway. What is it that the collective “we” are supposed to be trusting God to do or not do, as the case may be?
I put this question to one of the sharpest theological minds I know, Phil Blackwell, senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple.
“At best, it implies that we trust God to provide a context of meaning by which we can make sense out of public life,” he replied, of “what matters most, what is of highest value, how we trust one another and what we do with all that we have.
“At worst, it suggests that God will help us to win battles, dominate economically, be immune to natural disasters and assume a privileged place in the world.”
Split the difference and you have a banality — a ceremonial, vaguely smug watchword that strips faith of just enough real meaning to let it squeeze under the constitutional bar.
Those who oppose it don’t have a prayer.
- Action Alert: “In God We Trust” motto to be reauthorized (secularnewsdaily.com)
- “In God We Trust” resolution is divisive, unnecessary (secularnewsdaily.com)
- Protest ‘In God We Trust’ vote in U.S. House (secularnewsdaily.com)
- Vote affirming ‘In God We Trust’ motto is a Republican jobs plan. Sort of. (dailykos.com)
- Shermer on “In God We Trust” [EvolutionBlog] (scienceblogs.com)