Monday, January 31, 2011

In God We (Should Not) Trust

"In God We Trust." That's the lovely message we get every time we save up quarters for laundry, or pay cash for our groceries. Schoolchildren are made to repeat the sentiment that all of our country is superseded by a divine power when they recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day.

And some members of Congress feel that we don't remember it enough.

As a nation that at least tries to maintain the appearance of opposing government-sponsored religion, the United States seems to be doing a poor job at keeping God out of government when Congressmen are sponsoring bills like this one:
Reaffirming ‘In God We Trust’ as the official motto of the United States and supporting and encouraging the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions.
Whereas ‘In God We Trust’ is the official motto of the United States;
Whereas the sentiment, ‘In God We Trust’, has been an integral part of United States society since its founding;
Whereas in times of national challenge or tragedy, the people of the United States have turned to God as their source for sustenance, protection, wisdom, strength, and direction;
Whereas the Declaration of Independence recognizes God, our Creator, as the source of our rights, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’;
Whereas the national anthem of the United States says ‘praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation . . . and this be our motto: in God is our trust.’;
Whereas the words ‘In God We Trust’ appear over the entrance to the Senate Chamber and above the Speaker’s rostrum in the House Chamber;
Whereas the oath taken by all Federal employees, except the President, states ‘I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.’;
Whereas John Adams said, ‘Statesmen may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.’;
Whereas if religion and morality are taken out of the marketplace of ideas, the very freedom on which the United States was founded cannot be secured;
Whereas as President Eisenhower said and President Ford later repeated, ‘Without God, there could be no American form of government, nor, an American way of life.’; and
Whereas President John F. Kennedy said, ‘The guiding principle and prayer of this Nation has been, is now, and ever shall be ‘In God We Trust.’: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress reaffirms ‘In God We Trust’ as the official motto of the United States and supports and encourages the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions.
Personally, the last three "whereas"es are the ones I find most objectionable. I'm an atheist; am I not American? Is this committee suggesting that it is impossible to be good without God?

Fact of the matter is, we don't all trust in God. We don't all have a wonderful, fact-ignoring faith in some divine power that watches over us and judges us for silly things like loving a person of the same gender or daring to disobey one's parents. While non-theists are not a majority here in the States, we do exist, and God is one thing we do not trust.

It's not just a matter of principle. Yes, I do believe that the principle of separation of church and state should be enough to keep statements of direct support for religion from becoming the motto of the United States, but it is more than that. When our nation says that it supports religion, it is essentially alienating those who do not believe. It is saying that "American atheist" is an oxymoron, because if you're American, you'd damn well better believe. Because God is who the nation trusts.

Now, "In God We Trust" has not always been the motto of the United States of America. Not so long ago, the de facto motto was "E Pluribus Unum" -- out of many, one. It was a secular statement of unity. It was nondiscriminatory. It was a perfectly fine motto for a melting-pot country of people with different origins, different traditions, and different religions. But in 1956 (just a year after the addition of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge), "In God We Trust" was named the official motto by the 84th Congress. In perspective, this was an action taken to bolster the nationalist sentiments of the time; the second Red Scare was in full swing, and all this rebranding of the United States was done in an effort to differentiate us from them -- we couldn't possibly have anything in common with those damn atheist communists!

Even then, it was a terrible idea. Atheism and communism were not at all mutually inclusive. Inserting God into the various trappings of national pride has, in my opinion, done a lot to hurt the atheist community in the United States. It has literally made disbelief in deities into something un-American, to the point where President George H.W. Bush was quoted as having said, "... I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.… I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists." Now, there's no proof that this was actually said, but isn't its believability enough to say something about our society? Even if the President didn't say it, there are enough people in this country that would support that statement that it is a distinct problem.

Just look at the politicians who (more-or-less) run the country. How many atheists are there in Congress?

None who will admit it. Of the 535 members of the 112th Congress, not a single one claims to be unaffiliated with any religion. The closest they come is saying that they "don't know" or "refuse to say." To put this into perspective, over 16% of adult Americans claim to be unaffiliated with any religious group. The only religious groups with larger numbers than the non-religious are Catholics and Baptists, each of which are well-represented in Congress.

This lack of representation for a significant portion of citizens (as well as the large number of violations of the separation of church and state) is the bitter crop we reap as a nation when we label groups as being un-American. Today, to identify as an atheist is political suicide. A 2007 Gallup poll showed that when it came to voting for a President, 53% of Americans would not support an atheist candidate, regardless of his or her views on policy, simply because they were an atheist.

Religion being pushed by the government, even if it is "ceremonial deism" or some other nonsense label used to excuse the practice of shoehorning God into places he ought to stay out of, is part of the problem here. So why is Congress wasting time that could be used on useful endeavors to remind us that the motto of the United States is "In God We Trust"?

Via Friendly Atheist


  1. As an atheist, I am tempted to submit a brief supporting this legislation:

    Whereas, the secularization of the concept of "God" and divorcing of same from its traditional role will weaken religion;

    Whereas, religion has been the enemy of progress in science, technology, and education;

    Whereas, religion has contributed to intergroup discrimination and conflict;

    Whereas, an empty motto, mindlessly repeated, safely removes "god" from the context of holy books, sermons, scriptures, or other dangerous and inflammatory writing;

    Whereas, the Supreme Court has ruled that the motto is not religious but secular, and thus legally does not represent the god or gods of the bible, koran, talmud, bhagavad gita, or any other religious text, now therefore be it

    Resolved, that god continue to be trivialized and marginalized, by means of the continued printing of "in god we trust" on the very items, the love of which is considered the root of all evil.

  2. Great essay! I'm in total agreement. I have shared it on my FB Keep God Out Of Government page. I hope that's okay. Let me know, if not. Thanks. -Barry DeCarli