In God We Trust

04 Jul

As I was leaving a grocery store yesterday, I noticed a display that was stuffed and overflowing with Christian pamphlets. One of them was entitled, “In God We Trust: What Does It Still Mean?” This pamphlet is the basis of today’s post.

Many atheist bloggers and podcasters have explained why they find this motto offensive and have argued that it should be removed from American currency. In response, or perhaps as a pre-emptive move, many theists have claimed that the motto is merely a reference to something they call “ceremonial deism.” Atheists have generally countered this statement with something like, “If it’s merely ceremonial, then what’s the harm in removing it?” To my knowledge, theists have not had an effective response to that query.

For the sake of argument, and also because it’s probably true, I will concede that many people, Christians, Jews, Muslims, probably don’t really care one way or the other whether the phrase remains on American currency. But, as the pamphlet I am about to deconstruct demonstrates, there are some Christians (I have no way of determining how few or how many) who take the phrase seriously and who consider it to be much more than just a “ceremonial” statement.

The pamphlet opens with these statements:

Printed boldly on the back of the United States currency is the motto “In God We Trust.” We have seen it so often that it may have lost its meaning to us. But found in these words is the secret to national and personal greatness.

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word trust as “a firm belief or confidence in the honesty, integrity, reliability and justice of another person or thing.”

When our founding fathers put their names to the Declaration of Independence, they believed that God was the only sure foundation upon which to build a nation that would endure. These men knew that this unique experiment in freedom would only stand the test of time by God’s grace. George Washington stated it simply, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible”.

These paragraphs clearly demonstrate that the Christians who print and distribute this pamphlet don’t view the phrase, “In God We Trust,” as a simple perfunctory, “ceremonial” statement; they view it as an explicit declaration of Christian faith. Following a dictionary citation that clarifies the author’s use of the word “trust,” he pulls out the old “Christian nation” rhetoric and appeals to the authority of George Washington – Father of Our Country – as if his statement represents the ideals, intentions and beliefs of all of the 56 men who signed the Declaration. Anyone who has read the writings of any of the founding fathers, and read historical and biographical accounts of their lives, knows that some of them were Trinitarian Christians, some were Unitarians, some were deists, etc. There was no singular doctrinal position that encompassed all of them, just as there is no singular doctrinal position that encompasses all Christians today.

The pamphlet goes on:

Reliance upon God was deeply rooted in our country’s important documents and institutions from the beginning. But today confidence in God and His Word is no longer the foundation of society.

If the USA’s important documents are so saturated with statements of reliance upon God, as the author claims, then why doesn’t he cite some statements from the documents to support his assertion? We all know why: because the statements do not exist. Therefore, the author must rely on the ignorance of his audience to accept his authority without question. And why shouldn’t he? Such unquestioning acceptance is drilled into many Christians from their early childhoods. Many children of conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist parents quickly learn what sorts of questions are acceptable and which ones are out of bounds.

Moving on, the pamphlet cites several examples to demonstrate that “confidence in God and His Word is no longer the foundation of society:”

In our schools the God of Creation has been replaced by the “god” of evolutionary chance. Truth has been replaced by relativism. Morality has been replaced by expediency.

In our homes we nightly view things that were unimaginable on television and in movies only a decade ago. Violence, sexual perversion and obscene language spill off the screen.

In the political arena God’s principles of truth and justice have often given way to expedience, personal profit, and compromise.

As we have departed from God, life has been devalued. The lives of unborn children are snuffed out in abortion clinics and the number of robberies, rapes and murders increases daily.

Wow! Homosexuality is the only hot-button issue that the author failed to integrate into this little diatribe. The old creation vs. evolution argument comes out and, no surprise here, evolution is misrepresented as a random, “chance” process. The truth vs. relativism argument is laughable, as science has done more to uncover “truth” than religion ever did. Science has been the key to learning, with great precision, how the universe operates. Religion, with its widely divergent explanations of the universe and humankind’s place in the cosmos is far more relativistic than scientific rationalism. Oh, yes – the pamphleteer will quickly point out that I’m placing all religions on the same plane, which is a grave error. Only one religion is right – and we all know which one that is, don’t we boys and girls? The morality vs. expediency dichotomy is rhetorically clever but substantively empty, as the author does not cite any examples to back up the claim.

Okay, I’ll do the author a favor and cite a couple of examples:

Example #1: the current presidential administration’s justifications of the use of torture strikes me as a glaring example of tossing aside morality for the sake of expediency.

Example #2: the current presidential administration’s use of faulty “intelligence” to justify invading and occupying a country that did not, in any way, threaten American security was another morally questionable move. Yes, I know there’s some uncertainty regarding whether the administration’s “intelligence” was merely flawed or faulty, or, more egregiously, completely false. For the sake of argument, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt.

Well, well – look at what we have here! The first two examples of morality being dumped for the sake of expediency that came to my mind were cases in which our nation’s outspokenly evangelical Christian president, aided and abetted by cohorts who may or may not share his faith, committed the offenses. Does that mean that Christianity is the source of expediency rather than morality? That goes against the grain of the usual argument doesn’t it? Maybe the pamphleteer was wise not to cite examples.

Moving on, we get to the old “sex and violence in media” complaint. Well, guess what? No one is forcing Christians to watch late night soft porn on HBO. No one is forcing them to line up at theaters to watch violent, sexually explicit or linguistically profane movies. The availability of those things to the public at large does not impinge on the rights of Christians to refuse to participate in them. We are not responsible if Christians can’t “resist temptation.” Maybe they need to pray harder for their God to “deliver them from evil” rather than insisting that the rest of us cater to their sensibilities in unreasonable and unnecessarily restrictive manners.

The pamphleteer next cites the flaws of the American political system as evidence of a nation that has wandered from its mooring in “God’s principles of truth and justice.” I’ll just cite my previous discussion of George W. Bush’s Christian principles in action. I believe that passage is all I need to say on this matter at this time.

Next, we get a favorite hot-button issue: the value of life as seen through the lens of abortion. Ah yes, those of us who oppose the war in Iraq, support stem-cell research and believe that women should control their own bodies certainly value life far less than those who support an unjust war that has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and mutilations, who support torture of fellow humans as a combat tactic, and who value blastocysts and embryos more than adult women. Contrary to what our pamphleteer wants readers to believe, believers and nonbelievers alike are represented at all points on the political spectrum on these issues. A comprehensive view of the value of life, human and otherwise, cannot be reduced to one issue, nor can any Christian properly claim to have the one, true Christian view of the issue. Unfortunately, it appears that such complexities and subtleties are beyond the intellectual grasp of our pamphleteer.

The pamphlet winds up to its big finish, the literary “altar call:”

It is time that we return to the values of God’s Word in our public and private lives so that He will heal our land. We must begin person by person on our knees, confessing our failure to trust God fully in our lives.

Today you can affirm your trust in God if you will:

1. Acknowledge that you need salvation: The Bible says, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
2. Recognize God’s love for you: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
3. Receive Jesus and His forgiveness, the only basis for encountering God. “As many as received Him [Jesus], to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12).

God is calling you to put your trust in Him today! Don’t ignore His call!

Ah, the old appeals to guilt, fear and Christian elitism. All have sinned…. Even those of us who don’t believe in the Christian concept of sin can look back with regret and wish we’d done something differently. It’s easy to feel guilty and it’s easy for religions to build that guilt and feed off of it. And God’s love…. Yeah, he loves me so much that, if I don’t believe and behave exactly as He prescribes (but which of the thousands of “authoritative” prescriptions is the right one?), I will be tortured forever. Nice. Finally, Jesus and His forgiveness form the only basis for encountering God. If one adheres to any religion other than Christianity, regardless of how sincerely that person believes, regardless of how morally that person lives, that person will be tortured for eternity. On the other hand, if one believes the Christian gospel, then one can become a “son” of God. I guess women need not apply.

There you have it – a typical Christian move from “ceremonial deism” to the Christian gospel. It’s clear that, regardless of the sincerity of those who believe that the motto, “In God We Trust,” is simply harmless sentiment, the phrase should be removed from American currency. First, it is not a statement that captures the intent of the founding fathers, and it is erroneous and misleading to present it as such. Second, it is a phrase that some outspoken Christians will continue to use as a bludgeon to beat their view of life into the heads of those who disagree with them. Third and finally, it is not a statement to which all Americans adhere. The right to dissent from such belief should be acknowledged and respected, which is precisely why the founders did not establish a theocracy. They established a secular republic. Secularism has been, and must continue to be, the key to American political, social and economic success. Accordingly, there is no place in a secular republic for a government-sanctioned declaration of trust in God. The sooner we all acknowledge that, the better off all of us, theists, deists, agnostics, atheists and wooists, will be.

— the chaplain

***UPDATE*** Per Eshu’s request, I am linking to the distributors of this and many other Christian tracts.


32 responses to “In God We Trust

  1. Spanish Inquisitor

    July 4, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    They cite God for their morality, yet they lie. Your first quote propagates a lie:

    George Washington stated it simply, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible”.

    Completely made up.

  2. The Exterminator

    July 4, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Writing an excellent post like this is the kind of thing you do on vacation?

    I agree with everything you said.

  3. PhillyChief

    July 4, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Dropping the hammer on a holiday while on vacation. Damn, I feel lazy.

    I would argue that whether they believed it or not, the call to rights coming from a god, not a king, was the moral foundation for justifying Independence to the Colonists and the world. It was a tool in other words, making use of the world wide belief at the time in a supreme being, and was not some affirmation for or an act of placing faith in and rely on that supreme being. Indeed, in order to have the Declaration resonate to as wide an audience as possible, they were of course vague and did not invoke “Jesus Christ” or the bible. Hell, most of the Founders themselves were deists of some sort.

    As Si pointed out, they lie from the get go and as you’ve shown in this post, continue to lie and deceive throughout. I would say there’s no greater truth about the value of a position than its dependence upon lies and deception in order to sell it to others.

  4. Ric

    July 4, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Hell, I don’t trust people, any people, much less the Tooth Fairy on steroids.

    Excellent post.

  5. Eshu

    July 5, 2008 at 2:31 am

    Nice post, thanks for the deconstruction. Would it be worth mentioning the organisation who wrote the pamphlet too, in case anyone searches for it?

  6. vjack

    July 5, 2008 at 10:01 am

    For me, it isn’t so much about taking offense at the statement as it is about being immediately cast as “the other.” Since I am clearly not part of the “we,” I am excluded. This just doesn’t seem to fit with what America is supposed to be about. What “in god we trust” says to me is that nonbelievers do not deserve to be called Americans.

  7. nearlynormalized

    July 5, 2008 at 11:01 am

    I like to think in the godly way–I am a representive of something beyond GOD–the entire universe. “We are all GODS children and all our blood is red.” Old woman who smiled alot.

  8. bre101

    July 5, 2008 at 11:51 am

    great post!

    come check out my blog sometime =]

  9. Peg

    July 5, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    I would argue that whether they believed it or not, the call to rights coming from a god, not a king, was the moral foundation for justifying Independence to the Colonists and the world. It was a tool in other words, making use of the world wide belief at the time in a supreme being

    Historically speaking I think this is essentially correct. The founding fathers had a wide variety of religious beliefs, most of which had some foundation in Christianity, but they definitely didn’t practice the “old-time religion” seen in the Bible Belt these days.

    Having said that, I’m disappointed to find WordPress’s homepage once again pointing the “religion” link to a writer using ultra-right-wing voices as an excuse to blast away at all of Christianity. “See look here guys, here’s one more reason not to listen to what Christians have to say.” I can just imagine what would happen if people started pointing to medieval alchemists as a reason to disbelieve in science…

  10. PhillyChief

    July 5, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Oh now Peg, this crap is not the reason to disbelieve in christianity. There are plenty of reasons for that. The point of the post is to reveal both the bullshit that many christians peddle in the US and the bullshit of the National motto. Neither of those are reasons why christianity isn’t worth believing.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about nearlynormalized.

  11. yunshui

    July 5, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    I think nearlynormalized is doing what the author of Chaplain’s pamphlet failed to do – citing a source for his information. Mind you, I don’t recall seeing “Old woman who smiled a lot”s work in any of the peer reviewed journals I’ve read…

    What bewilders me about these pamphlet campaigns is just how they’re supposed to work. Does someone pick these things up, read “God is calling you to put your trust in hime today! Don’t ignore his call!” and think, “Oh shit, so he is. Praise Jeebus, I be saved!”? That isn’t what they’re expecting… is it?

  12. the chaplain

    July 5, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    SI – thanks for the link. I wasn’t sure about the quote, but wasn’t in a position to research it. Thanks for doing the legwork.

    Ex, Ric and Eshu – thanks for the compliments.

    Philly – I agree completely with your statement. If one has to lie about it to sell it, then it isn’t worth buying.

    vjack – I agree that the phrase is exclusionary, not just of atheists but of anyone who doesn’t buy into the Christian vision.

    bre101 – Thanks for stopping by and for the compliment. Leave a link to your blog and I’ll check it out.

    Peg – Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your insight into the mindsets of the founding fathers. I’m puzzled that you see this post as one in which I’ve implied, “here’s one more reason not to listen to what Christians have to say” and used it as an opportunity “to blast away at all of Christianity.” The point of this post, and I believe I stuck with it, was to discredit a particular set of beliefs of a particular subset of Christians. I even noted that many Christians probably don’t share those beliefs. I have written posts in which I have argued against Christianity and religion in general, but this was not one of them.

    Update: Okay, Peg, I’ll concede that the deconstruction of the “invitational” or “altar call” section of the pamphlet can be seen as a hit against Christianity in general. That was not, however, the primary intent of the post, as Phillychief rightly pointed out in his response to your comment.

  13. the chaplain

    July 5, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Nearlynormalized – I apologize for not welcoming you. Thanks for stopping in.

    Yunshui – good to see you here.

  14. Peg

    July 5, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Thanks for the responses. Interestingly I got into an argument with a Christian recently over this very issue — when he asked accusingly “so you want them to take God’s name off our money?” I said “well at least it would be honest.” Fact is there are an awful lot of churchgoers who place far more trust in power, money, family, and pulling-oneself-up-by-bootstraps than they do in God. I suspect the vast majority of Americans place their faith in the same whether they go to church or not.

    Bottom line though I’d just like to see Christianity given the same respect in public discussion as any other religious or ethnic group. I encourage folks, when they post, to ask themselves “would I say this of a Muslim?” or “would I say this of a Jewish person?” (or Hindu, or Buddhist, or African-American, or Asian, etc) and adjust wording accordingly.

  15. the chaplain

    July 5, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Peg said, “Bottom line though I’d just like to see Christianity given the same respect in public discussion as any other religious or ethnic group.”

    I understand your frustration. In an American context, which is where I’m writing, Christianity often takes the most hits because it is the dominant faith tradition. At this time, Muslims are not demanding that our currency should testify to faith in Allah, etc. If they were, we in the atheosphere would be writing about it just as vehemently as we write about Christian theocratic excesses. Atheists recognize that the theocrats only speak for a minority of Christians. The fact is, however, that they are a vocal minority whose disproportionate influence in public affairs alarms non-Christians of all kinds, and should also alarm more moderate and liberal Christians.

    I don’t know how many atheist blogs you’ve read, Peg. If you check out my sidebar and follow the link to Planet Atheism, you will find that quite a few atheists are writing about Muslim extremists. Christian extremism is not the sole target of our critique.

  16. athinkingman

    July 6, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Thanks for this. I enjoyed reading your carefully reasoned deconstruction. In my experience, one is likely to encounter your kind of careful argument outside of the faith, and never, if at all, in it. They just don’t seem to be operating on the same wavelength, do they?

  17. PhillyChief

    July 6, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Peg, I give christianity the same respect I give all religions – zero. Christianity just happens to be the dominant brand of faith in the US and thus what I have to deal with the most, but they’re all equally worth zero respect. Religions don’t deserve respect, religious people don’t deserve respect for being religious, and opinions raised due to religious motivations don’t deserve respect.

    People deserve some measure of respect, their rights of course deserve respect, but their opinions, ideas, or those that they subscribe to? No, that all has to be earned. It’s not automatic. That’s the problem we’re facing currently in the US. The automatic respect then leads to everyone’s opinions being considered equally valid, which is horseshit, and how you can have in a debate over vaccines the opinion of some chick who essentially became famous for having a nice rack and the opinion of a doctor presented as equally valid or have schools cave in and teach creationism with evolution.

  18. the deacon

    July 6, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    The statement “the number of robberies, rapes and murders increase daily” is a perception that cannot be supported by data. With modern 24/7 news we have become aware of crimes hundreds of miles away from home when in the past we rarely heard of anything outside our local area. Crime rates have fallen from the levels experienced in the early 1990s. For example, though the population increased over 15% in the United States between 1993 and 2003, non-fatal cases of firearm crimes decreased from over 1 million incidents per year to under 500,000 per year. In New York State the number of robberies declined from over 100,000 robberies in 1993 to just under 36,000 in 2003, and rape cases declined from just over 5,000 cases to just under 3,800. Declines in various types of crimes in most states took place over the same period. If a per 100,000 calculation was done for comparison purposes, the decreases would look even more significant.

  19. bitchspot

    July 7, 2008 at 2:28 am

    It isn’t that these people are misled or deluded (although they certainly are), they outright lie for the Lord because they think the end justifies the means. They know that what they’re saying is false, they just don’t care and they figure their target audience is too gullible to know any better anyhow.

    Religion is institutionalized fibbing. Anyone surprised?

  20. PhillyChief

    July 7, 2008 at 10:31 am

    What you’re saying Bitchspot used to be considered divine guidance or something like that. If you feel the urge to lie for god, then that’s the hand of god guiding you. That was big in the 4th century. That’s how we got that ridiculous Josephus passage. Religion is steeped in ends justify the means.

  21. bitchspot

    July 7, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Of course it is Philly. We find holy rollers getting caught in outright lies all the time. Back in the late 80s, IRC’s Duane Gish got caught in a lot of bald-faced whoppers, was proven completely wrong, then turned around THE NEXT NIGHT and repeated every one of his lies verbatim to another audience.

    They just don’t care.

  22. yunshui

    July 7, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    For those interested in the “lying for Jesus” phenomenon and it’s origins, check out the works of Eusebius, the man who pretty much invented the concept (as well as the passage in Josephus that Philly mentioned). His idea that it was “lawful and correct” to make stuff up if it furthered the glory of the Church has long been swept under the carpet by theologians, but nonetheless underpins a great deal of modern apologetics. This is a good place to start, if you can get hold of it.

  23. Steve

    July 7, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Wow. I am amazed by this post- What an excellent read. One thing I wonder about, however, is if this kind of thing really works as a tool to bring folks into the flock, so to speak. Or, is it merely speaking to the people who already believe in god? If that’s the case, what’s the point?

    To anyone who has even a passing familiarity with history, most of these arguments wouldn’t work.

  24. (((Billy)))

    July 7, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Unfortunately, the GOP has adopted the idea that, as long as it advances your cause, lying is perfectly acceptable. This explains why the GOP can lie, get caught in a lie, and then, without even acknowledging the previous lie, come up with a new one. GOP and fundogelical Christianity are damn near identicle at this point.

  25. Tommykey

    July 9, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    the number of robberies, rapes and murders increases daily.

    Actually, crime decreased throughout the late nineties. And while I don’t know now the stats nationwide, the murder rate here in NYC has declined to its lowest levels since they first started keeping a tally in the early 1960’s.

    As (((Billy))) wrote above, for these clowns, as long as it advances your cause, lying is perfectly acceptable.

  26. PhillyChief

    July 9, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    I believe Philly has been pulling up the slack for you slackers in NYC, at least as far as murders go. It’s like Guntopia.

  27. BeenThinkin

    July 21, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Thank you for the excellent post. I agree completely with all of it. I am particularly peeved about the national motto lately, because I am a Hoosier: Indiana’s state government decided last year that it would be a good idea to offer a specialty license plate reading “IN GOD WE TRUST,” complete with red/white/blue coloration and a waving flag. (Equating religious belief with patriotism is another aspect of the national motto that pisses me off.)

    The new plate bears the word “INDIANA” in conjunction with the slogan, effectively making it the state motto too.

    The thing is, the BMV statewide is offering these specialty plates at NO EXTRA COST, while requiring additional fees from drivers who request any other specialty plate.

    The plates aren’t free, people. They COST THE STATE MONEY. Every single one. Yet these plates are handed out to believers and shoulder-shruggers at the expense of ALL Indiana taxpayers.

    I have no choice but to financially endorse and subsidize these plates, with their “we” which does not include me. I have no choice but to see 9 out of 10 cars every day flashing these messages of righteous (and exclusionary) fervor in my face.

    To know that I’m helping pay for it, while there is no free “WHO NEEDS GOD” plate, for instance, boils my blood. You can’t even PAY for an atheist plate here.

    And I’m sorry, but Indiana already suffers from a certain cornfed-redneck image in other parts of this country. Adding state-sponsored ignorance like this makes the stereotypes harder to refute.

    Oh, and I’ve noticed that people who choose the new plates tend to be the worst, most arrogant (or simply inept) drivers. The proportion of these plates attached to monster-trucks with confederate flag decals and “truck nuts” is astounding. What a great image of my home state to be sending out on America’s highways. Gah.

  28. the chaplain

    July 21, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    BeenThinkin – Welcome to my blog. You’re welcome to come back any time you need to escape from those Indiana fundies.

    I didn’t realize that Indiana’s Christian tags were available at no extra charge. That is unfair and perhaps could be challenged legally.

  29. poguemark

    October 5, 2008 at 11:48 am

    “In God We Trust” is a motto that arrogantly disregards non-believers and polytheists alike! Do you need this motto on your money or license plates to confirm you beliefs? NO!

    Mark Pogue


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