Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Secret History of "In God We Trust"

Everybody knows there's two topics you can't mention in polite conversation: religion and politics. I must be a bad seed because these are the only two subjects I discuss. Being a liberal in America, where even the Democrats are conservative, I have the ability to get under a lot of people's skin. For instance, I was ranting about the erosion of the separation between Church and State at work in earshot of a Fundamentalist Methodist. When I railed against the pledge of allegiance and the insertion of "under God" the Methodist spun around and barked "If you don't like it don't spend any money because it says 'God' on all our cash. It's been like that since day one."

A pronouncement of such staggering ignorance knocked the breath right out of me. That's when I realized the majority of folks out there in middle America think God himself minted our currency with his holy moniker lovingly writ on each bill. Such is the power of revisionist history.

In reality, "In God We Trust" has its roots in the post-Civil War era, when the country was bursting with religious passion. The man who started it all was a Reverend by the name of M. R. Watkinson, a harbinger of Pat Robertson no doubt. Rev. Watkinson wrote the following letter to then Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase:

"Dear Sir: You are about to submit your annual report to the Congress respecting the affairs of the national finances.

One fact touching our currency has hitherto been seriously overlooked. I mean the recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins.

You are probably a Christian. What if our Republic were not shattered beyond reconstruction? Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation? What I propose is that instead of the goddess of liberty we shall have next inside the 13 stars a ring inscribed with the words PERPETUAL UNION; within the ring the allseeing eye, crowned with a halo; beneath this eye the American flag, bearing in its field stars equal to the number of the States united; in the folds of the bars the words GOD, LIBERTY, LAW.

This would make a beautiful coin, to which no possible citizen could object. This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed. From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters.

To you first I address a subject that must be agitated."

Chase's response? To start drafting a working slogan immediately. OUR GOD AND OUR COUNTRY and GOD, OUR TRUST were some early versions of the would-be national motto. But in April of 1864 Congress approved the more familiar phrase "In God We Trust" to be placed on our coins. It is important to note that at this point "In God We Trust" wasn't obligatory and it was only placed on coinage not paper currency.

Fast forward to 1957 with another religious revival in America. This decade saw the emergence of Rev. Billy Graham who used scare tactics to fuel his religious movement. Rev. George Docherty petitioned for an amended pledge of allegiance to include "under God" and received his wish on Flag Day of 1954. We had atheist enemies namely the Soviet Union who had nukes pointed right at us, so we obliged with a couple Earth-decimating warheads of our own. We weren't "heathens" like those reds, but we needed a way to demonstrate this fact. The 84th Congress came up with a solution. They declared us a Christian Nation by making "In God We Trust" our national motto. It wouldn't be long before our paper currency appeared with the shiny new maxim. Now it was mandatory. Every denomination would bear it, and by the mid-'60s the transformation would be complete. America had always been and always will be Judeo-Christian.

What would the Founders think? That's easy enough to determine, just look at what they said about religious/governmental overlap. The most obvious opponent of such a take-over is Thomas Jefferson.

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man
and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his
worship,that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not
opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American
people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus
building a wall of separation between Church and State."

A powerful condemnation of the concept of "In God We Trust" if I ever heard one. It doesn't end there. According to the Constitution itself:

"Article VI: Clause 3: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned,
and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and
judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be
bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious
Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust
under the United States."

There are several more examples but in the interest of brevity I'll include one more. This time from James Madison who said "The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both."

But, oh yeah, they used "Creator" once in the Declaration of Independence that's a lot to hang your hat on if you ask me.

Most every religion believes under its instruction society would benefit most. That's exactly why we need a sturdy wall of separation. I'd like to offer Thomas Paine as a decisive rebuttle.

"An unjust composition never fails to contain error and falsehood. Therefore an
unjust connection of ideas is not derived from nature, but from the imperfect
composition of man. Misconnection of ideas is the same as misjudging, and has no
positive existence, being merely a creature of the imagination; but nature and
truth are real and uniform; and the rational mind by reasoning, discerns the
uniformity, and is thereby enabled to make a just composition of ideas, which
will stand the test of truth. But the fantastical illuminations of the credulous
and superstitious part of mankind, proceed from weakness, and as far as they
take place in the world subvert the religion of REASON, NATURE and TRUTH."

Instead of "In God We Trust" our money should claim "In REASON, NATURE and TRUTH we Trust." We should not bow to the tyranny of dogma but seek to invalidate it.

Before 1957:

godless money

After 1957:


No comments: