Friday, February 11, 2011

In God We Trust - The Outrage That It Deserves

Yes, I am going to belabor this point, because it is a point that deserves to be belabored.

Imagine the social reaction we would see to an attempt by Congress to adopt the motto, "If you are not white, you are not one of us," or even, "A person who has not accepted Jesus as his lord and savior is not a true American."

It would be considered outrageous.

And yet the motto, "If you do not trust in God, you are not one of us," has nearly universal assent, and even gets support from members of the group targeted as "not one of us".

Let's accept this one fact. "We trust in God" implies - and is meant to imply - "If you do not trust in God, then you are not one of us." It is meant to cast out - to exclude - those who do not trust in God.

With respect to the alternative proposals above, I suspect that if the Jesus alternative above were proposed (and there are some who would almost certainly propose it), we would be dependent on the Jews and the Muslims to see to its defeat. Atheists, in spite of their larger numbers, are too politically impotent to make a useful contribution.

We should ask, as a matter of intellectual curiosity if for no other reason, why this is the case.

In doing so, I would like to note that we see a number of similar cases in human history. Why did so few Jews resist the holocaust? How do you get such a large group of people to accept a status of 'slave' and obey masters they could clearly overpower? Why did women, for thousands of years (through the present, in some parts of the word), accept a position of second-class citizen?

I have heard many say, "If I had been a Jew in Nazi Germany, they would not have gotten me without a fight."

Actually, they probably would have.

If you had been a Jew, growing up in that time and having those experiences, it is quite probable that you would have, in fact, walked into the cattle car at the train station, walked into the concentration camp, and walked into the gas chamber. Perhaps you would not have. But, then, some Jews at the time did not do that either.

If you had been a black person captured in Africa and shipped to America, chances are that you would have worked you master's plantation for the rest of your life, or until the Union army had moved through and freed you.

As a black person in Birmingham in 1950 you would have almost certainly walked to the back of the bus. And, as the bus driver moved the sign that marked the line between "white" and "colored" seats to make room for more white passengers, you almost certainly would have given up your seat.

If you had been born a woman in 1700, you would not only have failed to feel burdened by your exclusion from politics, you would have likely protested any attempt to change the status quo.

If you had been born female into a conservative Muslim culture, you would likely not only accept your status as the virtual property of your husband or father, you would be outraged at your daughter if she showed any signs of rebellion.

And now, as an atheist in America, you find yourself unburdened by a nation that declares, not only as one of its principle but as its motto, "Since you do not trust in God, you are not one of us."

Because your lack of trust in God makes you "not one of us", you are virtually excluded from holding any elected office or office of public trust. Your unwillingness to say the Pledge of Allegiance to a nation "under God" is used as a de facto religious test for public office. Your status as atheist is widely equated with being "unpatriotic" or "immoral" to the degree that national polls identify atheists as the group that least shares the respondent's values as an American. Where you are denied custody of your children in custody disputes, which is only one symptom of a culture that equates "atheist" with "immoral" and "unpatriotic."

We have here an act that warrants as much outrage as a declaration that the national's motto be, "We are white people," or "You are not a true American unless you are Christian." Yet, it gets only a fraction of the outrage that it deserves.

Why is that?

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd say you're mistaking a symptom for a cause.

If we managed to drop "In God We Trust" as a national motto, we wouldn't magically become electable to office, nor would custody decisions be reversed.

The motto is challenged fairly regularly, and it will fall when attitudes towards atheism and towards the privilege of religion change -- not the other way around.

That's as it should be. Feminists fighting over the use of terms like "women" or "chairman" didn't end sexual discrimination nor did endless quibbling over whether "African American" is better than "black" end segregation.

Change the hearts and minds and the motto (and pledge) will be easy to change. Change just the motto and you gain little of value.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I'd say you're mistaking a symptom for a cause.

I would deny that the relationship is linear. It's circular. It is, in other words, a feedback loop.

If we managed to drop "In God We Trust" as a national motto, we wouldn't magically become electable to office, nor would custody decisions be reversed.

The motto . . . will fall when attitudes towards atheism and towards the privilege of religion change -- not the other way around.


You seem to be writing as if I think that there is some button that can be pushed to get the motto to disappear - and that I am providing an argument for pushing the button.

I assure you, that is not my position. There is no "magic button."

Instead, my possition is that the process of getting the motto removed - the public debate and the presentation of reasons why it should be removed - is a necessary component of changing attitudes towards atheism.

You cannot, at the same time, ACCEPT the national motto and argue for a change of attitude towards atheists, because the motto itself is an expression of the very attitudes you want to change. Accepting the motto means accepting those attitudes.

Anonymous said...

Instead, my possition is that the process of getting the motto removed - the public debate and the presentation of reasons why it should be removed - is a necessary component of changing attitudes towards atheism.

It's a component, but I doubt it's necessary. I'm certainly not among the 90% who accept the motto -- it is, as you say, divisive and inappropriate. It's entirely hypocritical for SCOTUS to have ruled that the religious language is merely "ceremonial", having observed the response to a motion to remove it.

On the other hand, making a fight over the motto and pledge central to our argument shows us to be focused on petty trivialities instead of real harms.

I understand how this (sort of) fits into your theory of desirism, but I just don't see condemning the pledge/motto as having a net positive effect. I think it trivializes our real complaints.

It's not a question of keeping the motto and pledge, it's one of holding those issues for the end game. First you get the right to sit in the front of the bus, deal with the trivialities later.

NakkiNyan said...

Sitting in the front of the bus was seen as a triviality, after all you still reached your destination, then just like forcing me to say under god is considered a triviality now, when not saying it when you take office can get you barred from office until a court decides it is ok. You can't expect to fight the big fight when we let these "trivialities" be used as a reason for discrimination no matter what they are.

How much easier do you think it might be in a custody case when you can say "but there is no requirement by law that I have to believe to be a US citizen with the same rights as my wife.

This triviality is being used against us and letting it stand is the same as admitting defeat like sitting in the back of the bus was in the 50's.

TGP said...

End game? No such thing.

jesse said...

As a U.S. Soldier and a "closet" atheist (at least while in uniform), I have felt these sort of issues keenly. There is an almost oppressive presence of Christianity and religion in my sphere. Even though defending my Country is my job and my career and even though I have taken solemn oaths to do the same, there are many that would view me as an outsider should my views ever surface.
I once linked to a page on FaceBook that was promoting a change in our money, much the same as your position. A Soldier/friend I knew was shocked when she saw my tag and questioned me profusely. I don't think she did fully understand the minority implications of "in god we trust", ironically though she was both black and a female.

Anonymous said...

God is a word just like cucumber. If an atheist truly does not believe in God why is the word offensive to him/her? Since comment moderation has been enabled, this post will probably never be seen. That is okay, maybe the blogger will ponder why the word God makes such a big difference when inserting another word in it's place would make the same phrase silly or benign.