Sunday, October 14, 2007

Moral Outrage II: In God We Trust

I have recently written about how moral outrage is the appropriate response to what I have called The Hitler and Stalin Cliche. This involves associating Hitler and Stalin with atheism in order to market fear and hatred of atheists. This is done by people who would certainly recognize the absurdity of claiming that believers in a round earth are dangerous because Hitler and Stalin both believed in a round earth. But, as I wrote in that earlier post, making sense does not matter to these people. They want to manufacture and sell hate for profit, and making sense just gets in the way.

Another set of circumstances that deserves a level of moral outrage that it is not receiving are incidents like Chad Vegas' push to put "In God We Trust" in all school classrooms.

In the news articles that I have read about this, I have found the standard objections of 'separation of church and state' and 'unconstitutionality' of the proposal. However, both of these arguments fall on a lot of deaf ears. Recall, we are talking about people who want to set up a theocracy and, thereby, have no think that separation of church and state is a moral sin responsible for terrorist attacks and hurricanes. In addition, they are particularly adept (from centuries of experience) in making texts say whatever they want those texts to say.

However, my objection to these arguments is not that they do not work. My objection is that those who use these arguments are missing an important step. We would be better off if those who appealed to 'separation of church and state' would not only explain that this is a violation, but also explain why a good government separates church and state - and why bad governments (and bad people) threaten that separation.

It's easy to do. Simply point to Iran, Afghanistan, and the Dark Ages as examples when nobody would dream of even questioning the separation of church and state - where it was a crime (punishable by death) to question religion.

More importantly, however, is that this is another instance where I see a more appropriate response of moral outrage to be missing.

In the articles that I have read on this case (or any case of posting 'In God We Trust' in public buildings - or on the money), I have not heard the argument that this proposal deserves moral outrage.

You have two options. Either that statement is meant to marginalize and exclude those who do not share your religious beliefs, or it is a lie. It has to be one of the two. If it includes those American citizens who do not share your religious beliefs, it is a lie, because it is not the case that we - if 'we' means all good Americans - trust in God. If it is not a lie, than it marginalizes and excludes those Americans who do not believe in God.

I do not think that those who approved this motto in Congress or those who are fighting for it here are liars. What they are, instead, is religious bigots, and they have made religious bigotry the national motto.

No citizen . . . no good, honest citizen should have to tolerate signs anywhwere, let alone in a government building, that say that they do not belong. No good, honest citizen should ever walk into a building a see a sign on the wall that says, 'You do not count. You are not one of us.

And, far worse than this, far worse by far, is to have laws that require that parents send their children to school, and to see, every day, a sign on the wall that denigrates them and their family.

You - representatives of a government of the people - and not just Christian people, but all people who are citizens of this country - have no right to subject good American citizens to a message of exclusion.

In an article on KGET.COM, National motto posters debated at KNZR form, reports:

We're not trying to establish the nation's motto, we're not trying to make the nation's motto 'In God We Trust' ... The nation's motto is, in fact, 'In God We Trust' ... Period," Vegas said.

Was there anybody in the audience who said, "If the motto was, "We trust in no God," what would you say to somebody who used your argument as a reason for posting that sign in the classrooms?"

Mister Vegas, if you are not using the same arguments that you would use if the motto said, 'We Trust In No God,' then you are being a moral hypocrite. You are proving that you care nothing about treating others as you would wish to be treated by them. If you are using arguments that you would claim constitute injustice if others applied them to you, then you must admit that they constitute the same injustice when you use those arguments against them.

You would literally scream at the injustice if somebody were to do to you what you seem happy to do to others. So, I have to ask you, is this what your Christian morality tells you to do – to treat others in ways that you would call unjust if they were done to you?

Mister Vegas, you know that if the roles were reversed, and you were out here, and somebody was sitting up there insisting that a national motto that said 'We Trust In No God' be posted in all the schools, you would know that he was doing it in order to force his religious views on you and your children. For that very reason, we know that the reason you support this proposal is because you want to force parents who do not share your religious beliefs to encounter this message of exclusion every time they sit in a classroom.

Another claim often made in this context is the claim that proposals such as these are necessary to improve the moral character of our students – that since the ‘liberals’ took God out of the schools everything in this country has gone downhill.

No, sir. No, you have no right to say that. You have no right to sit there in that chair and denigrate the moral character of a lot of very fine people who have made significant contributions to this country. You have no right to use your position to announce to the world that we are your moral inferiors – that we are lesser people and lesser citizens because we do not share your religious beliefs.

How dare you sit there and insult me, and say that I am a lesser person than you? How dare you sit there and say that I am your moral inferior? How dare you not treat me with the dignity and respect that every human being deserves unless and until he has been proved to have committed some crime against the people of this community? I stand before you as an equal member of this community . . . an equal member by right, and you cannot call yourself a moral person if you cannot acknowledge and respect that fact.

As I have been saying through most of this week, this is the types of response that these types of cases demand.

And while I am here, I wish to add that the same thing applies any time anybody recites the current pledge of allegiance.

How dare you stand there and say that I am as bad as those who would oppose union, liberty, and justice. You have no right to stand there and say that those who are not ‘under God’ are like those who would support rebellion, tyranny, and injustice. You particularly have no right to force my child to sit through a daily ritual where you tell his or her peers, ‘those who are not ‘under God’ are inferior to those who are.’ No decent person would support such a policy.

If you do not think that these situations deserve moral outrage, then I would argue that you do not understand what the people who advocate these proposals are truly saying.


Anonymous said...

Imagine the outrage if our motto was "In Homer We Trust".

History is not so simplistic that you can change one variable while holding the others constant.

Where is your outrage that the current motto actually is "In God We Trust"?

Unknown said...

Great post. I wrote a similar piece entitled "trust me on this" from a more personal perspective regarding regarding the same debate. Basically, I had a schizophrenic client who offered "Trust Me" as an alternative to the words "In God We Trust" on our courthouses. maybe he wasn't so psychotic after all!