Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A political mandate to trust in god

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted on a measure reaffirming "In God We Trust" as the national motto of the United States.  The measure, crafted by Republican Randy Forbes of Virginia, was intended (in his words) to prevent "rogue court challenges" to religion in public venues.

The measure passed 396-9.

Okay, I can come up with a great many cogent arguments regarding why this is a bad idea.  Can anyone give me an argument why it is a good one?

How does having a national motto that implies a belief in god serve any purpose whatsoever?  Similarly, what earthly reason can there be for mandating that the Pledge of Allegiance -- spoken by millions of schoolchildren daily, and by countless public officials every time a meeting is held -- contain the words "one nation, under god?"  If you believe in god, well and good; you're free to affirm that belief whenever and however you want to.  On the other hand, what if you don't believe in god?  How does "In God We Trust" being printed on every piece of currency printed in the US, how does reciting "one nation, under god" every day, have any positive effect whatsoever on the 18% of Americans who self-identify as non-religious?  In my experience, students who are atheists or agnostics have made one of two choices; to skip the words "under god" when they're recited, or to say the Pledge of Allegiance as-is, i.e., just to go along with it and not rock the boat.

When the subject came up a couple of years ago in a discussion before school, I asked one atheist student who was in my homeroom what he did, and he said that he said the Pledge because he supported his country.  As for the "under god" part -- he said, and this is a direct quote, "That part is meaningless to me, but it doesn't hurt me to say it."

I didn't argue with him -- the touchiness of parents and many students about religion requires that I watch my step when this topic comes up -- but consider the implication of what he said.

"I'm mandated to say words I don't believe in, and rather than questioning it I'm willing to lie publicly about my beliefs every morning of my thirteen years in public school."

I suspect you're feeling pretty smug now, you members of the Religious Right.  And to the 396 Representatives who voted for the measure, I hope you recognize what you've actually accomplished here.  You've given lip service to a national motto whose ultimate aim is impossible unless we turn into the kind of top-down theocracy that is found in Iran and Saudi Arabia; once again showed blatant disregard for the separation of church and state; and in the end, accomplished nothing toward your unspoken goal, which is to turn we godless folks into good Christians.  Handling dollar bills with "In God We Trust" inscribed on them is not going to turn me into a theist, any more than handling currency with no religious message on it would damage your own faith.  You've done nothing here but show how out of touch you are with the real needs of your constituencies -- job creation, economic fixes, smart energy policy -- along with pissing off the growing minority of Americans who are willing to state publicly that they are atheists.

The Religious Right makes much of the alleged religiosity of the Founding Fathers, and some have gone so far as to claim that they never intended a separation of church and state in the first place -- that we are "a Christian nation."  Thus, I'll conclude with a quote from Thomas Jefferson, from Notes on the State of Virginia:
Is uniformity (in religious belief) attainable?  Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned: yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.  What has been the effect of coercion?  To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.

1 comment:

  1. Amen! (Pun intended.)

    To still have people in this country that believe in talking snakes, and people walking alongside dinosaurs is one thing, but for those people to force their insanity on everyone else is a whole other level of brutality. Also, for the record, I used to swap out 'under god' with 'there is no god' during the pledge while I was in school. :)