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, June 6, 2018

Endorsement of coercion

Some days, I really don't understand my fellow humans.

The latest example of my complete incomprehension comes because of a case that was just decided in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, wherein a self-styled Satanist had brought a lawsuit against the United States government to have "In God We Trust" removed from currency, on the basis of its being an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.  The lawsuit was thrown out a couple of days ago.  The court's ruling said, in part, "a reasonable observer would not perceive the motto on currency as a religious endorsement."

I read the entire story with an expression like this on my face:

Let's just review what the phrase "In God We Trust" means, shall we?

It means "we trust in God."  I.e., God exists.  I.e., Christianity is right.  I.e., endorsing a particular religious viewpoint.

The ruling went on to say, "The inclusion of the motto on currency is similar to other ways in which secular symbols give a nod to the nation’s religious heritage... similar to the phrase 'One Nation, Under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance."

No, the phrase is not a "nod to religious heritage."  Depictions of the Puritans founding the colony of Massachusetts is a "nod to religious heritage."  But then, so would depictions of the witches being hanged in Salem, so maybe that's not where we want to go, either.

What escapes a lot of people about all this is that the motto of the United States was changed in the 1950s from E Pluribus Unum -- "Out of Many, One" -- in order to show the godless commies what for.  Same for adding "One Nation, Under God" in the Pledge.  Neither of these has a long historical timeline, and only appeared when the Christians started feeling threatened and required that everyone state their belief in God whether or not a person thought it was true.

The mandate for the phrase to appear on currency comes from a bill introduced by Representative Charles Bennett of Florida in 1955, wherein Bennett argued that "In these days when imperialistic and materialistic communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom, we should continually look for ways to strengthen the foundations of our freedom."

Including, apparently, the freedom to believe anything you want as long as it's Christianity.

I also take issue with the suggestion that the founders of the country intended this kind of coercion with respect to religion.  Take, for example, what Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, when he was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1777:
Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
James Madison concurred, observing, "Torrents of blood have been split in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm, to extinguish Religious discord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinion."

Even more to the point, Jefferson wrote, "What has been the effect of [religious] coercion?  To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.  To support roguery and error all over the earth."

And more fundamentally, I wonder why the religious want religion to appear on currency.  Isn't there the whole "render unto God what is God's, and render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" thing in the Gospel of Matthew?  And as far as the Pledge goes, what earthly purpose can the "one nation, under God" phrase serve?  If you say it but don't believe it, you're lying.  If you already believe it -- well, you already believe it.  Why is a public affirmation in a secular space required?

The bottom line is that you are free to participate in any religion you want to.  Even as a staunch atheist, I have no desire whatsoever to constrain what you believe, or how you express those beliefs.  But that tolerance comes to a screeching halt when you try to coerce me, or anyone else, to adhere to your beliefs simply because people of those beliefs are currently in the majority in the United States, and hold nearly all the positions of power.

I suppose it's heartening that even the people in favor of it recognize they're on such tenuous ground that they have to make such outright ridiculous statements as "'In God We Trust' is in no way a religious endorsement" in order to defend it.  What's unfortunate is that we have to spend our time and resources arguing about this stuff, when there are considerably more pressing matters to attend to, such as the fact that our president seems to regard the Constitution as a list of suggestions.

If he's actually read it, which I'm beginning to wonder.


This week's featured book is the amazing Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which looks at the fact that we have two modules in our brain for making decisions -- a fast one, that mostly works intuitively, and a slower one that is logical and rational.  Unfortunately, they frequently disagree on what's the best course of action.  Worse still, trouble ensues when we rely on the intuitive one to the exclusion of the logical one, calling it "common sense" when in fact it's far more likely to come from biases rather than evidence.

Kahneman's book will make you rethink how you come to conclusions -- and make you all too aware of how frail the human reasoning capacity is.

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