February 28, 2008

"In God We Trust" Must Go

How do you suppose Christians would feel about using currency on which "Allahu Akbar" (Allah is the greatest) was printed? How about "We Believe in Evolution," "Secular Democracy," or a similar slogan? Can you imagine the outrage? They might even have to set aside their all out war against "teh gay" and refocus against the evil forces of secularism. And yet, atheists in the U.S. are repeatedly told that we have little choice but to accept the "In God We Trust" motto printed on our currency.

The Tyranny of the Majority

Some misunderstand democracy to mean "majority rules" and forget about the notion of protecting minority rights. Such individuals might go so far as to say that because the United States is largely Christian in terms of self-reported religious identification, the wishes of non-Christians should be given less weight. If the Christian majority wants god statements in their currency, they should have them.

Of course, such a line of reasoning is clearly at odds with the ideal of the American democracy, the Constitution, and volumes of case law. This is simply not how our democracy was designed to function. Part of our system is designed to protect minority rights and to prevent any majority from discriminating against minorities.

Argument From Tradition

It is often suggested that atheists should accept this motto because, whether we like it or not, Christianity has had a deep and profound influence on the U.S. I do not dispute this claim. Indeed, Christianity has had a significant influence on the U.S. But so has slavery, racism, smallpox, Communism, and a vast array of mass hysterias. Should we incorporate celebrations of all of these into our currency? Just because Christianity was influential does not mean the influence was positive.

Moreover, one of the most important ways the founders were influenced by Christianity involved their recognition of need to keep it separate from government. The separation of church and state was designed to protect government from the influence of religion and to protect religion from the influence of government. Secularism is not anti-religion like modern Christian extremists would have you believe, although it is certainly a barrier to their theocratic agenda. Thus, it was the deliberate and controversial decision of the founders to establish the U.S. as a secular democracy that distinguished our country from most others.

Also rebutting the claim of tradition are the circumstances surrounding "In God We Trust" becoming the national motto. It was not our motto from the beginning and appeared in conjunction with rising religious sentiment around the Civil War.

The Legal Rationale

Perhaps most bizarre of all is the legal rationale for permitting such a slogan on our currency. This rationale involves the notion that this motto has become secular over time, losing its religious significance. Through such reasoning, courts are able to rule that the motto does not violate the separation clause.

I would argue that the heart of this claim (i.e., that this motto is void of religious significance) is absurd on its face and cannot be taken seriously by anyone with a shred of common sense. Since when did god become void of religious significance, and how can anyone reasonably claim that professing trust in some god is not akin to professing belief in said god?

We Don't Trust Non-Existent Entities

The moment I look at the bill in my hand and see the reference to supernatural entities, I am both embarrassed and angry. It feels like the bill might as well carry a pro-slavery slogan. It reflects ignorance, promotes irrationality, and condones the destructive influence of religion in the modern world. As an atheist, I find the inclusion of this slogan on my currency to be abhorrent. I will not go along with pretending it is merely trivial symbolism.

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