STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday [Nov. 1] passed, 396-9, a concurrent resolution reaffirming 'In God We Trust' as the national motto. The resolution was introduced by Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus. It is a concurrent resolution because the Senate already passed a similar resolution in 2006 for the 50th anniversary of "In God We Trust" as the nation's motto. Resolutions do not carry the force of law and do not require the president's signature.
"Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will have the same opportunity to reaffirm our national motto and directly confront a disturbing trend of inaccuracies and omissions, misunderstandings of church and state, rogue court challenges, and efforts to remove God from the public domain by unelected bureaucrats. As our nation faces challenging times, it is appropriate for Members of Congress and our nation - like our predecessors - to firmly declare our trust in God, believing that it will sustain us for generations to come," Forbes said in a statement Monday." Forbes also said "without God, there could be no American form of government. Nor, an American way of life."
First one might point out the nation did just fine, except for the scourge of slavery and the ever-increasing genocide against the Native Americans, without "In God We Trust" on our coinage from the time of the founding until 1861, when it was put there. Indeed, unless one is mistaken, we did have an "American form of government and an American way of life" during that period. Then there is the problem that President Lincoln raised, that in the Civil War both sides prayed to the same God. One side won and one side lost (at least for the time-being). If there is just one God, one wonders just which side he, she, or it was on in that case, and then how could the other side have any trust at all in him, her or it. Perhaps it was because of that troubling finding that it wasn't until 1954 that the phrase was incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance (which of course has no official standing itself although right-wingers like to claim that it does) and until 1956 that the Congress made it into the national motto. One must wonder just how the nation got along not "under God," for all of the years preceding.
Then there is the little matter of the Constitution, which, one should think, defines what the "American form of government" is. The word "God" does not appear in it, Article VI prohibits any religious test for candidates for office, and then there is the First Amendment's prohibition of the establishment of religion by Congress. Ah well, these are such troublesome details to some, but they apparently don't trouble folks like Rep. Forbes and the 368 other US Representatives who voted for the resolution.
Now let us turn briefly to the matter of definitions. One might spend some time discussing exactly what is meant by "in" when it comes to "God," which, for example might or might not, be corporeal. Then one might concern oneself with the matter of "trust." For example, given what Lincoln himself had to say about the matter, during the Civil War, as noted above, as the fortunes of the two sides waxed and waned, why should either of them have trusted "God," or for that matter why should the victims of Katrina, the Great Depression or the current one (whatever you want to call it), 9/11, the Holocaust, or a major US political party that routinely labels its opponents as "Godless."
But the most important definitional problems concern "God" and "We." When it comes to religions the United States is a polyglot nation. Just whose "God" are we talking about? Within Christianity alone there are many different concepts of God, very tripartite, not-so tripartite, uni-partite. A God who/which appears before some Christians embodied in a wafer and wine, not so for others. And so on and so forth. Then there are the other two main religions in the U.S., Judaism, and Islam. Each has its several denominations, and each of those has a rather different concept of God (and for Secular Humanistic Jews, of which I am one, no concept of "God" at all). Then there is a major world religion, Hinduism, which counts about 900,000,000 adherents, with 1.5 million of them in the U.S. (4). Its concept of God/Gods pre-dates in form that of the three major monotheistic religions. Who is indeed to say that there is not a group of Gods, and that perhaps, if there are, they are not the Hindu group, but rather the Greco-Roman or the Egyptian one. One might ask how can one put one's trust in any non-substantive being if one cannot be sure just which one or one's one is talking about.
Finally, there is the "we" problem. To just which "we" does the phrase refer? There are an estimated 30,000,000 people in the United States who do not believe in any the forms of divinity listed above, or any other for that matter. Oh dear. Perhaps, in reference to "God" or "Gods" one should follow one of Ronald Reagan's favorite dictums (and who of my readers would have thought that I would ever quote Reagan favorably): "Trust, but verify."
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-