Friday, January 29, 2010

In God We Trust

So... I watched the first part of the State of the Union address on TV the other day.

Upon immediately becoming bored to tears I started looking around at the scenery in the room. The House of Representatives must be so beautiful. The camera angles provided some interesting sweeping glances of the interior.

But I did notice one thing. There was this pretty ornate and powerful looking “In God We Trust” on the wall.


Of course this isn’t a foreign concept to me. It has been printed on of our money since the Civil War. But it is a pretty interesting statement to have it so prominently displayed in one of the central houses of government.

Actually, I just learned that it is the official motto of the United States of America.


(The things you learn when you write a blog everyday… Thank you Wikipedia.)

This reminded me of an article I read several years ago about the state Supreme Court in Alabama that had a monument to the Ten Commandments. Someone sued and a federal judge ruled that the monument had to be removed.

Furious, the chief justice in that courthouse refused and he was removed from his post.

Dude was pretty gangsta for the cause.

I have no problem with him getting removed from his post and all of that but I do pause a bit when it comes to religious stuff entering government.

I can see both sides.

It’s not like this just started happening. There are references to God in America’s founding texts. It is impossible to completely separate a person from their faith so of course one’s guiding principles will find their way into whatever institutions that they create.

But this country was also founded on the idea of freedom (and specifically economic and religious freedom). As we continue to strive to be a more perfect union do things like “In God We Trust” and monuments to the Ten Commandments have a place in our governmental space? Or are they like Slavery and Jim Crow; relics of the imperfection that generations of Americans have strived to cleanse from our union?

Of course as a Christian I see in the Ten Commandments and the other laws of Moses the foundation for the laws that we live by. So these things don’t bother me as much as they might someone who does not share my faith.

But also as a Christian I see many people in power who use God and Jesus’ name to promote laws and measures that are contrary to my faith.

So I guess there is no easy answer here.

But for those of you who wonder why there is so much hype about the Ten Commandments here they are. Check the link. Read them over. It’s good to read through them once if you haven’t in a while.

If not for any other reason then to know what it is that people like the ex chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court are willing to forsake their careers over.


The Ten Commandments

Today’s Reading: Exodus 21-22: Matthew 19


  1. I think there's a side to the issue that you aren't seeing; and that side is how those of us like myself, who are not Christian, see the situation (full disclosure: I'm very familiar with the Bible and biblical texts, and my sister is a Born-Again Christian). The text of the First Amendment prohibits the government from favoring any one religion over any other (see: So in my eyes, having "In God We Trust" as a national motto, or having it placed on public structures, violates that principle. "E Pluribus Unum," on the other hand, is a motto that I think is much more fitting and representative of the country in general, as it pays homage to the many differences of culture in this country and views them as a strength rather than a weakness.

    I could go into why I'm not a Christian, and the problems I have with Christianity, but it's long and complicated. Suffice it to say I like to figure things out for myself, and I don't like people imposing artificial rules on me. And you're right about people claiming to do things based on Christian principles that are not the least bit Christian. But I absolutely disagree with your assertion that the laws that we live by need be traced back to the laws of Moses. Morality and Ethics are not contingent on religion, though Christians see them as one and the same. And people like myself--highly ethical non-Christians--resent the notion that our values are less applicable because they weren't written in a book. And we resent proselytizing, which Christians view as a duty. So while Christians like to spread the word, and I respect their desire and willingness to do so, sometimes I wish they wouldn't.

  2. Mocha

    I don't think we really disagree here.

    I see that perspective and actually thought that my reference to the promenance of religion in our society being like the legacy of Slavery and Jim Crow made that point pretty clear (given that I am a child of the worst sides of those policies I obviously am not a fan of them).

    I agree with your statement about "E Pluribus Unum". It would be a much better motto. Actually I think the notion of having a motto is pretty stupid. We don't even have an official language...

    Also regarding the laws and general Bible knowledge. Have you read the Bible from cover to cover? How many times? Have you studied it? What did you learn from it?

    I agree that moral guidelines come from many sources but are you suggesting that the Bible didn't inform the founders of this country at all when it came to how they would best organize a new society?

    Come on dude...

    Clearly there is a large legacy of social and political philosophy that they pulled from.

    I know cause I studied it.

    But they also pulled from this ancient book. To suggest that they didn't just wrong. Perhaps you may have read that part of what I said in a way that I didn't intend.

    Also the question of whether or not morality and ethics are contingent on religion is a very old question and one that continues to be argued on either side in very convincing ways.

    A great philosophical work on virtue in general is After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre. You might like it.

  3. In no way am I suggesting that the founding fathers didn't base a great many of their views on the Judeo/Christian tradition. But they also based some of their views on philosophers such as Locke and Hume (for example: Locke originally wrote that the inalienable rights of people were the rights to life, liberty, and property. Obviously, one word of that was changed for the Declaration of Independence). And in the 1790s, there was no one on the planet in any position of power who could claim to be anything other than religious in one way or another.

    What I am suggesting is that one of the most profound things about the Constitution is that it can be read in a purely secular way--which is saying a lot, especially when we consider the time in which it was created. The United States was a Nation of Christians when it was created; it was not, nor has it ever been, a Christian Nation. As a non-Christian myself, that's an important point... because I want to feel like I belong just as much as the next person, and that belonging is not contingent on a set of beliefs that I don't share.

    I've never read the Bible cover to cover in a sitting. I've read it piecemeal, I've studied it in such a way (particularly academically; one of my first classes in college was Jesus and the Jesus Traditions) and I'm best versed in Genesis and all of the New Testament. To answer what I got out of it... well, that's a long, long discussion, because it will necessarily include what I DIDN'T get out of it as well (which is more significant in terms of why my personal perspectives are the way they are).

    I believe I've read part of After Virtue. I'll have to check on that... I think it was part of my Contemporary Moral Philosophy class years ago. For you, I would suggest Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard and Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche.

  4. haha! I spent 6 months straight studying Fear and Trembling on my own last year. It's one of my favorite books.

    We really don't disagree at all here. But what is great is that you are bringing a perspective that I don't have. Thank you for sharing. Your point about the constitution being written as a political document rather than a Christian one is absolutely true.

    Also on Hume and Locke. Locke's second treatise on Government is another favorite of mine. Looks like we are both philosphy nerds.

    We should chat more later. I'd like to hear more of your thoughts.


Creative Commons License
A Convo With God by Clarence Mitchell III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at