In God We Don’t Give A Shit

A little remark by my friend Tommykey over at Exercise in Futility got me to thinking about something. He said this in the comments section of a recent post at Daylight Atheism. Ebonmuse had discussed the recent Barna poll showing a definite decrease in support and enthusiasm for Christianity by young people in the US. I’m not going to get into the implications of that poll, as it’s being hashed about in that thread, and others. But there was something that struck me. Tommy said:

I think secularists should resist the temptation to push for removing “under God” from the Pledge or other pointless symbolisms and instead enjoy watching the Fundies implode.

The words he refers to relates to the insertion of religion into the Pledge of Allegiance, and I think by extrapolation, our currency. It’s a major flash point in the culture war being waged by theists and atheists alike. Christians and other theists (OK, only Christians) believe that America is a Christian country, that it was founded on Christian values, and further that those few words are a minimal recognition of what they perceive as an obvious fact. On the flip side, atheists and secularists alike believe that forcing us to say “under god” or handle money with such inflammatory language on it is an unconstitutional infringement of our rights under the First Amendment doctrine of separation of Church and State.

I’ve never written or expressed an opinion on the matter here, because frankly I never could get myself worked up enough to feel any outrage. Sure, I understand, sympathize and generally agree with the rationale for the secular position, but there was always that voice in my head that said “so what?”. Ambivalence reigned.

With regard to the Pledge, on those rare occasions when I must recite it, I simply mumble “under a good looking blond” or something equally irreverent, and go on with the Pledge. It doesn’t really bother me that others say it. As for those who actually believe in god, and feel comfortable saying it, well…to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson from another context, it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my arm.

As for our currency, there are other things on those bills and coins that bother me too. What’s with that silly pyramid with the eyeball Apollo spacecraft taking off from the top? Is that something we want on our money? One little word, “god” doesn’t make me not want to spend my money. When I pull a bill out my wallet, or plug a quarter into a soda machine, it’s the Federal Reserve I Trust, not god. If a bunch of superstitious people want to believe their money will buy them a six pack because they trust in a non-existent being, who am I to object? The money buys six bottles of Heineken for both of us either way.

Again, I do follow the secular argument, that it discourages rational thinking, perpetuates myths, and generally seems stupid, not to mention that it imposes someone’s belief, via my government and my tax dollars, on me and my children. Again, so what? It has no effect on me, because I still don’t believe. I don’t have to recite the pledge with those words in them, nor do I even read the money, I just spend it. This doesn’t even take into consideration that most of my money is represented by little zeros and ones in my digitized bank accounts. As I look in my wallet this evening, of all of my net worth, only $15 of it is represented by currency with “In God We Trust” emblazoned across it. A sizable portion of my assets say “Mortgage” or “401K” or “Toyota” or something equally secular. (Note to self: Stop and pick up a six pack.)

Whether there is validity to either the pro or cons of the argument is not my point, however, nor Tommykey’s point. TK’s comment was in response, partially, to what I said in a earlier comment, i.e.:

I can see the day when atheism will be embraced by a majority.

On the assumption that one day atheism will be accepted by the majority, that will be the day that changes to the Pledge and the currency will occur. Pending that, the majority of this country want their little token to god left in place. Why get our tits in a wringer arguing about something that has only symbolic value? Substantively, no one’s rights are being taken away, no one is being forced to worship god, tithe to Christ, or join a religion. It is not a big deal, yet the people who are defending their Pledge and their money think it is. It is a rallying cry for anti-atheism. Why give them ammunition for righteous indignation, and right wing fund-raising?

One of the responses (and a good response it is) to the claim that atheists took prayer out of public schools, is that we didn’t. Why? Because theists can pray anytime they want in school, out by the flagpole, or in the doorway. They just have to do it themselves, and sometimes they have to do it silently. The teachers may not lead the prayer.

Likewise, they can say the same thing to us about the Pledge. We don’t have to say the words “under god”. And they’re right. We don’t. And we can think and believe what we want. Ain’t America grand?

So, let’s take away this particular point of contention, and focus on teaching theists why the imposition of these words is offensive, rather than forcing them to dispose of them, creating theistic martyrs and rallying cries to the cause in the process. Once we have convinced a majority of Americans that god doesn’t exist, these little words will disappear faster than snow in July in the tropics.

15 thoughts on “In God We Don’t Give A Shit

  1. It would be very easy and practical to agree with you, SI. It seems at first glance like a waste of time for us to worry our pretty little heads about the “harmless” theist phrases that snuck onto our money and into our pledge.

    However, I think that if you considered the issue in a different light, you might see it as a big deal. What printed matter goes through more hands, and is more respected, even by those who have no respect for any other printed matter, than money? And every time someone handles a coin or a bill, he or she gets a little, tiny piece of pious propaganda.

    Most people in our society accept the existence of god unquestioningly. Superstition permeates the culture. Why should those of us who don’t buy into that crap be forced to tacitly acknowledge it every time we go to buy a six-pack of Heineken? Sure, when you smack down your cash on the counter, neither you nor the store clerk stand around and read it. But the sentiment is there. It’s as if our currency said, “Earn this, save this, spend this ONLY if you believe in the Lord. Otherwise, you ain’t worth a dime.”

    If our currency said, “In terrorizing Iraq we trust,” you’d be up in arms, even though you’d be able to get your Heineken without having to say you approve that message. What about: “In ignoring the needs of the poorest Americans we trust”? Or: “In not taking sufficient action to curb global warming we trust?” Messages that we’re essentially forced to pass along should be ones that we don’t find objectionable. Why shouldn’t we be infuriated that we’re forced to condone theism every single time we jingle a few coins?

    And don’t get me started on the pledge. Does the phrase “brainwashing the young” mean anything to you?

  2. Very thoughtful and well-written post. And of course, thanks for the link.

    In the larger context, arguing about symbolic and largely meaningless expressions of idiocy doesn’t seem all that productive. Still, when I think of the god crap on our money, I can’t help thinking about the phrase “hostile environment” from sexual harassment law. Much as a workplace can be made hostile by unwelcome sexually provocative comments, a culture can be made hostile by the myriad of superstitious garbage, from god on money to nativity scenes on public property.

  3. @Ex and vjack

    I agree with both of you. I just compare it to all the arguments we can have with our children. You don’t make a big deal about all of them. You pick and choose your battles. Sometimes, when they want a piece of candy that they shouldn’t have, it’s not worth the argument.

    Face it, we ARE in the minority. While that is true, we will not win this symbolic fight. In the meantime, the Newdows of the world, who I respect immensely, are giving the leaders of the majority a reason to convince the rank and file that they ARE being persecuted, and over what? A couple of words. Sticks and stones…etc.

    I appreciate the larger context. I said as much in my post. But children are being indoctrinated into their religion long before they can read and recite the pledge. Those particular two instances are a drop in the bucket of the BS heaped on children as soon as their language skills begin to evidence themselves. Their entire world from birth through college is a hostile environment, with money and the pledge being an infinitesimally small component.

    What we need to do is educate them, so that they see the idiocy of those words. Part of the process of the education can be showing that those words make no sense. Creating a fight in Congress or the courts though, just steels their resolve to fight back.

  4. Blacks were in the minority when Rosa Parks decided to sit at the front of the bus. It could be argued there were perfectly good seats in the back, just as there were perfectly good drinking fountains for blacks as well as bathrooms. Hey, what was the big deal, right? No one’s pocket was picked nor arm broken.

    So how do women REALLY get hurt at work if a guy talks about his penis or has a Playboy centerfold on the wall? Isn’t it a compliment to tell a woman she’s so hot you’d love to…

    I don’t believe we should have to wait until we’re a majority. Wrong is wrong, and this country was never supposed to be a place where the majority trumps what’s right. We’ve had examples a plenty in our history, but they are blemishes and ones that didn’t always sit untreated until the majority came around. Instead, minorities, through action, forced the majority to realize a wrong was a wrong.

  5. Wow, it never would have occurred to me that a few remarks I made on a Daylight Atheism post would inspire a post here.

    What I think where SI was getting at and which I tend to agree is that removing “under God” from the Pledge and “In God We Trust” is the kind of thing that will happen naturally once secularists are a greater proportion of the population. I agree in principle these things eventually need to be done, but I believe there are more important fish to fry.

    To me, it is more important to protect access to contraception and abortion, keep creationism and ID out of the classroom, and other such substantive issues.

    I believe secularists have their best opportunities by exploiting issues where moderately religious people agree. The average person who goes to church on Sunday likely cares as little for Christian fundies as we do, but if you are going to make changing the Pledge your central cause, you’re just going to be banging your head against the wall, because the religious moderates will mobilize against you.

    I don’t agree with the Rosa Parks analogy Philly, unless we were actually required to say “under God” publicly while reciting the Pledge and there were criminal penalties for failing to do so. If that were indeed the situation, then I would agree with you that removing “under God” from the Pledge would be a priority.

    Of course, this is all just my own personal opinion. I don’t expect that most or all of my fellow atheists will agree with me on this, and that’s okay.

    Thanks for the mention SI!

  6. I was in grade school (physically) when the ‘under god’ thing was introduced. As far as I could see it was just another bunch of grown up horse shit we had to endure. I’ve written elsewhere about what happened to me when I didn’t pray or say the pledge, but these things were obviously deemed pretty important by authority.

    Yes, we under-god-ed (spelling and construction is uncertain, sorry) had prayers, bible verses. The bullies were not inspired to be merciful, the teachers were…what they always were, it was just something that was ‘done’. Although the ‘under god’ thing is no longer mandatory, most people still say it. They would find it disturbing to not do so, not because they actually thought it, just that the slogan would seem incomplete.

    The motto on the coinage is vaguely disquieting. But there are times I think that it is appropriate, because that IS the true deity of most people, why not label it as such? They certainly respect, serve, worship, are awed in its presence, and order their lives around it more than any nebulous entity which seems to have a very unreliable, unpredictable presence and effect on their lives no matter what.

    I never say ‘the pledge’. The republic invoked existed long ago, and I doubt it ever really did.

  7. With the currency we don’t even have an alternative. We have no option for a sit in or to sit in the front of a bus. There is no front of the bus. We can’t just print our own money and start using it.

    Yes, we can not say the vulgar part of the Pledge but not saying it at all has consequences. People will question you. In school I had a friend who was a jehovah witness. Because of that part in the Pledge, he couldn’t say any of it. He sat quietly while we stood and recited it and for this he caught a lot of shit, and a few fists. His motivation for dissent may not be ours, but the dissent is the same and the results would naturally be the same.

  8. SI said: “With regard to the Pledge, on those rare occasions when I must recite it, I simply mumble “under a good looking blond” ”

    Do you REALLY think Hillary is “good looking”? How about, “one nation, under a blond” and leave it at that?

  9. “Under God” and “In God We Trust” are phrases that do not belong on our money or pledges. However, we have more important issues to consider. We should concentrate on stopping theism from infiltrating our government,schools or any public institution.

    This is a matter of priorities. We should consider the most important issues first.

  10. These kinds of phrases on currency, in pledges, or in courtrooms marginalize a lot of people and, while certainly not creating an established religion per se, they do create an atmosphere of establishing religion even if not a particulare one.

    While I agree we have “bigger fish to fry,” I happen to have posted on this very topic lately, although from a more anectodatal, personal point of view. An interesting client of mine made a case for a compelling alternative… at least in court rooms.

  11. Regarding the pledge, why should anyone take a public loyalty oath, never mind the god insert… Reciting the pledge in public groups and private groups, singing (?) the Star Splattered Banner before every pissy little sports event does two things. One, it cheapens the anthem and the pledge, and two, it enforces conformity and groupthink. And it creates mobs.

    All of which explains why I tend to avoid crowds of more than two people, or one person and a dog.

    But seriously, a public loyalty oath? Hitler was good at arranging that sort of thing. And the crowd in Washington has conflated loyalty to country with loyalty to that little psychopathic s.o.b. in the White House. No thank you. I’ll walk out of any place that does the pledge crap. It’s their patriogasm, not mine.

  12. You should know that it’s only a very vocal, small number of ‘Christians’ who believe this to be a ‘Christian Nation’. Greg Boyd’s “The Myth of a Christian Nation” represents just one example of the fact that such is not the majority position.

  13. Yes heatlight, I am aware of it. In fact, I also am aware that most of the excesses of religious fundamentalism are not believed by the majority of Christians who self identify with that religion. But “very small” is somewhat relative. Small in numbers does not equate with small in power or influence.

    I tend to agree with a lot of people who say that this recent rise in atheist visibility coincides with the election of George Bush, the incredible nut cases he’s brought in to help run the government, the reliance on his fundamentalist base, and the damage they have already done to what is clearly not a Christian nation, but which they have said is. His cronies have systematically attempted to remove secularity from our government, and the only people who care are the atheists, and maybe a few, intelligent, historically trained Christians. The rank and file, the ones who you claim don’t believe it is a Christian Nation, remain silent and allow it to happen.

  14. I remember someone who had an entire post mocking the idea of having the slogan on the currency by contrasting the excuses used by ones that could be used to support the slogan “white rule”. Because you know it isn’t such a big deal…

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