Monday, April 20, 2009

Concerning putting "In God We Trust" on Coins

A friend sent me one of those “pass this on to everyone you know” emails today. I don’t think I have ever actually passed such an email on, and I certainly did not this one, mainly because I couldn’t disagree with it more.

The post---which turns out to be wrong--- said that there is a new US dollar coin out that does not have “In God we Trust” on the coin (I shall assume that I am not being na├»ve, and falling for some kind of gag….at first I thought it was something like that). The post went on to urge everyone to boycott the coin, that is, to refuse to accept it for monetary exchanges.

The fact is that the coin does contain the “In God We Trust” inscription on the edge of coin. I think this is unfortunate. It would be better if it were entirely absent.

I claim that whether you are Christian, Deist, Atheist, etc, you should in fact insist that all references to any Deity be absent from all government issues. Now, maybe there are other reasons for resisting the circulation of a new coin---though I cannot imagine what they might be---but one should not resist the circulation on religious grounds, regardless of his or her affiliation.

Here is the main reason why: we have, and should have, a secular government. Having such is in fact a requirement of a state that insures freedom of religion. It is unfortunately true that the “founding fathers” did put the term God into some of the founding documents, but a clear reading of the climate in which these things were created shows it to be a rather generalized term for a common ideal, not a theistically conceived God. In particular, there is, as far as I can tell, no mention of Christianity or Jesus in any of the state papers. The spirit of that age, which gave rise to a free society, and put an end to any justification of there being a “Divine Right of Kings”, was that of the Enlightenment. While many of the framers of the American documents claimed to be Deists, some were Christians, but I believe all felt that religious freedom was vital, and that adherence to a state recognized religion was very wrong.

What is a person thinking that says such things as “Now, especially in these dire times, we do not want to remove God from our coins!” Do they think that God will look favorably upon the citizens living under a government that puts His Name on government property? That He will favor a society that does this, and tend to bring misfortune on a country having a secular government? To me this is absurd, even from---or maybe I should say especially from---a Christian perspective. As I recall, there is a scene in the New Testament where Jesus asks whose image is on a coin, Caesar or God’s----the clear intent of it is that it is Caesar’s. He does not say that it should be God’s--- rather it is, I think, implied that a government is by its nature neutral from a religious perspective. Some Christians may disagree with my interpretation, but I hope they will at least think about mine. (Speaking for myself, I am an agnostic, not a Christian, but I believe I can see things from their perspective).

Do they think they are going to “fool God”, and He will think favorably of people who hypocritically put His name on coins and intone it in state-related oaths? And why pretend that we all have essentially the same concept of God? I am pretty sure that this is not the case, even among the various Christian denominations, even less so among the different religions represented within the United States.

There is the practical issue that it sets a very bad precedent. How will such precedents play in the future? Suppose “God” gets changed to “Allah”. Granted, Christianity is no doubt a majority religion at the present time, but this may not remain true in the more distant future. If you are Christian or Jewish, think how you would feel if the coins were minted with Allah on the face. Not happily, I am pretty sure. And in any case, it is central to the idea of religious freedom to protect the rights of those belonging to minority religions (or to no religion at all).

Everyone should rejoice that we have a government that makes no reference to any particular religion, even allowing for a more generalized concept of a Deity. Look around the world and observe how so many states have a dogma ingrained into their government. There are of course dogmatically infested states that are godless, but these seem to often involve the worship of an “Emperor” or such, and in effect are a sort of theocracy (think of North Korea). Theocracies abound, and the irony is that the US is at odds (even if not actually at war) with many of them. And quite often these theocratic governments are flagrant violators of human rights; I doubt that this is a simple coincidence.

As far as the government is concerned, let it be neutral about the existence of a Deity. This issue should be left to each individual’s conviction (and of course to the churches, denominations, or sects to which an individual freely chooses to belong), even if some decide that there is no such being
God, if He exists, will be able to tell who believes and who does not. Above all, He would not be fooled by a cheap and unjustifiable ploy of putting his name on coins, thus surely making hypocrites of a great many citizens.