In God We Trust

November 25, 2007 | By | 11 Replies More

Four familiar words. Four words not even found in this form in the bible, at that. Why should we even pay attention to this ancient and revered phrase?

Actually, it dates back to a Christian political activist in the 19th century pushing the treasury to make sure that future archaeologists (on finding no evidence of our civilization but our coins) know that we were a Christian nation. It was thus briefly seen on the U.S. 2-cent piece at the end of the civil war. And then retired, not to be seen again for over a generation.

Then came the morality movement backlash from “The Gay 90’s”. Picture a disco era for your great-great-grandparents. This post-Victorian backlash eventually led to the 18th and 21st amendments (prohibition and its repeal). Meanwhile, this slogan started appearing on coins in 1908. There is nothing like the fear of pleasure to get politicians who need to appear churchy to move on a moral issue.

I just read an article “IN GOD WE TRUST” — STAMPING OUT RELIGION ON NATIONAL CURRENCY that suggests protest in the form of marking out the offending theist sentiment on any folding money that passes through our hands. Although it is petty vandalism, it is not a federal offense. As long as an alteration you make to money does not change its value in any way, it isn’t illegal.

In God We Trust Dollar SmallAs I read that article, I considered making a rubber stamp along the lines of “You are not alone. Other atheists have handled this bill” to print along the top margin. Maybe I need something shorter.

Of course, if I/we/someone starts doing this, a whole series of “You are not alone” dollars might start spreading for each disenfranchised group. This is not a bad thing. Too many people in this country stay in their comfy insular groups and forget about the actual diversity that makes this a great country.

Meanwhile, look at more than just the corners of your money. How many Where’s George bills have you blindly passed? I sometimes take a minute to register them when I get them.

Back to my central “In God We Trust” point:
Deeper than “Who is this God whose interior we depend on?”
Are we really willing members of this “We” that all of us are tacitly agreeing to each time we pass along currency?


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Category: American Culture, Culture, Good and Evil, History, Religion

About the Author ()

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    I've heard the argument (by theists) that the slogan "In God We Trust" is not really about religion. It's allegedly just a traditional saying, not pushing for any particular view. If that's true that it really has no meaning, neither should its opposite. It would be interesting to see how theists would react if they saw the following on their coins:

    In no God do we trust.

    In God we don't trust.

    or, to really see if it lacks meaning, "In Zeus we trust." That's an even older tradition, you know.

    I don't really want to do any of these things, because I don't want to add fuel to the culture war fire. Nor am I offended by the current phrase enough to do anything about it, given the incredible elasticity of the term "God." After all, depending on what theist you talk with, "God" wants us to give away everything we own to the poor; He thinks its OK to waterboard; He wants us to hate gays and all abortions; He approved of slavery in the Bible; He approves of killing through war, yet he says love thy enemies. It's patently obvious to me that "God" means that voice in one's own head (whoever you are).

    Perhaps, then, the national slogan should be "In Myself I trust."

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    The "not really about religion" argument is true, as long as you presume that everyone agrees that whatever your belief, at least we all admit that God created everything and, through his benevolence, we are here.

    If there are people who have a faith other than paternalistic monotheism, then we have a problem.

    As the original post mentions, the reason it was put on our money in the first place was to guarantee that everyone seeing our money recognizes that our nation is essentially a Christian nation dedicated to a particular God.

    "In 1861, the Reverend M.R. Watkinson persuaded the secretary of the Treasury to try to introduce 'In God We Trust' as a motto on the coins of the land, arguing on the theological premise that in a Judeo-Christian nation, 'There is but one God.' Congress, then beginning to be responsive to the religious community and the votes that it was presumed to control, passed the Coinage Act of April 22, 1864, which designated that 'In God We Trust' be put on coins 'when and where sufficient space in the balance of the design' would permit it."

    Only one minor and unpopular coin had the motto over the next 44 years. Possibly this sparsity of Godliness on money was in deference to the Enlightenment crowd (mainly Deists and agnostics) that founded our nation.

  3. gatomjp says:

    I live right down the street from the church in which Reverend M.R. Watkinson officiated. There's a large sign there that announces to passersby that this is the spot on which "In God We Trust" originated. I always thought it was a dubious claim to fame.

  4. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    I always though it was part of an old storekeepers slogan..

    In God we trust, but everyone else must pay in cash.

  5. grumpypilgrim says:

    The trouble with the phrase, "In God we trust," is that it fails to specify whose "god" it refers to. Fundamentalist Christians jump on the phrase and insist it is *their* god (i.e., the one they believe wrote the Bible as a true and literal document), but this does not stop people with other beliefs from doing the same thing. The "God" in the phrase could be the god of the Deists, for example, or the god of the Jews, the Muslims or any other group. But Fundies like to insist that "god" mentioned anywhere in any government document necessarily refers to Jesus, because they believe "god" and "Jesus" are interchangeable.

  6. Scott M says:

    I always thought it would be cool to make a machine, that would automatically stamp an "X" through the 'In god we trust" motto on coins.

    Coins last a lot longer than paper money, about 30 years.

    I would be a interesting social experiment if you could have several of these thourhout the country. Eventually, everyone would come across this 'atheist money;

  7. myname says:

    Re: Scott M

    There used to be a website that sold a little stamping tool to be used on the coins. You'd place it against the message and tap it with a hammer and you'd have a nice little circle with a slash (the 'no' symbol) superimposed over the message. Unfortunately I can't find them anymore, I wish I'd bought one now.

  8. Dan Klarmann says:

    Special metal stamps are available if you know where to look. Try…. for example. You can order any symbol in any size. How about an American Atheists logo instead of the circle-slash for this purpose?

    <img src="; height="30" alt="old atheist logo"> or <img src="; height="30" alt="new Atheist Logo">

  9. Dan Klarmann says:

    Here's a new take, with images, at The Far Left Side

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