Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Motto Lotto

As though there were nothing more important to be done, Representative Randy Forbes (R-Va), along with 64 co-sponsors, has introduced a resolution in the House to "reaffirm" the official motto of the United States as "In God We Trust" and encourage its display "in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions" (full text here). It has been our official motto only since 1956 when, during the Cold War, the U.S. wanted to distinguish ourselves from the godless Soviets. It's our official motto, but as mottoes go, it's pretty lousy.

Why? First because of the obvious way it marginalizes non-believers and polytheists who, believe it or not, can be good Americans. Besides which, we're not truly a nation "under God." We're a secular nation under secular laws with religious freedom. That's why we have so many believers--and so many different beliefs. If you want to see "One Nation Under God," go visit an Islamic nation under Shariah Law. I'd rather live in a country where I'm free to practice a religion (or no religion) with only the most basic constraints (we draw the line somewhere this side of human sacrifice, for instance).

If we're going to talk about a national motto, we should think about truth in advertising. If we're set on "In God We Trust," we might at least add a clause to it: "All other pay cash." That would allude to our capitalist ethos. Except, of course, that we're a nation of debtors, cash-optional. "Born to Spend" captures nicely the way that we've come to think of ourselves primarily as consumers. "Greed is Good" might work for us, or if the Republicans took complete control it could be "I got mine (good luck getting yours)." Maybe "Every Man for Himself." Perhaps my readers have some ideas of their own?

If we're dead set on "reaffirming" a national motto, we could do worse than to go back to Latin motto adopted in 1782 as part of the national seal: E Pluribus Unum, "out of many, one." Doesn't that capture our ideal of who we are as a nation--a whole nation--better than "In God We Trust"?


  1. I like the recommendation of E Pluribus Unum. And agree with you about "In God We Trust." Why isn't it obvious that declaring a thing, or making a law about it, doesn't make something true?

    Also today, a friend posted this:

  2. Well, though i have no idea about this but i just love to know who won the game and how much is the price?