Dirty Money: Transactional Pagan Writings

Exploring Pagans and their relationship with that earthiest of earth symbols, money.

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In God We Trust, but only as a secular symbol

On this day of remembrance of those fallen in war, it seems appropriate to ponder one of the ways in which war has impacted our money, the addition of the motto, "In God We Trust."  The phrase was first included on US coins in 1864, perhaps to show that God sided with the North in the Civil War.  Paper currency was given the message in 1957, after Congress made it the official motto of the country, to set us apart from godless Communism.

In short, the motto was born of, and fed by, war.

What's perhaps more interesting are the battles which have been fought over the phrase since.  These have been in the courts of law and public opinion, and put followers of this deity in a peculiar position:  to keep God on money, God must be secular.

Teddy Roosevelt was the first person of influence to have a problem with the motto, which he felt "comes dangerously close to sacrilege" by taking the name of God in vain.  TR's misgivings appear to come from the growing belief that "God" is actually a particular deity's name, but some disagree.  Faced with an uproar, the motto became standard on coins.

In more recent years, numerous courts have been asked to consider if the practice offends the United States Constitution, if not the Ten Commandments of Abraham.  Unlike Mr Roosevelt, judges have been concerned not in the slightest, considering the phrase to be "ceremonial Deism" and perfectly appropriate for such secular purposes.

So the phrase, first proposed by a minister to give the USA a sense of unified purpose under a single deity's beneficent guidance, is now legally considered to be as religious as saying "bless you" after a sneeze or "safe home" to a departing guest.

How is that a good idea?  To devout Abrahamics, it dismisses an all-powerful and central deity as a secular symbol.  To secularists, it panders to concerns about intermixing government and religion by saying that God has nothing to do with religion.  To Pagans and many others, it either presents the same problems Christians and Jews face (your deities are empty, secular shells) if you believe "God" to be a generic term, or it sidelines your belief system entirely.  And it certainly doesn't serve atheists whatsoever.

Born of war and preserved by politics, this odd phrase will not be removed from our money, much less our nation, without a coalition of thoughtful people articulating why it is a detriment, not a benefit.  A coalition including thoughtful Abrahamic and atheist leaders, polytheists and spiritualists, people who may or may not believe in something unseen, but have read the constitution and don't like mixing the two.  People who realize that any god being associated with money dilutes both, at least in a country that embraces freedom of religion.  Strong people who understand that our faiths, and our nation, are best kept strong by keeping them just a little bit more apart.

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Terence P Ward is a business writer and journalist who blogs under the rather cumbersome moniker of True Pagan Warrior.  He can generally be found at home, tending to his gardens and the many demands of his cats; in the alternative, follow TPW on Facebook

Comments

  • Jamie
    Jamie Monday, 11 November 2013

    Mr. Ward,

    I agree in principle with the substance of your argument. It's probably for the best, though, if Pagan fingerprints were never on the "Those bastards took 'In God We Trust' off American money!" deed...if it were ever carried out. It would doubtless increase discrimination against Pagans, and help radicalize more mainstream Christians.

    Interesting Civil War connection, as well. As a boy, I was completely fascinated by the Soldier's Monument in Worcester, Massachusetts...dedicated in 1874 to honor the Civil War dead of Worcester. Goddess of Victory, mighty sword in hand and with powerful eagle's wings, hovers high above you atop the stone column. She showers implied blessings upon four bronze Union soldiers (who represent the 398 fallen), a Massachusetts Governor, and the ghost of Abe Lincoln below.

    Holy War sanctified by victory and the sacrifice of good Yankee blood. We both know that this is how the 'winners' of the War Between The States saw the outcome. I did not know that this was connected to 'In God We Trust' being on our coins, though.

    Great article. Thanks for sharing!

  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward Tuesday, 12 November 2013

    We certainly don't want Pagans to be the poster children, which is why I think a coalition is best. Atheists are more numerous, more vocal, and more unified in their beliefs. Christians, at least the ones who do more than pay lip service to their faith, should agree that this is a problem for them as well; I imagine some of those who only pay lip service might resist if there's a political reason to do so. But wouldn't it be wonderful to reach a point of true pluralism in this nation?

  • Jamie
    Jamie Tuesday, 12 November 2013

    Mr. Ward,

    You're right. Thoughtful Christians in positions of power are probably quite aware that secularizing the word 'God', or even pretending to, is essentially desacralizing it.

    Good for Teddy Roosevelt for realizing this 100 years ago. He remains tied with Ike as my favorite 20th century Republican POTUS. He was even a huge fan of Marcus Aurelius!

    True pluralism would be great, but cold and heartless me would rather the atheists absorb the ensuing collateral damage than my fellow Pagans. Frankly, the shit would hit the fan and I'd be more concerned that the amount of hate crimes and discrimination against us would skyrocket.

    For the true believer in a One True God, be they Christian or Muslim (or Jew in Israel), anything less than total domination of society means that their precious religious 'freedom' is being threatened.

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