Last semester I wrote a paper about newspaper coverage of congressional bills adding “under God” to the pledge, declaring “In God We Trust” the national motto and putting it on currency. I noticed that they were carefully vague about the theological meaning of these moves, and embraced any monotheism, and that it was also set up as a clear way to differentiate our Christian Democracy from Atheist Communists. I argued that it was an interesting case of 1950s civil religion, and shed light on how those changes came to be and the relationship of religiosity and patriotism in the mid-50s, and that it offered interesting insights into lay-theories of the rhetoric of material objects.
Today, I read that congress is still worried about the words on coins. In some ways the arguments are the same – our identity as Christian is important, it should show up on material elements of our national culture. The argument now lacks the boogeyman of communist atheists, however, and instead accuses a vague enemy (even the mint itself) of trying to remove or forget God, given the motto’s less prominent position on these new coins. The whole thing still seems a bit silly, and I wonder what drives law-makers to worry about the design of coins instead of, say, people who are sick and can’t afford treatment. There are a couple of possible sources: first the paranoia of the Christian right – anything that feeds into their persecution narrative helps them get attention and money. Also, the presidential race has seen much less attention to typical religious conservative issues. Squabbles like this are an easy way for congressmen like Brownback to get a symbolic victory and pacify their restless constituencies.
Still, it’s weird that this same issue is coming up now, when in the past it appeared after WWII and after the Civil War. What does it mean that these kinds of national identity issues are coming up in the midst of an unpopular foreign war? Are we in some ways imagining ourselves into peace-time by behaving as though the war is already won?
Hat tip: I got this story from Pandagon.