Wednesday, February 04, 2009

In God We Trust

A close friend from my high school days keeps me on her "fwd" list. I don't mind. Generally I disdain forwards as supreme opposed to, say, blogging, which of course doesn't waste ANY time at all. Yah. Anywho, a recent one that found its way into my inbox was one of those 'round-the-world forwards, that comes to a person, then gets sent to all the members of that person's contacts list, yadda yadda. This one had to do with the newest version of the U.S. dollar coin, and how people (translation: good, Christian people) need to boycott the despicable thing because it DOES NOT CARRY the words "In God We Trust."

Which, if you know me at all, just about made me stroke out.

Folks. Seriously. Seriously? We have to have this conversation again?? Okay. Fine by me. Lissen up.

The motto "In God We Trust", like the "under God" phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance, was never originally part of our coinage. The one word that was a requirement on our money from its earliest days, shown here on the 1793 cent, was very simple: "Liberty."

Naturally the name of the country and the denomination belonged there as well, but that sort of goes without saying, right? So, beyond those obvious inclusions, the only thing - the ONLY thing! - that our illustrious Founding Fathers thought was important enough to declare on all our currency, was the word describing the very reason we were a country in the first place...liberty.

"In God We Trust" came about largely due to increased religious sentiment during the Civil War. Think about it: two countries (the U.S.A. and the C.S.A.) occupying the same landmass, made up of the same people, worshipping the same God. It's the age-old question: "If God's on our side, who could possibly be on theirs?" It's the same question asked during the Crusades (as if Allah wasn't on the side of the Muslims) and World War II (as if the Nazi's didn't believe in God as well). The U.S. thought to out-worship the C.S. by placing the motto on the newly-minted 2ยข piece in 1864:

Pretty coin, innit? Nice & hefty, too...makes me wonder why we got rid of it!

Now, you'd think that, once placed, the "In God We Trust" motto would be good to go. Not so! It's use was interrupted on several of our coins after 1864. The most obvious one, the one most people would have seen on a daily basis, was the Liberty Head nickel of 1883-1913:

Notice that we've started using the "E Pluribus Unum" motto in addition to "Liberty," but conspicuously absent is "In God We Trust." Here too, on the gold eagle (which admittedly most folks wouldn't just carry around), there's no mention of the Christian deity:

Again, a lovely coin. As a collector, I can look wistfully on these beautiful pieces of spendable art and lament the fact that all I have to look at are dead presidents. *sigh*

So, we've established that there's a long-standing precedent of NOT having the "In God We Trust" motto. The bigger problem with the new $1 coin, though, is very simple: THE MOTTO'S THERE! In an effort to not clog the obverse/reverse faces of the coin with tons of writing, the mint chose a little-used option (but certainly not a new one) of putting the motton on the edge of the coin (called "edge incusion):

Again, I don't necessarily think Adam's dour face is particularly artful, but dammit, the motto is there. Along with the date and mint mark. And "E Pluribus Unum."

Part of my irritation is that people will spread what they "see," without really looking at the situation. I guess this is how rumor & innuendo become "news." My biggest beef, though, is that people would use this excuse to boycott one of the biggest money-savers the government could enact: the use of the dollar coin to the exclusion of the bill. The typical life of a paper (really cotton) bill is 18 months. A coin? 30 years. When the Sacagawea dollar was introduced in the '90s, it was estimated that the government could save $500 million (that's with an "m," as in 6 more zeroes) a year if people would use the dollar coin instead of the bill. But we won't, because we're not used to it. Hell, the United States is the only country left with such a small-denomination bill...we're so out of it, it ain't even funny! But along we go, merrily throwing crummy itty-bitty bills at each other, all the while bitching about the government and "wasteful spending." You wanna control wasteful spending? Start to save up those worn-out $1 notes, and when you get a handful of 'em, take 'em to the bank and ask for coins. Refuse to use the bills, I say, and send the message that we could better use that $500 mil somewhere else...or simply not spend it at all. Hey, there's a novel idea!


Blogger Strangeite said...

Excellent post and a good example of why I love reading blogs.

My method of handling forwards as remained consistent for several years. If I am getting numerous forwards from the same person that contains obviously stupid information, then I simply take two minutes to find the truth, press the "Reply All" button and explain to them (and everyone else they sent it to) that the information is stupid and provide them proof. It usually only takes a couple of times of being embarrassed in this way for them to be more careful as to what they send out (or they just take me off their forward list).

12:37 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

Great post! Your forwarding friend also probably doesn't know that some of the most stalwart defenders of the separation of church and state, back in the formative years of our nation, were evangelical Christians who believed--rightly, I think--that the only government under which they'd be assured freedom to worship as they pleased was a government that operated independent of religious institutions.

Short memories. Now we have evangelical Christians who for all intents and purposes seem to want to live in a theocracy, even as they demonize the theocrats of the Middle East.

One minor quibble: I'm not sure it's accurate to refer to the "God" of our coinage as "the Christian deity." From the beginning, use of the word "God" in American civic spaces has been more nuanced than that. Several of our founding fathers used religious language even as they eschewed institutional Christianity (Jefferson, for instance). There's a case to be made that "God" has always been an entity in American civic religion, and American civic religion is not synonymous with Christianity.

Sorry--I went on a bit there.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Suze said...

Great post!

I might attract some fiery responses here, but here goes anyway: I don't give a shit whether "In God We Trust" is on our coinage or not. I don't even really care that the phrase "under God" is in the pledge of allegiance. I know that there are people out there who are deeply offended by the presence of those phrases, and they certainly have the right to be (free country and all that) and I certainly believe that separation of church and state is vital to good government. But when it comes to this issue, what's written on a coin is much less important to me than what's being taught in science classrooms and sex education in our public schools.

There. I've said it.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Nate Stephenson said...

As a side note, there are a number of $1 coins that are missing "In God We Trust." This was traced to quality control failure and NOT an attempt to remove the motto. These mistakes are being bought by collectors at a price of approximately $50 each. Religious or not, you would be foolish to boycott them as you might end up with a $50 coin (that if so desired could be turned in to a number of pieces of paper that bear the motto, if it's that important to you).

10:35 PM  
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