Sunday, April 29, 2007

In Justice We Trust?

Would you prefer "justice" in the place of "G-d" on coins and in the Pledge of Allegiance?

Brandon, responding to Jason Kuznicki, argues that mention of G-d in political discourse does not in and of itself constitute an endorsement of religion (and that a more objective definition of endorsement is necessary).

I often worry that the purpose to reference's to G-d in government slogans have nothing to do with endorsement: surrounding American values in an aura of absolute truth and goodness. What we "trust" is that what we do is sanctioned by G-d.

The more challenging notion--that we strive to follow the precepts and desires of a divine entity--is not in operation. No judgemental eye will be cast upon the nation. G-d is a passive witness to American exceptionalism.

More often than not, G-d is subordinate to nationalism when used in public life. In Nationalization of the Masses, George Mosse argued that nationalists appropriated the symbols and rituals of religion--both Christian and pagan--to create a "secular religion": nation as the ultimate object of faith and worship. The origin of those symbols was superfluous; their meanings were distorted beyond recognition.

From this perspective, mention of G-d does not entail endorsement. It raises new concerns about the use of religious symbols in government, and is a more powerful argument for disentangling symbols and government (for both "believers" and "atheists"). But it is a god that is subordinate, devalued, subject to the exigencies of nationalism and the national spirit.

Should a concept like justice substitute for G-d? As much as I would like "justice" to be a leading principle in public life, it might fare no better than G-d. "In Justice We Trust" would not provide anything more objective or substantive, nothing that would generate more consensus or require less of a leap of faith. It would do nothing more than say, uncritically, "we are just."


At 5:14 PM, Blogger Brandon said...

I think this is exactly right; there is a more serious worry here than endorsement, namely, that this is just an indirect way of giving modern-day Caesar a share of divinity on his own terms, by surrounding his scepter with a divine glow. And that is as dangerous now as it ever has been.

At 1:33 PM, Blogger Gene said...

Oh, my. Can I have truly found an article written by a theo-phobe? The fact that you intentionally omitted the "o" in God has me very concerned. There can be no dialogue on the subject when the original question is framed by such a slanted perspective.
Can we change "God" for "Justice" is an interesting ideological proposal. Do the two concepts equate? If so, on what level? If not, why not? That seems to be more appropriate.

To suggest that no judgmental eye will be cast on the public for making a decision to change the expression is simply naive. Everything that America does is put before the world's eye for scrutiny. To make such a change would certainly bring about a questioning as to the motives for the change. I realize that is exactly what you are trying to do by offering this suggestion but the language is very one-sided and simplistic.

That being said; my take: No, leave the language as is – for now.
The reason for the language was to distinguish this country from those of communist thinking in which religion is despised and condemned because it could identify something of higher worth than the government. While the cold war no longer exists, that sentiment is still true. Whether or not we as Americans hold God to be real or not, we all hold “something” to be greater than government. In America, government exists to serve the people – not the other way around. Whether we consider the Almighty to be tat thing, social justice, or pure capitalism to be above government, we all do it. In that sense God (or god – lower case) is that thing we serve; where we put our trust.

In a recent survey, the American public overwhelmingly indicated that there is a public belief in God; a supernatural being. True or not, this is a real perspective on American life, thinking and (dare I say) a slogan of belief. So, it is true. If we remove the wording to appease those who dislike all things religious when the country is overwhelmingly religious in one sense or another, is to disavow our heritage and being as a country. No, there should be no proselytizing from politics. People can believe as they choose and people can reject or agree with them as they choose. Keep it.

On the other side of the question is whether or not “justice” should be used. Given the current state of affairs with Abu Graib and Nifong, using “justice” as a statement of trust seems quite hypocritical. We should be listing that as high on our list. But. . . .

Overall and engaging concept and worth discussion. Just try to phrase things so that your own views aren’t so blatant.

At 6:53 PM, Blogger Nathanael said...


I feel you have overread much of my post. Replacing G-d with justice was a hypothetical. Much of what I wrote was very much in the tradition of Kierkegaard, asking whether it is possible to replace religiously derived values with secular. I believe quite firmly that G-d represented in American creeds has more to do with nationalism than with religion, much the way that Germans wrote "G-tt mit uns" but dispensed with Christianity anyway. Indeed, in many nations such usage has been put forward as a slogan to diminish the sense of choice of the people, working against the popular voice without actually inserting religious content. Destiny, not democracy or devotion, is what is important. Moreover, G-d is diminished by becoming subordinate to nation--much as I feel justice would be had it been elevated in G-d's place, as many secularists might suggest.

On the other issue, I take extreme offense at being called a theophobe. The removal of vowels from the G-d, in whatever language it is written in, stands firmly in Jewish tradition, reflecting the lost pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton.


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