Defending against the Ignominy of Heathenism since 1857

The motto “In God We Trust” was placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during and after the Civil War. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received many appeals from devout persons throughout the country, urging that the United States recognize the Deity on United States coins. To quote in part one such letter on the US Treasury web site:

Dear Sir: You are about to submit your annual report to the Congress respecting the affairs of the national finances.

One fact touching our currency has hitherto been seriously overlooked. I mean the recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins.

You are probably a Christian. What if our Republic were not shattered beyond reconstruction? Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation? What I propose is that instead of the goddess of liberty we shall have next inside the 13 stars a ring inscribed with the words PERPETUAL UNION; within the ring the allseeing eye, crowned with a halo; beneath this eye the American flag, bearing in its field stars equal to the number of the States united; in the folds of the bars the words GOD, LIBERTY, LAW.

This would make a beautiful coin, to which no possible citizen could object. This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed. From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters.

As I read this, it struck me that in many ways, religion in the United States is our version of a monarchy. By which I mean this: a constitutional monarchy is a form of government where the real power is held by the parliament, but the royal family remains as a symbol of the nation.

While politically defunct, monarchies have shown to have particular positive influence in trying times. I’m thinking specifically of the Nazi bombing of London during World War II, Hirohito during the surrender and reconstruction of Japan, and the calming presence of the Thai king in the recent coup.

What of countries without a monarchy? America, without a King during the Civil War, may have had an increased reliance on religion. A republic may find trying times easier to cope with if they have something to replace a monarch, whether it be ethnic bonds or religious strength. That may be one reason for America’s increased religiosity that exists even today. And I think we can see this in other developed nations without a royal family: Korea emphasizes its ethnic heritage perhaps more than any developed nation, while France focuses incessantly on its cultural heritage.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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39 Responses to Defending against the Ignominy of Heathenism since 1857

  1. Interesting thought. It is a lot harder to turn on God than a monarch. It may make the American system stronger.

  2. andrewdb says:

    The American Monarch is “The Constitution” not generic dieism.

  3. Mike says:

    “In God We Trust” appeared on federal currency so late in our nation’s history only because federal currency prior to the Civil War was not common, rather notes from individual banks were used to convey monetary credit. In other areas of public expression, religion had been a fixture since the time of the Articles of Confederation.

  4. Nathan says:

    Yeah, what andrewb said and more. We have other national symbols and myths that are far more cohesive than Christianity cloaked as deism. Because really, let’s be honest, that’s what Rev. Watkinson really had in mind.

  5. Nathan says:

    Oh, and as I read this, Rev. Watkinson is suggesting that our non-Christian national symbols make us heathens. Seeing as people pay much more attention to the graven images on the coins than the mottos, he seems to have failed in his task.

  6. Curzon says:

    andrewdb: I see your point; however, that the Constitution is our monarch (or the other oft-heard phrase that “In America, the law is king”) imply a reference to an absolute monarch, i.e. the supreme sovereign. I am comparing “generic deism” not to a monarch, but a constitutional monarch.

    What is the role of a constitutional monarch? They have no political power, and are merely a functionary in the actual running of the state. However, outside of the political sphere, they provide comfort to the people during war and unrest.

    The US Constitution provides no comfort — but religion, or heritage, or culture, or some other national bond can provide comfort in a crisis.

  7. Mutantfrog says:

    Curzon, I think you are incorrect here. I’m going to have to back andrewdb, and more specifically the rather commonly spoken idea that the virtual worship of the Constitution in the US forms a kind of civil, patriotic religion.

    In the pre-Christian Roman Republic, citizens and provinces were free to follow any religion that they wished, as long as they also payed homage to the civic gods of Rome. In a vaguely similar way, in the US today, people are more or less free to believe in whatever they want as long as they pay lip service to the ultimate authority of the Constitution.

    But of course the Constitution is only one part of the American civic religion, which also includes a broad pantheon of saints (chiefly the Founding Fathers, Lincoln, and some others), and the sense of American exceptionalism that has manifested, and continues to, in myriad ways, both good and bad.

  8. Nick says:

    British coinage explicitly refers to the role of religion in the British state and the position of the monarch:

    Elizabeth II D.G. Reg. F.D. = Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, Queen, Defender of the Faith.

    The Queen is referred to only in her capacity as Head of the Church of England, and not as Head of State. Interesting.

  9. Curzon says:

    MF: Yes, there is a Constitution-worship in the US, but I would again make my “absolute” v.s. “constitutional” monarch analogy.

    Nick: Is that a current observation? I mean, is that a more recent, post-Constitutional Monarchy development?

  10. Joe says:

    The text on British coins has certainly changed over the years:

    http://www.andyscouse.com/coins/sovereign_mintages.htm

  11. Nick says:

    It should be explained that the identification of the British Monarch as the Head of the Church dates back to the late unpleasantness during the reign of Henry VIII, so I imagine title Defender of the Faith appears on coins pre-1660 and the Bill of Rights, which probably marks the beginning of the constitutional monarchy.

    But what’s the relevance? simply that British coins and notes don’t reflect current political realities, namely the pre-emince of the Head of the Government (currently one T. Blair) and the fact that Britain should be more readily identified as a democracy rather than a constitutional monarchy.

  12. monocrat says:

    Curzon, your description of a constitutionl monarch seems to apply reasonably well to the U.S. Constitution. This is especially so considering how numerous administrations, Congresses and Courts have trotted out the Constitution (interpretations of it at any rate) in defense of their divergent agendas, much like the British sovereign is trotted out annually for the spoon-fed Speech from the Throne.

  13. Joe says:

    Don’t forget the flag. People wear it like a Kim Jong Il badge.

  14. cold pizza says:

    Speaking on behalf of the common working American, of which I is, I would support Curzon’s claim on God, the Monarch. I can go for weeks without thinking about the constitution, but not a day without thinking about God. Most Americans have a measure of faith or belief or a longing for belief.

    While Jefferson was for removing all references to the Almighty from government, he too recognized that their are certain unalienable rights, bestowed by God.

    Yet is the active belief in a Christian God that is responsible for much of what is good in America–tolerance, the willingness to help others in time of need, the desire to improve as we struggle towards higher ideals. Secular humanism can not fill a spiritual void nor offer any better incentive than “moral relativism” and the rule of strength.

    If you believe in law, than you must believe that law is based on something. In the rule of strength, equality is a myth and the law is a farce. We see this in many third world countries where the law has been corrupted by the strong and powerful–there is no fear of punishment.

    It is only in a Godly nation that the rule of law can flourish, where the rights of men are acknowledged to be equal in the eyes of God.

    If there is no God, there is no recourse but the law of the jungle, because humanity is at best an evolved animal and nature dicates that the weak must be preyed upon. Man is not by good by nature, but capricious, rude, ruled by appetites and passions. Look at any group of 3-year olds. Goodness must be learned, but where is the motivation when all must die at the end of the day?

    Why be good?

    I feel sorry for those who’ve never felt the touch of the miraculous in their lives–those who have become so used to living within the confines of their limited physical senses that they refuse to recognize that there can be anything greater than what they have heretofore experienced. The universe is stranger than we can imagine and science has but touched the surface.

    At the end of the day, for most Americans, faith is the guiding principle upon which we build our lives–faith in our communities; faith in the basic goodness of our lives and the desire to make better lives for our children; faith that if we work hard then our efforts will be rewarded; faith that if we are good, that dispite our weaknesses, we will be equal under the law and in the eyes of God. -cp

  15. Mutantfrog says:

    “If there is no God, there is no recourse but the law of the jungle, because humanity is at best an evolved animal and nature dicates that the weak must be preyed upon[...]I feel sorry for those who’ve never felt the touch of the miraculous in their lives”
    And I feel sorry for people who believe that humanity requires an invisible babysitter to keep us from committing evil acts upon one another. I’m not trying to be rude anymore than you were in saying that, but try and keep in mind that the so-called secular humanist attitude can be pretty strong.

  16. Kurt says:

    Christians often claim that the only alternative to their religion is the “law of the jungle”. I disagree. The basis of equality before and the reasonableness of the law is contractual relationships between autonomous individuals.

    We are all sovereign individuals. Law and morally is really based on contractual relationships between free individuals. Does this degenerate into a “mad-max” like anarchy? No, because reasonable people see it in their rational self-interest not to go around preying on others. If I can prey on you, you can certainly prey on me. The rational objection to this is sometimes referred to as the “prisoner’s delimma” or “game theory”. Christians will, of course, recognize this as their golden rule. Contrary to the rhetoric of the christian right, this is actually imperical in nature and does not require the existance of a “god” to self-justify.

    This is the impirical basis the contractual nature of morality and of libertarianism. It does not require the existance of a “supernatural” being.

    I have never believed in nor felt the need to believe in any of the currently existing religious memes in order to find happiness and fulfillment in my life. As far as what might be called “spiritual”, I suggest that pioneering is the true spiritual value. The infinite quest for knowledge and the expansion of humanity into new areas. Transhumanism is the complete embodiment of the pioneering spirit and, thus, is true spiritualism. Hence, I fulfill my spiritual needs by being a transhumanist.

  17. @Mutantfrog: By the flying spaghetti monster, I couldn’t have put it better myself. If I was answering cold pizza’s meaningless rhetoric, I would have been less civil.

    @Cold Pizza: it’s amazing you can say God teaches you tolerance and simultaneously show so little respect and so much condescence towards those who believe otherwise. Apparently one thing God didn’t teach you is to avoid hypocrisy and smug arrogance. Smite you very much.

    @Curzon: “The US Constitution provides no comfort””?but religion, or heritage, or culture, or some other national bond can provide comfort in a crisis.” By comfort, you mean an irrational overemotional response, right? Cuz in a crisis, what I think ought to be bringing you together is the fact that EVERYONE IS IN THE CRISIS. Religion, heritage, culture – these are fantastic ways to end up excluding some of your fellow human beings who are facing the crisis alongside you.

    Let’s take 9/11. If religion was the social glue behind facing the crisis, then Sikhs would be beaten up. Oh right, they were. If heritage was the glue, then Sikhs might have been beaten up. If culture… you get the point. The Constitution seems a far better (*cough* secular humanist) rallying point – no one is left behind. I wish the result of 9-11 had in fact been to circle the wagons around the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the scripture of the Republic. Unfortunately, it appears to have been everything but.

  18. Kenneth says:

    _If there is no God, there is no recourse but the law of the jungle, because humanity is at best an evolved animal and nature dicates that the weak must be preyed upon. Man is not by good by nature, but capricious, rude, ruled by appetites and passions. Look at any group of 3-year olds. Goodness must be learned, but where is the motivation when all must die at the end of the day?_

    No. If “God’s Law” is justified by its utility, then the utility in itself is justification for a moral code. God becomes a redundant middleman. Man is indeed not good by nature, and this is why Jefferson, who referred to the bible as a “dunghill”, created checks and balances on government to ensure the rule of law. The basis of all social order is reciprocity: by existing in some sort of commonwealth and respecting each others’ rights, we all gain much more than we would in a state of complete anarchy. Rational self-interest, not God, is the foundation of an enlightened social order.

    _Why be good?_

    Because your membership in the Covenant depends on it. If you claim that coercion and terror are the foundation of social stability, then a secular government that severely punishes its criminals is sufficient.

    And finally, you might want to have a look at “this”:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1798944,00.html:

    _RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today._

    _According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems._

    _The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society._

    _It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality._

    _Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”Â?. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills._

    _The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world._

    _”In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies._

    _*”The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”Â?*_

    _Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions._

    _He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy._

    _*The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from ” uniquely high”Â? adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.*_

    _Mr Paul said: “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.”Â?_

    _He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added._

    _Mr Paul delayed releasing the study until now because of Hurricane Katrina. He said that the evidence accumulated by a number of different studies suggested that religion might actually contribute to social ills. “I suspect that Europeans are increasingly repelled by the poor societal performance of the Christian states,”Â? he added._

    _He said that most Western nations would become more religious only if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existence of God scientifically proven. Likewise, the theory of evolution would not enjoy majority support in the US unless there was a marked decline in religious belief, Mr Paul said._

    _”The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator._

    _”The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”Â?_

    Of course, this is not to argue that religion is the cause of social ill, for that would ignore the multicollinearity intrinsic to such a measurement. Rather, it demonstrates that religion is not a societal panacea.

    And the full study may be found “here”:http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html.

  19. cold pizza says:

    Ah, discussion!
    MutantFrog makes a assumption that “so-called secular humanist attitude can be pretty strong.” In a rational world, that would be true, we would be our brother’s keeper. In countries with a Judeo-Christian tradition, we see the rule of law (mostly). Where religion is a “culture” versus a lifestyle, then you see the same type of law of the strong that comes into play in Godless or Pagan countries (Africa) as the amoral or immoral prey upon the weak. Faith is not merely professing belief in an “invisible babysitter” but an active desire to improve oneself based on a sometimes shaky belief in a superior power (God). Faith is what allows the Amish to forgive when a rational man would rant and rail and curse God.

    Dave, I love the FSM! Exactly! I can’t prove anything. I only know from my experiences. If all you’ve seen are shadows in the cave, than anything else anyone has to say about higher realities is going to sound insane. And possible disrespectful and intolerant. We are each free to find the level of spirituality (or lack thereof) that we find comfortable. My point was that the Constitution is a great starting point for setting up a system of law and the equality of men (except slaves, of course), but it had to have been based on a Judeo-Christian concept of equality before God. Condencension, smug arrogance and hypocracy? I’ll have you know I’m very proud of my humility. But then again, aren’t we all being condescending, arrogant and hypocritical as we attempt wit, humor and snide comments (not to offend, but I do mean myself). The difference between me and thee is I will suffer guilt and will end up repenting. Zoiks! There I go again.

    Kenneth,
    Is it possible that Gregory Paul, a palaeontologist and NOT a social scientist or sociologist or cultural anthropologist, has a possible axe to grind? That perhaps he feels upset at the “religiosity” of his fellow citizens? Or that his article and his methodology has come under fire by others (google Gregory Paul). Just because a person is an expert in a certain field does not instantly qualify him to expound on any field. I would submit that the raping, killing, torture and general mayhem found in the gap countries, not just in the Western democracies, are due to law of the jungle. There is no God in which to trust, so grab what you can and eat, drink and be merry, for you know the rest of the quote.

    Religion is NOT the answer, neither is dogma nor doctrine nor bibliodolitry. What matters is a person’s personal relationship with that source from which sprang the human soul. I happen to have faith in God. I believe the framers of the Constitution did too.

    I do like the “invisible babysitter” analogy. Boy, am I going to be in trouble when the Parent get home! -cp

  20. CP – thank you for a humorous and enlightening discussion. It is unfortunate that those of us who are religious in some small way are tarred as if we were Falwell’s closest kin. Christianity has played a central role in the development of our civilization, and while we probably all agree it has often beeen hijacked by scoundrels, it remains a deeply appreciated faith. Our local vicar once suggested that the important issue was not whether it WAS true, but rather that we should live as if it was… AMEN

  21. Kenneth says:

    _Ah, discussion!
    MutantFrog makes a assumption that “so-called secular humanist attitude can be pretty strong.”Â? In a rational world, that would be true, we would be our brother’s keeper. In countries with a Judeo-Christian tradition, we see the rule of law (mostly). Where religion is a “culture”Â? versus a lifestyle, then you see the same type of law of the strong that comes into play in Godless or Pagan countries (Africa) as the amoral or immoral prey upon the weak. Faith is not merely professing belief in an “invisible babysitter”Â? but an active desire to improve oneself based on a sometimes shaky belief in a superior power (God). Faith is what allows the Amish to forgive when a rational man would rant and rail and curse God._

    The world IS rational, however. Rationality is an absolute, otherwise anything goes. And Africa is a) not a country, and b) not godless- Christianity and Islam are very strong on the continent. Just look at recently ended civil war in the Sudan. Faith is belief in something without evidence- in other words, the practice of arbitrary assumption. I could with equal veracity to you proclaim my “faith” in the flying spaghetti monster. And finally, the Rule of Law and the Republic are Greek inventions- and let us not forget that Greece was a pagan civilization. The belief in the ultimate efficacy of the human mind, which is the core of Western civilization, had its origins with Aristotle. The Roman Republic, too, founded before the birth of Christ was, well, a Republic, complete with the rule of law, an elected legislature and head of state. To wit, it wasn’t perfect- it still practiced slavery- but it was far better than the Christian era otherwise known as the Dark Ages. Rome’s adoption of Christianity as a civil religion accompanied its civilizational decline- once again, proving that religion is not the panacea it’s made out to be.

    _Kenneth,
    Is it possible that Gregory Paul, a palaeontologist and NOT a social scientist or sociologist or cultural anthropologist, has a possible axe to grind? That perhaps he feels upset at the “religiosity”Â? of his fellow citizens? Or that his article and his methodology has come under fire by others (google Gregory Paul). Just because a person is an expert in a certain field does not instantly qualify him to expound on any field. I would submit that the raping, killing, torture and general mayhem found in the gap countries, not just in the Western democracies, are due to law of the jungle. There is no God in which to trust, so grab what you can and eat, drink and be merry, for you know the rest of the quote._

    He is a social scientist, though:

    _Gregory Paul, the author of the study *and a social scientist*, used data from the *International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions*._

    This demonstrates that you did not read my answer, and that you are not interested in serious discussion, merely in advancing your “faith-based” agenda. And the “gap countries” you mention are far more religious that your average western nation- in Africa, for instance, atheism is virtually nonexistent, and Roman Catholicism remains a very strong social force in Latin America. To attribute the lack of success of these countries to lack of religion is false and unbelievably facile- if religion were the basis of societal prowess, then the Middle Ages would have been far ahead of us in every conceivable regard. Also, the number of people who are secular or nonreligious in the world is about 850 million, most of whom are concentrated in the first world. This number is not nearly enough to encompass the number of people submerged in poverty, civil war, famine, and chaos generally. And to cap this- the citation of the study itself was not ment to show that religion is a cause of social ill, as I explained previously, or even that it is a symptom thereof. It was ment to falsify your spurious claim that, without religion, we are doomed.

  22. Kenneth says:

    Addendum: Success is an economic phenomenon, not a cultural one. The West succeeded because of free market capitalism, not because of its culture.

  23. cold pizza says:

    Calling Gregory Paul a social scientist does not make him one. What other papers has he published? None, nada, zip. Wikipedia (yeah, yeah, another source of pristine information) does have an article on Gregory S Paul as a freelance palaeontologist who has authored and illustrated two books on dinosaurs and the one article on religion.

    I could make the claim that since Los Angeles was settled by Franciscan Monks, and there are daily gangland shootings, that the social ills of LA can be traced to Catholicism. The link is there.

    I did not posit that American society is doomed unless we bend to a theocracy. I affirm that most Americans would hold to a faith in a higher power that allows us to find solace during times of national trial. While the Christian God has no political affiliation, He is a symbol that Americans can rally around–and let’s face it, the US was founded as a Christian nation, not a secular country. -cp

  24. Kenneth says:

    _Calling Gregory Paul a social scientist does not make him one. What other papers has he published? None, nada, zip. Wikipedia (yeah, yeah, another source of pristine information) does have an article on Gregory S Paul as a freelance palaeontologist who has authored and illustrated two books on dinosaurs and the one article on religion._

    Uh, the article mentioned it. In any case, it doesn’t invalidate his stats, which were gathered from a wide variety of social science research institutes. Once again, you’re missing the point: this is intended to falsify the notion that a godless citizenry would be a destructive one, not that there is any causal chain between religion and social dysfunction.

    _I could make the claim that since Los Angeles was settled by Franciscan Monks, and there are daily gangland shootings, that the social ills of LA can be traced to Catholicism. The link is there._

    Paul never made any claims of a _post hoc_ nature, though. He was merely assembling statistics and leaving them open for interpretation.

    _and let’s face it, the US was founded as a Christian nation, not a secular country._

    The “First Amendment of the United States Constitution”:http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Am1 reads thus:

    _Congress shall make no law *respecting an establishment of religion*, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances._

    In other words, the Founding Fathers of the USA quite clearly intended their nation to be a secular one, otherwise they would have explicitly stated that the US was to be a dominionist state. I must say that your ignorance of even basic facts about the world and your own country is truly astounding- your arguments are riddled with unsupported claims and empty assertions for which you have no evidence to defend. You avoided my statements about the nature of the rule of law, and the religious demography of the third world. You made a _post hoc, ergo propter hoc_ argument which, aside from resting on entirely false premises, you implicitly accused me of making. And finally, you ignore any and all arguments I do make, and continue to blandly assert your original points.

  25. BillyBob says:

    Korea emphasizes its ethnic heritage perhaps more than any developed nation,

    Korea is also probably the most religious nation I’ve visited.

  26. Mutantfrog says:

    CP: You say that belief in God is what keeps our society together but frankly I just don’t buy it. If you look around the world and compare religious societies with non-religious ones there is absolutely not a trend towards greater development or stability in religious societies. If you set the US, most of the world’s highly developed countries (western Europe, Japan) currently tend towards non-religiosity and most of the world’s craziest and most fucked up countries are highly religious. The US is more of an exception to this pattern.

    “While the Christian God has no political affiliation, He is a symbol that Americans can rally around””?and let’s face it, the US was founded as a Christian nation, not a secular country.”
    I didn’t see large numbers of people rallying around God after 9/11. People rallies around secular patriotic symbols-they sought religions for personal comfort and solace, which is all it should be about.

    I don’t have anything against people being religious, but using religion as a means of justifying societal values is a dangerous game. Again, all of the world’s most dangerous and unpleasant places are full of religious fanatics, who could use the same arguments as cold pizza to justify whatever it is that they’re doing. Of course coldpizza is using religion to justify what is probably roughly the same moral code that American “secular humanists” (I don’t like that term for some reason, but it’s what we seem to be using right now) which makes it seem to me like common American values have nothing inherently religious about them. If you want to use religion to justify the fact that you don’t do bad things on a daily basis, fine. But be aware that most of the values associated with being an American have little to do with religion at all. Like Bill Maher said in some standup I listened to recently-take the 10 commandments, only two of them are actually laws.

    “In countries with a Judeo-Christian tradition, we see the rule of law (mostly).”
    Kenneth responded to this comment already and I addressed it indirectly, but again, come on. This is just false. Do we see the rule of law in the Philippines? Haiti? Nigeria? The Sudan? And you can’t talk about the Judeo-Christian tradition without Islam. It’s really a trinity, and leaving out the one that you aren’t as happy about is disingenuous.

    Now, it is true that the Judaic tradition is strong on law, and Islam has a strong sense of law as well, but like Kenneth said the rule of law is a Greco-Roman ideal. It’s associated with Christian countries in Europe only because the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, changing it overnight from a subversive religion to an establishment one. The Catholic Church became a branch of the state, and then after the civil government of the Empire collapsed, the Roman Church was the only part that survived, and maintained their system of Canon law and church courts that maintained authority originally borrowed from their authority as a state organ.

    Yes, after 1000+ years European culture was heavily inundated with both Christianity and Law and both of those were important to the founders of America, but Christianity itself does not promote the rule of law, those two things just happen to be linked in certain cultures because of history.

  27. Curzon says:

    If I could try and bring this back on topic…

    Once again, you’re missing the point: this is intended to falsify the notion that a godless citizenry would be a destructive one, not that there is any causal chain between religion and social dysfunction.

    The irony is that surveys across the developed world, from Europe to North America to East Asia, show that as people become richer and fatter, they also tend to shy away from religion, produce fewer children, and become less happy, despite having obtained great consumer pleasures and the best comforts modern life can provide.

    When a modern, developed state enters a crisis, whether it be internal unrest or war, people look for comfort elsewhere. A constitutional monarch is one way. Ethnic nationalism is another. Religion is yet another. What I’m saying is that in America, with a very little common culture and no common ethnic heritage, a “bland monotheism/Christianity” is the national comfort in times of crisis. And to bring in other examples, notice that constitutional monarchies — Britain, Thailand, Japan, etc — are not very religious.

  28. Mutantfrog says:

    Billybob: Korea actually has a lower percentage of people identifying as Christian than the US. South Korea is somewhere between one third and one fourth, the US is more like three fourths (off the top of my head). North Korea is of course zero zeroeths, but most Koreans, South and North, subscribe to the same super patriotic ethnic values.

  29. Mutantfrog says:

    “notice that constitutional monarchies””?Britain, Thailand, Japan, etc””?are not very religious.”
    Dude- Thailand is just about the most religious place I have ever been. They are CRAZY for Buddha there! Yes, they love the King, but a lot of that is because he is the Protector of Thai Buddhism or some such thing.

    And for that matter, Thailand isn’t EVEN a constitutional monarchy at the moment. Monarch yes, constitution no.

  30. BillyBob says:

    Frog — why does Religion = Christianity??

  31. Kenneth says:

    _The irony is that surveys across the developed world, from Europe to North America to East Asia, show that as people become richer and fatter, they also tend to shy away from religion, produce fewer children, and become less happy, despite having obtained great consumer pleasures and the best comforts modern life can provide._

    Perhaps, but happiness is difficult to quantify, and it’s very tough to measure across boundaries: the standards differ hugely. A guy living in a mud hut in Africa might be unbelievably thrilled to live like a poor American. Conversely, someone from America probably wouldn’t be too thrilled about living in the bush. I’m not denying that there’s probably some veracity in such a measure, but any cardinal measurements I can think of are slightly shaky, at best. While cross-country research might produce this result, intra-country research shows the opposite: richer people tend to be happier (this research was published in _Maclean’s_, a somewhat liberal Canadian magazine). Just nitpicking.

  32. Mutantfrog says:

    Billybob- it doesn’t, but that’s the only major religion in Korea. I’ve never met any Korean that wasn’t either Christian or non-religious. Buddhism for example is extremely minor in comparison to most other Asian countries.

  33. cold pizza says:

    Curzon, thankyou, brings the topic back. I’ve been reading and thinking about these posts for the last 12 hours or so and, as always, examine my own views and the evolution (no pun intended) of what it means to be “American” (if I can use the term without offending the other North Americans outside the US–”United Statesian” seems so stupid even if it would be etymologically correct).

    What pulls Americans together during national crisis? Perhaps a better question would be, “are we able to stop squabbling among ourselves long enough to attend to the crisis?” Or does the infighting merely switch to a different type of battleground until the current crisis passes? Do we look to rally around the man on the white horse or do we turn to community and family for comfort?

    I suppose, spending a goodly portion living within the CONUS (with a number of years in Asia), I think most Americans don’t rally, at least not anymore; we’ve become too diverse, too fragmented to reach a consensus. They hunker down, they go about their business, they engage in endless armchair quarterback discussions, and occasionally vent and rant on blogs. We do arrogantly believe we own the future while turning a blind eye on so much decay around us, in our own “culture.” Imagine the New Orleans fiasco played out on a national level–which law will hold sway (ala David Brin’s Postman, the novel NOT the movie).

    Without a unifying vision, can the US survive the next great crisis or are all large state entities going to fade away to microstates? Have we already become too fragmented by political and religious differences? Interesting (disturbing) questions to which we can only wait and see how this is all going to play out over the next 20 or 30 years.

    And Kenneth and MF, while I tend to shoot from the lip (never in anger, but occasionally flippant), I did appreciate your responses for the opportunity it gave me to re-examine my own “beliefs” and attitudes. As always, thank you. -cp

  34. BillyBob says:

    An interesting speech on Korean religion can be heard “here.”:http://www.fpri.org/audio/20050409.baker.koreanreligion.mp3 (Right-click to download mp3)

  35. Kurt says:

    Cold Pizza

    I currently live in the U.S. and think that our diverse society where everyone does their own thing is just fine. Why do we need any kind of “unifying vision”? Whats wrong with people pursuing their own dreams and goals in life and interacting with each other on the basis of mutual respect and rational self interest? This is how I have lived my life since becoming an adult and it has served me well. I don’t want to be a part of anyone else’s “unifying vision”.

    I am of the opinion that as long as most people have work ethic and behave semi-rationally, that the future will be just fine. As long as we have free-market economic growth and technological innovation continues unabated, everything will be OK and, more importantly, I have the capability to create the life that I want (in the U.S., I don’t have to go to Shanghai like a white Russian).

    I have been hearing this “unifying vision” clap trap from even before 9/11. I remember hearing it from other American people (back when I was in Japan) back in 1995, when everything was perfectly fine.

    I don’t want anything part of anyone else’s “unifying vision” and I despise any such talk. In fact, this is the principle reason why I am not voting republican this November. I believe in limited government and maximal personal freedom, period. I believe in nothing else and I certainly do not believe in any of these memes floating around that are known as “religions”.

    I don’t that much in common with most people, in general. Given my life experiences, I feel no more commonality with the soccer mom shopping at the Target store as I do with the salary man riding the Yamanote line into Shinjuku station in Tokyo.

    I only want the complete freedom to pursue my own dreams and objectives in life, nothing less and nothing more. I like America BECAUSE it is the country where you do not have to be a part of anything bigger than you. Because I am free to pursue my own dreams and goals, write my own song in life. It is the untrammeled personal freedom and autonomy that makes America special to me. “unifying visions” have no place in American freedom.

  36. cold pizza says:

    Kurt,
    The question Curzon raised, not I, is whether Americans rally around a common symbol during times of national crisis. Personally, I intend to be no more organized than a single-cell organism. I despise what our government has become and how far we’ve strayed from the original concepts of individual freedom and personal responsibility.

    I think too many people have become accustomed to FEDERAL government assistance during local crises, whether it be fire, flood, hurricane, or earthquake. Local crises are one thing, national crises are another.

    My concern is that when the next crippling crisis hits, we may see the Federal government agencies unable to respond (ala Katrina) and with the lack of common focus, we’ll see a rule of mob rise up in those places worst affected.

    We have no shared ethnicity. We have few common points of education and cultural references. There are whole societies in America that are considered “outside the mainstream” and have no desire to assimilate into the melting pot.

    When the next crisis comes, will our society fracture because of the polarizing nature of our political and economic differences, or will we somehow come together to face the crisis as earlier Americans rallied around country, flag, apple pie and baseball?

    I deliberately moved my family out of (a major metropolitan area) and settled in a rural community because I felt (major metropolitan area) was becoming too unsettled, too unpredictable and too predatory. If the balloon goes up, I have faith that my neighbors (who have come out of their way to make us feel welcome) will band together in the traditional American fashion. I don’t see that happening in the city I left.

    With freedom comes responsibility. Unfortunately, the lack of personal responsibility to deal with life’s problems is going to lead to a major meltdown when the government is unable to meet it’s social promises. -cp

  37. Kurt says:

    Cold Pizza,

    What you say about the dependency on the welfare state that has been irresponsibly promoted in the past 50 years is indeed valid and I agree with it whole-heartly. FEMA was created by the Carter administration as a replacement to the old civil defense network, which I thought much more sensible. The old civil defense promoted individual preparation and decentralized social response to war and natural disasters. This was apparently too much for the leftists of the Carter Administration, which is why they replaced it with FEMA.

    The kind of grass-roots decentralized response to disasters that you promote is already emerging into the mainstream (see Glenn Reynold’s latest article in TechCentralStation) in that disaster preparation kits are now being sold at Cosco and Target. I expect this to become more prevailent in the future.

    I would like to point out that this kind of decentralized network-oriented approach to solving problems does strike me as being at odds with the “centralized” cutural-national identity that you promote in your last few postings. I would like to expand on this.

    I do not agree that belief in a common culture or ideology is necessary for the assumption of personal responsibility. My previous comments about my life make this clear. Personal responsibility is the flipside to personal freedom and is necessary for personal survival and well being. Becoming a cog in a larger “culural milieu” is not.

    I don’t like baseball, don’t eat apple pie, and I do not believe in any of the currently existing religion. I do believe in free markets, limited government, and personal responsiblity and I do not believe that the previously mentioned things are necessary for realization of these values. I will also tell you that I believe in pioneering more than anything else. What I mean by poineering is the unlimited quest for knowledge and going where no one has gone before. I believe in a society for whom the phrase “its impossible” does not exist in their vocabulary.

    If you want to promote a national cultural identity, I firmly believe that pioneering should be the basis of that identity, nothing else. I believe that pioneering, not christianity, to be the paramount American value.

  38. Kurt says:

    Cold Pizza,

    You know, I really do not see any major catastrophe in our future that will make it necessary for us to unite under a single “tent” of thought. Sure, there is the problem of terrorism. But we have had this problem since the early 70′s. Ask any European who lived during the 70′s and they will tell you. I have also heard that there was something like 1,000 or so terrorist bombings in the U.S. in 1971 (mostly by leftist radicals targeting banks and what not). What we are experiencing now is really nothing new. We defeated the Soviet menace with its 10,000 nukes aimed at us by the inherent dynamism of our decentralized, desparate society. We can certainly overcome the muslims and Chinese in the same way.

    I am mostly of a libertarian/pro-choice bent. I think that, unless an individual is completely screwing him/her self up (like drug addiction, criminality,etc.), people should be free to make whatever personal choices they want. I do not see any existential threat to a technological civilization in allowing people to live whatever lives they want. I think the present day right-wing fears of “social decay” are as ground-less as the left-wing fears of environmental degradation in the 1970′s. Neither poses an existential threat to our advancing technological civilization.

    Despite our “social decay”, technological innovation continues. If this is threated, its because of irrational government regulation and litigation, not because of ‘social decay”. Our economy continues to grow. Yes, our personal and government debt is moderately high by historical standards. But not such that it poses an existential threat to our economy. If we do have any kind of catastrophe, it will be local (like an typhoon or earthquake), it will not be global or even continental. It most certainly not be existential. Other than a major asteroid or cometary impact, I actually do not believe there are any existential threats to civilization.

    By far the best source of information on the sustainability of human progress is found on John NcCarthy’s website (http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/index.html).

    I am generally an optimist. I think technology will continue to advance. Biotech and nanotech will create more wealth and opportunity. Much of the world will slowly adapt nuclear power as the primary source of energy. We will cure aging and go on to live healthy life spans orders of magnitude greater than current lifespans. We will expand into space. First the solar system, eventually the entire galaxy. 500,000 years from now, the entire galaxy will be the domain of post-humanity.

  39. I am horrified by the ignorance exhibited in references to Africa!

    a) It is not a country, but a continent into which the US could be dropped like a pebble in a pond

    b) It is, as has been stated, intensely religious, particularly Christian and Muslim.

    c) I am sure the inhabitants of Nairobi, Johannesburg, Kigali, Lagos and other cities would be amused at the assumption that they all lived in mud huts.

    By the way, Cold Pizza – what’s your take on the Lord’s Resistance Army?