“One Nation Under God”: Co-opting the Fringe Narrative

For as long as I’ve been politically conscious, the line, “One Nation Under God,” a new adornment to our currency and a belated addition to the Pledge of Allegiance, has been pushed by the Christian right as proof that, in opposition to both the constitutional text and any fair reading of American history, we are a “Christian nation.”

President Obama today:

We are one nation under God, and we may call that God different names but we remain one nation.

This is successful messaging: a national symbol restored to national purpose.



  1. The messaging is still offensive to me and many other atheists.

  2. So? Not being offended is not a civil right (as the millions of people whining about Park51 are also about to find out).

    1. I wasn’t implying it was.

      This post points out that this is an improvement over using “Under God” to defend the erroneous idea that we are a Christian nation. While an improvement, it’s still bad messaging because it’s still factually incorrect. We are not a religious nation either.

    2. No, but you are a religious population, considering 85-90% of the American population is religious in some form. It would be another matter if there were civil rights at stake, but it does not seem reasonable to challenge a quite harmless public expression of that fact simply to protect the sensibilities of a small minority. That’s just the nature of the public sphere.

      1. Over three quarters of the country identifies as Christian. I don’t think you would be defending a similar statement that instead talked about Jesus as “Lord and Savior”. Jews and Muslims are tiny populations in this country, something like 3%. They are the largest groups added in this expanded definition, and yet no acknowledgment was made of the 15% or so percent who identify with no religion, no god.

        Civil rights are not at stake, but it is a pernicious statement it reflects the other ways the non-religious are discounted.

        You are correct that we are a an overwhelmingly religious population, but Obama’s went and brought the nation into it. Ultimately we are a secular nation, regardless of the composition of our population.

      2. A secular, but not secularist nation. On the contrary, civil religion has always been a deeply integrated part of US society. I understand why that’s annoying to you as an atheist, just as it’s annoying for me as a republican to live in a monarchy, but as long as those things are legitimate non-infringing expressions of what the great majority of the population wants, I honestly don’t see what the big deal is. Limiting the majority’s influence on society should not be done without a really good reason, either.

      3. I find that distinction compelling… although I do agree that I’d prefer a national motto focused on something we all share.

        1. “America, fuck yeah!”?

  3. It would be better to have a motto that offended none. But things like this, I find their historicity redemptive. “In God We Trust” — if not its applications — dates to the 1800s or so, which I think ought to draw some of the sting.

  4. Steve Jeffers · ·

    I’m an atheist who’s not offended by ‘In God We Trust’. If you’re offended by that, are you offended by the word ‘Goodbye’ (‘god be with you’)? Are we really all honoring Thor when we say ‘Thursday’?

    I am offended when people think it *means* something, or has some kind of legal force, or that it staples the Constitution to the Bible.

    As for book burning, I’ve always had a simple mantra: burning one religious book is a problem, burning them all is the solution.

    1. One hopes you are joking, even though that in itself is hardly a joking matter.

  5. I don’t find it offensive, though I also don’t find the “Christian nation” talk offensive. However, I still don’t really like it, and I would have preferred him to say something else.

    To my mind, it’s as if he’d said something, say, heteronormative. I think everyone would understand gay people being offended if the President, even in passing, implied that all boys like girls (and vice versa), even though you could draw on all of the same historical defenses of the verbiage. None of this is to say that gay people don’t have other good reasons to be upset with Obama.

    With respect to mottos like “In God We Trust”: I think one can reasonably point out that it’s historical, religious people don’t read it as a condemnation of atheism (granted, some in fact do), etc. But, if someone insists that they’re still very offended by it, surely the decent thing to do is to change it. It’s like the word ‘gay’ as applied to things people don’t like. Sure, the vast majority of people who use the word in this sense don’t consciously connect it to homosexuality, but given that it offends actual gay people the decent thing to do is to refrain from using it. Because, after all, it’s just a word; you can find another one.

    1. I realized I was making only comparisons between atheism and homosexuality. I think much the same sorts of things could be said for analogous gender or racial examples. I do like homosexuality as an analogue to atheism, however, because of how both aren’t externally apparent and are both only relatively recently becoming more socially acceptable (homosexuality is perhaps a little ahead here right now).

  6. It would be best to go the route of France or China in such matters, yes, but that’s not likely to happen soon.

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