Trusting and Helping?

November 08, 2011

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives took the important step of tackling our nation's biggest issue: reaffirming the national motto is "In God We Trust." With a 396-9 vote, our nation's congresspeople boldly stood up to protect that which was not even in danger. The author of the resolution, Virginia Republican Randy Forbes, claimed this effort was needed to protect the motto from those who are trying to push God out of the public square. Yet, the resolution does not actually change anything. Additionally, if there was actually a serious threat to changing the motto, one would imagine that the number of representatives voting against it would hit three figures--or at least two figures! Forbes said of the motto:

They are far more than words, they are the very fabric that has built and sustained the greatest country the world has ever known.
He seems to be missing the point since the phrase was not adopted as the national motto until 1956, at which point it was adopted to rhetorically distinguish the U.S. from the 'godless' communists of the Soviet Union. Thus, the phrase was selected to justify the nation--and the nation's military efforts--in the midst of the Cold War. Rather than an attempt to declare that the nation actually trusts in God, it was really an effort to reassure people that they could trust in the U.S. government. In fact, many religious and political leaders (including President Teddy Roosevelt) opposed the use of the phrase on U.S. currency before it became the nation's motto.

Another problem with the resolution is that its supporters actually undermined its purpose with their arguments. Forbes argued it was needed to remind people of the national motto:
Some public officials have stated incorrectly that there are different national mottoes. ... We heard the president make that mistake.
Yet, it hardly seems appropriate to waste congressional time voting on announcements that could instead be handled with a simple email or a flier on the cafeteria bulletin board. What the comment by Forbes suggests is that this vote actually had more to do with scoring partisan political points. Unfortunately, Forbes has used prayer and God in the past to attack President Barack Obama (see post here). Using God for partisan votes hardly seems like trusting in God.

For his part, Obama mocked Congress for wasting time on the vote--even though most of those in his Party also voted for the resolution. Obama argued that Republicans instead needed to focus on legislation to help create jobs:
That's not putting people back to work. I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work.
Although Obama made a good point about the resolution, he appeared to be paraphrasing a statement many claim is in the Bible but actually is not (and he also used the occasion to offer some confessional politics by reaffirming his faith). Later, Obama's press secretary made the biblical blunder more obvious. When pressed as to why Obama would invoke God in the debate over jobs legislation, Jay Carney responded:
Well, I believe the phrase from the Bible is, 'The Lord helps those who help themselves.' And I think the point the President is making is that we should - we have it within our capacity to do the things to help the American people.
Not only does the statement not appear in the Bible, but it actually runs counter to biblical teachings. With the White House using the phrase as gospel truth, we now understand a little more of their view on proper economic development--which ironically puts them closer to the TEA Party's rhetoric than either side would like to admit. Last week's congressional resolution may have sparked a lot of talk about God from Republicans and Democrats, but both sides seem to be missing the point.