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GUEST COMMENTARY: Supporting our national motto is useless campaign tactic

Thursday, November 17, 2011 | 6:33 p.m. CST; updated 8:03 p.m. CST, Saturday, November 19, 2011

You can tell politicians are getting nervous. They're playing the "In God We Trust" card again.

You'd think that card's all but worn out — Congress did, after all, make the slogan the nation's official motto in 1956 — but no, something more seems to be required.

With unemployment topping 9 percent, the European economy sliding toward an abyss and Lindsay Lohan posing nude for Playboy, our lawmakers took time out to "reaffirm" "In God We Trust" as our official national motto.

The House of Representatives voted 396-9, with two Profiles in Courage voting "present."

This from a body that couldn't come to agreement on a matter as clear-cut as raising the debt ceiling — something Congress was legally obligated to do — without a torturous will-we-won't-we negotiation.

Well, we finally got bipartisan agreement on an issue. Politicians of both parties are terrified of the electorate.

One of my favorite writers has written more than once on the subject of "In God We Trust" as a national motto.

Here's what he had to say:

"I have always had grave reservations about the concept of trusting in God. I've never understood just what it is people trust Him to do.

"Do we trust Him to make the righteous prosper and the unworthy suffer? Oh, a few old-fashioned Calvinists still believe that I suppose, but you'd have a hard time documenting the trend. One's personal experience is filled to the brim with examples of scoundrels who live richly in the full sunlight of society's admiration and of noble, honest folk for whom life is just one damn thing after another.

"Do we trust God to enforce some larger system of order on our miserable lives? Not if, by order, we mean something we can understand. If there is a hallmark to God's interventions in our lives it is capriciousness.

"The quintessential act of God is the tornado. It comes swooping down, destroying one man's home, leaving his neighbor's untouched. It tears off the wall of a house without disturbing the furniture.

"That's life. There may be a divine pattern to it, I suppose, but it's difficult to discern while reaping the whirlwind.

"Some would argue that it matters not only whether you trust in God, but in which God you trust. There are as many Gods as there are religions and most of them argue for an exclusive franchise. But look at yesterday's paper — people all over the world were getting it in the neck, regardless of race, creed or religion — and often because of race, creed or religion….

"What makes God such an unlikely candidate for trust, it seems to me, is His sense of humor. He's always playing jokes.

"Typically he'll end a drought with a series of floods. He'll give people an earthquake, then follow it with a tsunami.

"Trustworthy is the last adjective I would apply to God. Awesome, yes. Majestic, certainly. Mysterious, mystifying, unknowable: all of those things.

"Trust is the gift we offer God in hopes that He will accept it and send the next tornado down the middle of the road instead of the middle of our kitchen. It seems to work for some people, not for others."

Who wrote that? Me.

I wrote it 30 years ago and nothing that's happened since then has changed my opinion.

At rock bottom, this is my belief: We don't need politicians who trumpet their belief in God in an effort to convince us to vote for them. They lie a lot.

We need politicians who believe in arithmetic and the scientific method, people smart enough to figure out the answers to the problems all those believers that came before them have left us with.

Donald Kaul writes for otherwords.org. A former columnist for the Des Moines Register, he lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.


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