E pluribus unum is a Latin phrase that means, “Out of many, one”. This is an inclusive motto and is used to demonstrate the strength of America – the strength that comes from the diversity of American citizens. Together we are strong.
In 1956 during the 84th United States Congress, the House and Senate jointly passed H.J. Resolution 396 to establish a national motto of the United States, which is declared to be, “In God we trust.” This is codified in law in 36 U.S.C § 302. This motto started appearing on paper currency after 1957. It did appear on coins before this date, but not as our national motto. And many other sayings also appeared on our coins.
“In God we trust” is a divisive motto. It leaves out those American citizens who worship more than one god, or who worship no gods. It leaves out those citizens who are undecided or agnostic. It leaves out any chance of doubt – a key component of science.
“In God we trust” is divisive because it leaves unstated, “Which God?” A question that has historically divided Americans. It is also divisive because it was adopted during the “Red Scare” of American McCarthyism, and it was used to set America apart from “godless communists” and “atheist dictators”.
On October 24th, 1954, President Eisenhower appeared on all four national television networks as part of a program that celebrated the 75th anniversary of the invention of the incandescent lamp by Thomas Edison. During this presentation, Eisenhower said,
“It is faith that has made our Nation – has made it, and kept it free. Atheism substitutes men for the supreme creator and this leads inevitably to domination and dictatorship. But we believe – and it is because we believe that God intends all men to be free and equal that we demand free government. Our Government is servant, not master, our chosen representatives are our equals, not our czars or commissars.”
“’In God we trust.’ Often have we heard the words of this wonderful American motto. Let us make sure that familiarity has not made them meaningless for us.”
With these words, Eisenhower damned Edison with faint praise. Edison was a freethinker who was heavily influenced by and defended one of America’s founding fathers – Thomas Paine – and Paine’s book, “The Age of Reason”. Edison also rightly pointed out that we cannot know what – if anything – comes after death.
And Eisenhower’s words (and the words of many others) are used as cudgels to bludgeon anyone who has the temerity to suggest the idea that Americans have diverse beliefs.
Words of this nature are too often used when it is observed that the American Constitution makes no mention of a deity, that the power of our Constitution comes from the authority of “We the People” – not “God”.
Eisenhower was wise about many things, but in this he was wrong. The Divine Right of Kings has taught us all that a despot can just as easily claim divine authority to support “domination and dictatorship”. The primary difference is that a holy authority kills people, “in the name of God”.
The Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics exists to be (in part) a “Secular Voice in the Valley”. Part of the reason why we exist is to point out this sort of logical fallacy.
CVAAS also speaks out because many prominent people in Fresno and the surrounding counties too often act in ways to support the idea that their beliefs deserve special protections and advantages. There seems to be “faith” that everyone is speaking about the same deity, and that every religious person is in agreement with one another.
Allow us to disagree.
The members of the secular community are “outsiders” to religion. From an outsider’s point of view, we must ask, “How can I know which religion is true when even the denominations within a religion claim ultimate truth over other denominations?” Let’s use Christianity as an example.
CVAAS observes with some amusement that several Christian denominations in and around Fresno claim to represent the True Church. They all have very good reasons why their church is “true” and why others lack authority or ability to bring people to salvation.
In Fresno, Catholics make up the largest group who regularly attend weekly religious observances. In August of 2006 Pope John Paul II ratified the “Declaration ‘Dominus Iesus’ on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church.” This declaration says (among many other things) that the “one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus entrusted the task of spreading it among all people.” Or to sum up, “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus“.
As has been explained to CVAAS members very earnestly in a recent debate – only Catholicism provides a path to salvation.
The Southern Baptist Convention is the 5th largest religious group in Fresno. The SBC has made several resolutions over the decades that target the Vatican for fear that the Pope could influence the American government. These resolutions cite the First Amendment as being, “designed to prevent government sponsorship of religion, government financial support of religion, and government’s active involvement with religion”. (Kansas City, MI, 1984) And they claim that “Southern Baptists have always championed religious liberty and the separation of the institutions of church and state;” (Houston Texas 1993) (It’s nice to see the SBC has so much in common with atheists!)
Again it is amusing that in their Orlando Florida 1994 resolution the SBC affirmed that they are allowed and encouraged to witness to Catholics, who lack salvation because they are Catholic. “…and we reject any suggestion that such witness be characterized as “sheep stealing” proselytizing or a wasteful use of resources;”
In 1963 the Foreign Mission Board of the SBC sent missionaries to Rome to lead and organize the Rome Baptist Church, located a mere 1.3 miles from Saint Peter’s Square.
The fourth largest religious denomination in Fresno is that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS – aka the Mormons). CVAAS has had several discussions and a couple of prayers together with the Mormons, which culminated in an event in which CVAAS invited Mormon missionary Elders to attend a Christian Science lecture with us. That event ended with an argument between the lecturer and the Mormons. As we walked back toward our cars one of the Mormon Elders asked earnestly, “Why can’t they (the Christian Scientists) see that they are wrong?”
The second largest religious denomination in Fresno is “Non-Denominational”. Churches like New Covenant Community Church fall under this category. Again, as outsiders, CVAAS is interested that leaders from this church founded and support “The Bridge Community” a mission located in Utah to bring salvation to the Mormons, something New Covenant believes is lacking.
The largest – by far – group in Fresno is that of those people who don’t regularly attend any worship service. Just over 48 percent, or about a quarter of a million Fresnans. How many of these people are believers who don’t attend, and how many don’t attend because they don’t believe?
It’s hard to pin down the secular population. The Census does not ask for religious affiliation. But the American Religious identification Surveys of 1990 to 2008 showed that religious affiliation has been dropping and that people without religion grew to 15%. People who stated outright that they were atheist or agnostic grew to 1.6%.
The Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study put the number of atheists at 3.1%, and the number of agnostics at 4.0%.
Fresno has over a half-million people in the city limits. There could be 15 thousand atheists and another 20 thousand agnostics in Fresno. There may be 75 thousand people with no religious affiliation whatsoever, not even that of a believer who doesn’t bother going to church.
The trends predict that the population of secular people and people with no affiliation will continue to grow. Is it possible that 1/5 of the Fresno population already lacks a belief in God?
Isn’t it time that the leadership in Fresno start addressing ALL of its citizens, and not just a subset?
“Out of many, one”.
CVAAS is speaking up.