In God We Trust

Walter Russell Mead makes an interesting point.
In ancient times, the damage to two unique symbols of national identity by something as rare as an East Coast earthquake which did little or no damage to more pedestrian and less symbolic structures would have been highly noteworthy.  We would be rending our garments, consulting the Sibylline books and repenting in sackcloth and ashes after so a clear a demonstration of divine wrath.
The phrase "In God We Trust" has an 18th century ring, he says, but it's actually a 19th century creation -- as a phrase associated with the United States government it dates, in fact, to the worst days of the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln clearly thought of what he was doing as reforging a broken compact with God.  He spoke of the horrors of the war in just this way.  Just a year after adopting the phrase "In God We Trust" for Federal money, he said in his second inaugural address:

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." 
It is true that the America of 2011 does not believe in anything like the fashion of the America of 1864.  The question Mead is drawing our attention to is the question of whether that is good, bad, or irrelevant.  It's an interesting question, since the powerful and wise of the hour seem to fall chiefly into either the "good" or "irrelevant" camps.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the little damage and few injuries are a sign that God continues to bless us. In the Bible, when God speaks to his people, he tells them that, if they obey his laws, they will, essentially, be able to handle what comes.

We have taken to good gifts of intellect and forethought, and put in place such pedestrian things as building codes. And, because of those building codes, a strong earthquake was a minor event that only damaged some very old structures that didn't have the benefit of contemporary engineering.

We didn't wholly succeed insafeguarding our symbols, but we protected our citizens very well.

God bless America!

Valerie

Grim said...

Amen -- and very good points. :)

rcl said...

Being a Californian I can't take that quake very seriously. We had a 7.1 just 70 miles from my house within the last year.

Now, Abe's quote I take seriously. I feel precisely the same as Mr. Lincoln as regards the death of 50,000,000 infants by abortion. The payment of that bill will bring America to its knees.

douglas said...

I suppose one could view the events, if inclined to attribute it to God directly, as a reminder that even the greatest things can fall, and if we pay no attention to our founders and to God (since you're referring to the Washington Monument and National Cathedral), We should have no use for these structures, should we? If we care for these structures, perhaps we ought look into what inspired their creation, eh?

douglas said...

eh- I guess I should have read the Mead piece first. I obviously agree, at least in terms of interpretation.

Ymar Sakar said...

It could make for good grist in the propaganda mill to portray the In God we Trust anti religious factions as being pro slavery and anti-black.