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.