In God We Trust

The last thing this Canadian possesses is a degree in American history. Perceptions stem from proximity, reading, news media and travel – personal experiences responsible for cementing notions of “In God We Trust” America as “One Nation Under God”. It never occurred to me that one nation under God was created by corporations in a post Depression United States.

The United States began with a secular motto – E Pluribus Unum, Latin for “One For Many”, a reflection of one federal state comprised of many individual religious and political units.

I wonder how many Americans have heard the name H. W. Prentis, head of the National Association of Manufacturers in 1940s America. Post Depression American corporations came up with a strategy to undermine Roosevelt’s  “New Deal” , a popular plan dubbed the Social Gospel movement, (helping each other with the aid of an activist government, rather than dwelling on sin, salvation and the afterlife) – corporate greed didn’t qualify. For the first time in U.S. history labor unions were empowered, workers had rights and government placed regulations on businesses. As such, big business needed an angle, and fast.

“Economic facts are important, but they will never check the virus of  collectivism,” thundered Prentis in a 1940 speech to the U.S. Chamber of  Commerce. “The only antidote is a revival of American patriotism and  religious faith.”

Corporate America funded conservative clergy to do their dirty work. Sermons equated capitalism with Christianity – good Christians go to heaven, good capitalists make a profit. They claimed the New Deal violated the Ten Commandments, it encouraged citizens to make a false idol of the federal government by worshiping it instead of God. They said it encouraged people to covet what the wealthy have, encourages them to steal from the wealthy in the form of taxation and bears false witness against the wealthy by telling lies about them. They preached that the New Deal was not a manifestation of God’s will, rather a sinful form of pagan stateism.

Rev. James Fifield of the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles became a pivotal figure in driving “spiritual mobilization”.  His congregation included the mayor and Cecile B. DeMille, a church defined by ultra rich movers and shakers.

“He tells these millionaires what they want to hear, which is that their worldly success is a sign of heavenly blessing. He has a very loose approach to the Bible. He says that reading the Bible should be like eating fish: We take out the bones to enjoy the meat; all parts are not of equal value. Accordingly, he disregarded Christ’s many injunctions about the dangers of wealth, and instead preached a philosophy that wedded capitalism to Christianity.” –

Spiritual mobilization defined Fifield’s recruitment of Ministers to the cause. Heavily funded by the likes of Sun Oil president J. Howard Pew, General Motors Alfred Sloan, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Association of Manufacturers – within 10 years 17,000 ministers competed for cash in sermon contests. Prizes awarded for sermons exemplifying evils of the New Deal, equating it to socialism and above all – convincing citizens that supporting business leaders was the only way to preserve the American way of life. Arguably the greatest sham in American history played out with diabolical perfection. Big business sat back and smoked cigars, slapping each other on the back as their shadow money funded “Freedom Under God”.

Fifield heralded freedom under God in opposition to “slavery of the state” on weekly radio programs broadcast nation wide over 800 radio stations. Big money chortled as Americans embraced a nation under God, a nation where pursuit of wealth led to heaven.

“In God We Trust” comes from the Star Spangled Banner –

“Then conquer we must when our cause it is just, and this be our motto — ‘In God is our trust.’

In God We Trust first appeared on some U.S. coins during the Civil War. Fundamentalist religious leaders managed to convince the Secretary of Treasury that atrocities of war were God’s punishment for America’s original sin – not being founded as a Christian nation. (Good historical link below )

Fast forward to 1956, the year President Eisenhower approved a resolution making In God We Trust official motto of the United States of America. By law, the phrase has appeared on all currency since 1957. U.S. courts have ruled on three lawsuits challenging the motto as unconstitutional. From reasons in Aronow v United States, 1970 –

“It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.”

Madalyn Murray O’Hair, et al v W. Michael Blumenthal, Secretary of Treasury, et al – 1979 ( O’Hair being notable for recent success in challenging compulsory prayer in public schools )

“From this it is easy to deduce that the Court concluded that the primary purpose of the slogan was secular; it served as secular ceremonial purpose in the obviously secular function of providing a medium of exchange. As such it is equally clear that the use of the motto on the currency or otherwise does not have a primary effect of advancing religion.”

Of note – the Supreme Court declined reviewing any decisions on the matter.

Back to spiritual mobilization, the impetus for ponderous ramblings that orbit propaganda’s dark realm. I need answers – do Americans understand the roll fat cat corporations played in equating capitalism with God? Do citizens actually believe Christianity preserves the American way of life? Why is it  difficult to fathom realities of corporate greed driving perception and policy. Did church goers know ministers competed for corporate cash prizes? Was spiritual mobilization the reason Eisenhower endorsed In God We Trust? Aside from placing annoying restrictions on the rich getting richer, what’s wrong with social gospel? My head hurts – E Pluribus Unum.


5 thoughts on “In God We Trust

  1. I don’t think this was unique. In fact, it seems Constan tine had a similar idea, and where he culdnlt ultimately win with the sword he achieved with the Church.
    I recommend Gibbon.The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Ch 20.
    Gibbon outlines exactly how the poor were fleeced to maintain the Church and the ever-growing numbers of”idle” bishops.
    Constantine even amendment the ”law” allowing an individual’s wealth to wholly donated to the Church upon their death, thus securing a place ”in heaven”.
    It’s a fascinating read.

  2. Though you claim not to possess a degree in U.S. history, you know more on this topic than most people in the U.S., myself included! This is an excellent post and I learned a good bit. Thank you!

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