One Nation Under God


Mar. 03, 2010

God is important to a lot of people as a source of inspiration, encouragement and enlivenment in times of despair. God has helped people come to terms with their grief. However, God the creator, God the inspiration, God the source of comfort in times of grief does not need to also be a God that dictates unquestionable morals. Indeed, God that dictates morals and public policy serves as a power grab for politicians and religious leaders, parents and individuals who don't want their dictates questioned. Conflicting claims of "God says this, no God says that" necessarily lead to conflict and war because there is no criteria for falsification from experience. How do we justify two boxers praying to God to beat up their opponent?

If we are a nation "under" God, then that must mean that God is on top of us. The Nazi SS troops had embossed on their belt buckles in German the words, "God is on our side."  Whether we are under God or God is on our side, I'm not sure how politicians can know the relationship of a nation to God or that God can favor a particular nation by a Congressional declaration. Does that mean that a nation whose politicians did not claim to be under God is ignored by God? Did our nation not exist under God before its politicians declared it so? And was God a party to this agreement? Or, did he/she know that he/she was on top of us before we declared him/her to be there?

In order for Congress to declare that God is on top of us, they must have considered themselves divinely inspired–like the Pope–to be God's messenger, or they declared God to be on top of us without God being a party to the transaction. I wonder if God was surprised to discover that he was on top of us.

Carl Sagan informed us that there are billions and billions of stars. Each star is a sun with its own solar system of planets. We are lucky that our Congress can call on God to hover over our country, as he has so many countries, continents, worlds and solar systems to choose from. I wonder if his topping our country includes Puerto Rico? What happens if he crosses the border into, God forbid, Mexico? What happens if he hovers over Communist Cuba where he is not wanted? Can Cuba keep him out by having their legislature declare that God is not on top of them? What happens if he shows up in countries that didn't invite him, or if he doesn't show up in countries that are expecting him? If God needs to be told where to locate and where not to locate, then perhaps he needs a map.

Different religions have different notions of who God is. Many Christians believe that God is an inspiration, not a moral dictator that writes books. Hindus believe in many Gods. Catholics and Muslims believe that they have the only true–but different– path to God. Does that mean that we have competition among different God concepts as to whom Congress has summoned to hover over us?

If by Congress declaring that we are a nation under God, then what if individuals within our country don't want God on top of them, or don't believe that Congress can determine where God is located. Can God avoid them?

What is the advantage of having God on top of us? We won World War II before we declared God to be on top of us. The Nazis lost World War II even though they declared God to be on their side. Perhaps that means that we are better off having God on top of us than on our side. However, we lost the war with North Vietnam after we declared God to be on top of us.

What is God doing on top of us? Is he smiling down at us? Is he keeping a ledger of our naughtiness or niceness? Could he do these things whether he was on top or on the bottom?

What does it mean that we are "under" God? Does that mean that God tells us how to behave? Does that mean that our nation is superior or inferior to other nations? Or, does that mean that our laws are subordinate to God's law? Iran has a theocratic legal system in which the law of the country is the Qu'ran or God's law. Do we want our country to be a Christian theocracy in which our Constitution is subordinated to the Vatican or the New Testament? 

How do we know which of God's dictates to follow, the Old or New Testament? The Qu'ran? The Pope's ex cathedra declarations? Zeus? Mohammad? Jesus? Or our preacher or Rabbi who tells us what God commands? How do we resolve conflicts in their rules or decide which rules to select? Can we engage in behaviors that are cruel to others if they are condoned by God, such as owning slaves or stoning to death our children for disobeying us? 

If we love others as ourselves, won't we behave morally whether God is on top of us, everywhere, by our side or nowhere? An empathic community searching for our best judgment of what best serves to create a more perfect nation should be able to be fair and just, regardless of where or whether God exists. 


Gordon Gamm previously served on the American Humanist Association Board of Directors, where he was chair of a committee to draft the Humanist Manifesto III. He also organized the Boulder International Humanist Institute (