To the Editor:

Wilfred M. McClay’s article, “Religion in Politics; Politics in Religion” [October 1988], contains a factual error. . . . The phrase “In God We Trust” was first added to U.S. currency, not in the 1950’s as Mr. McClay states, but in 1864. The phrase “Under God” was indeed added to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950’s. What is striking is that both of these changes came immediately upon the heels of great military struggles reflecting great conflicts in the spiritual realm.

Although some of today’s secular revisionists have sought to minimize the importance of abolitionism as a factor in the Civil War, it remains a central motivating force. More precisely, abolitionism derived its energy from religious sentiment. Thus it was entirely appropriate for a religious people, emerging wartorn and weary from a war fought at least partially on religious grounds, to add this motto to their money.

Then, in the years following World War II, the almost incredible depth of evil manifested by the neo-pagan Nazi regime made Americans realize that their victory was a narrow escape. . . . Their tremendous relief upon emerging victorious from such a close brush with hell made the emendation of the Pledge seem entirely appropriate. . . .

In today’s unbelieving age, the meaning of these mottoes, these artifacts from earlier victories accomplished in faith, is lost on a generation whose closest encounters with evil have taken place at Halloween horror shows. In addition, the Christian clergy are so benumbed by their obsession with safe antagonists like nuclear war and economic injustice that they have neglected to preach the “whole counsel of God.” Mr. McClay mentions one example of such neglect, the failure to attempt to come to terms with the inscrutability of a God who takes a young woman under tragic circumstances. A consideration of the “problem of evil” is central to any civilized spiritual quest. Consequently, our present-day failure to grapple with it is central to the deterioration in our civilization. . . .

Mark R. Bateman
St. Clair Shores, Michigan



Wilfred M. McClay writes:

Mark R. Bateman is quite right about the year in which the inscription “In God We Trust” first appeared on a U.S. coin. Indeed, he might also have mentioned that the prime mover behind that motto’s appearance on a two-cent bronze piece in 1864 was Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, an ardent antislavery activist whose views were well to the “Left” of Lincoln’s. But the fact remains that it was not until 1954 that the Congress required all coins and paper currency to feature those words. That is why I was careful to use the modifier “all” in my discussion of this matter.



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