At the beginning of November the house voted to reaffirm the divisive United States motto “In God we trust.” On the face of it this move is embarrassing for a lot of reasons. This was already the motto, despite petitions by atheists there really is no immediate threat to the motto, the motto itself is superstitious and divisive, there are far more pressing issues facing congress (such as the economy) and the vote was almost unanimous making the entire bill even more pointless. Despite all this, my frustration with congress is only from the waste of time. The motto itself doesn’t really concern me at this point.
The very thing that made America so deeply religious that the country would discriminate against certain demographics to show its collective devotion stems from the “Red Scare.” America was facing an enemy that was “godless” and logical, and human nature being what it is, we started working to become everything our enemy wasn’t. This meant becoming religious and devout. As a result, “under God” was added to the pledge in 1954 and “In God we trust” replaced our previous motto—E. Pluribus Unum—in 1957. As an unintentional side-effect anyone who was offended by these changes was persecuted and accused of being communists among other things. This was the perfect formula to make the United States the most religious country in the developed world.
Today things are a bit different. There are parts of the country where you can turn on the television to multiple channels and listen to the preacher of your choice. With both television and the Internet the words of multiple preachers could reach the same ears, and any information we could ever want is readily available at our fingertips. But this has an interesting consequence. Preachers are notorious for contradicting each other, and even more notorious for contradicting observable reality. Many preachers try to convince their congregations that evolution is a fabrication even while the evidence for evolution is overwhelming to the point of being inescapable. Thanks to the Internet, it’s nearly impossible to rely on ignorance alone to command belief; thought control techniques are needed.
Then, in 2001, something happened. The World Trade Center was attacked by a deeply religious enemy. The immediate effect of this was to wake up atheists who blamed religious indoctrination for the attacks. While there was a great deal of criticism for religion available before, never before was the criticism brought about in such volume. Even so, it is not the criticism of religion that will ultimately be its undoing, but the very same thing that made it so widespread to begin with. We are rapidly becoming everything our current enemy is not.
Already as much as 30% of Americans report that they are not affiliated with any church, half of those going so far as to identify as atheist and the numbers are rapidly rising. Compare that to the dismal 5-6% from the early 90′s. Combined with the new generations growing up with a bombardment of information that conflicts on every subject imaginable—which tends to make them into skeptics and reluctant to take things at face value—and the complete lack of relevancy that religion has in people’s lives now days thanks to the advances in science, we end up with the perfect storm for atheism to surge and likely become the expected norm. At that point the word “atheist” may even become obsolete in the same way that “non-smoker” has.
Part of human nature is our increased reluctance to change our beliefs as we get older, as reflected by the demographics of the religious. There is already a strong correlation between age and religiosity as the direction of the country is shifting. This makes it reasonable to predict that it’s only a matter of time before we get our old motto back and return to a more secular nation.
But what about the pledge? To me, this is a completely separate issue and unlike the motto, which doesn’t really concern me, my opinion on the pledge can be summed up in this image showing how Americans saluted the flag prior to World War II:
It’s often difficult to recognize brainwashing in action when it’s part of our sense of “normal,” but mixing things up just a little bit without changing any significant detail can make the use of thought control obvious. This is why Fast and Testimony meetings are so obvious and cult-like to outside observers but life-long Mormons would never realize it. Having broken free of similar thought control I have, for better or worse, developed a sensitivity to that sort of thing.
The obvious question is why brainwashing citizens to be patriotic is a bad thing. The answer to this has been made obvious during the recent attempt at health care reform. Citizens lined the streets to protest against the bill despite the fact that opposing such legislation was clearly against their best interests. As humans we have a surprising capacity to fight against our best interests through the use of emotional manipulation, and Fox News has mastered this. One look at the recent empire building from the United States, and the history other countries and organizations have of manipulating their citizens, and it’s easy to imagine how dangerous blind loyalty to any individual or organization can be.
So why not start a big campaign to abandon the pledge altogether? Simple. Pick your battles.