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Evangelicals and Their Duplicitous Argument for the Generic God

thomas jefferson

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Evangelicals are quite specific when it comes to God. There is ONE God, their God, the triune God revealed in the Christian Bible. All other gods are false gods. While it is increasingly common for Evangelicals to embrace Catholics as fellow Christians, it was not that long ago that most Evangelical churches and pastors believed the Roman Catholic church was the harlot of Revelation 17 and that Catholics were worshipers of a false deity. While it is encouraging to see some Evangelicals consider the thought that Catholics and Mormons might worship the same God as they do, the overwhelming majority of Evangelicals believe their God is the one, true God. No other gods need apply.

What I find interesting is how duplicitous Evangelicals can be when it comes to the mentioning of God in the founding documents of the United States, on our money, and in the Pledge of Allegiance. Evangelicals, knowing that the constitution forbids the establishment of a state church, argue before Congress and the courts that the founding fathers spoke of a generic god, that the God mentioned in the Pledge of Allegiance is no god in particular.  And since the documents, laws, and the like use the word god in a generic sense, they do not violate the establishment clause or run afoul of the separation of church and state.

Yet, they turn right around, once they are away from the halls of congress and the courthouse, and say the use of the word God in our founding documents is in reference to the Christian God. They preach sermons and write books about the United States being a Christian nation. Evangelical pastors remind parishioners that the Pledge of Allegiance’s God is the Christian God, and some churches even say the Pledge on Sundays. And to some degree they are right.

Did our founding fathers have a generic god in mind when they spoke and wrote of God? The simple answer is no. Now, they most certainly did not have the modern Evangelical God in mind when they used the word, but they didn’t have the gods of Islam, Judaism, or any of the other religions of the world in mind either. Their God was the Christian God. Some of them were orthodox Christians, others were deists, but no one, as far as I know, meant anything other than the Christian God.

Why is it that Evangelicals run from this fact when they speak before congress or the courts? Why do they argue that these mentions of God are generic and not a reference to any specific god? Again, the answer is quite simple. They know admitting that these documents use the word God in a specific sense weakens their argument for their continued use. If the Pledge of Allegiance or “In God We Trust” on our money reference a non-specific God, then it makes it harder for atheists and secularists to argue that these things are unconstitutional.

It’s time for Evangelicals to start telling the truth when they testify before congress or appear before state and federal courts. It’s time they admit that the God of our founding documents and much of America’s history is the Christian God. Once they do this, we can then have a legislative and legal discussion about “In God We Trust” on our money, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the countless other places the use of the word God implies a sectarian view of God.

Whatever our country might have been in 1620 or 1776, we are not that now and our government should reflect this. Certainly, Christians are free to be legislators and judges, but their religious beliefs should not play a part when they act on behalf of the people of the United States. It’s time we return to the pre-1954 Pledge of Allegiance:

pledge of allegiance before 1954
Pre-1954 Card with the Pledge of Allegiance

The same could be said about our paper money. “In God We Trust” appeared for the first time on paper money in 1957. Adding “In God We Trust” to our money, and adding a reference to God in the Pledge came during the McCarthy era — a time many Americans saw a “red (communist) under every bed.” Representative Charles Edward Bennett of Florida cited the Cold War when he introduced the bill (H.R. 619, a bill that required that the inscription “In God We Trust” appear on all paper and coin currency in the House) saying “In these days when imperialistic and materialistic communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom, we should continually look for ways to strengthen the foundations of our freedom.”

As the citizens of the United States increasingly embrace secularism and pluralism, perhaps it is time to throw the Christian God into the dust bin of human history.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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16 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Daniel Wilcox

    Hey Bruce, Glad to see you posting articles again. Just saw that you are back when I was reading over at Jerry Coyne’s website. Last year I followed your intriguing blogs until you took a leave from writing to concentrate on your medical issues and photography and woodworking. I see that you’ve been writing for months again, so I’ve got plenty of catching up to do:-)

    As for the God of the Founders of the U.S., it’s more of a mixed bag. You said, “Did the founding fathers have a generic god in mind when they spoke and wrote of God? The simple answer is No…Their God was the Christian God.”

    No and yes. While at one point in his life, Jefferson did state he was a Christian (in the sense of admiring Jesus’ life and words), he repeatedly emphasized that he didn’t believe in the God of creedal Trinitarian Christianity. On the contrary he spoke of the “Christian God” as horrendous.

    In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson emphasized the God of the Enlightenment, not the Trinitarian God of Christianity. He wrote of the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” and explained that God endowed us with “certain unalienable Rights.”

    These sort of phrases weren’t, and aren’t, the type of writing which all the central denominations then and now of Christianity use. Roman Catholicism, Reformed, etc. would have spoken about the Bible, Church tradition, the Creeds. Even in the late 19th century, the Pope wrote an encyclical against “liberalism.”

    However, it is true that Jefferson was vague enough that I suppose those Founders who were devout Christians could claim he meant the “Christian God.”

    Sorry to sound so picky, but I was an American literature/history teacher for many years 🙂

  2. Avatar
    Steve Ruis

    Re “A separate issue is whether there should be ANY pledge at all? Personally, I am against any pledge that requires me to swear fidelity to the state.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I also ask why we ask our children to state this pledge daily? How can a solemn pledge wear out in 24 hours? What happens over summer vacation, does the pledge still in force or should we repeat it every weekday? (Apparently repetitions are not needed upon weekends.) Does no one else see this as indoctrination of our own children? (And for what purpose?)

    • Avatar
      Appalachian Agnostic

      I agree that having children say the pledge every day is indoctrination. Like religious training, it starts way before children have the mental tools to understand what it means. By the time they are old enough to understand, it has become ingrained in their minds.

  3. Avatar
    Ami

    Goes around FB and other places once in awhile, a photo of children standing in a generic classroom, hands over their hearts, saying the pledge. Captioned with the exhortation, “Share if you think we need to bring this back!” Sometimes accompanied by a little blurb about patriotism and God and how things used to be a lot better when we forced children to recite it every day.

    My mom posted it not too long ago, in fact. When we were talking about this and that on the phone, it came up.

    “They say the US is no longer a Christian nation!” she exclaimed. And in an affronted tone, “Excuse me?!?!”

    I know better than to participate in those kinds of discussions, but I couldn’t resist telling her that the pledge did not contain the words ‘under God’ until 1954. She did not believe me, although she she was 14 years old when that happened.

    ::sigh::

    • Avatar
      clubschadenfreude

      since your mother also probably still votes, you should have those discussions and show her she’s believing a lie. just because someone is old and willfully ignorant doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be confronted like an adult.

      • Avatar
        ... Zoe ~

        Easier said than done Clubschadenfreude.

        Depends on the mother/person. If they are a life-long narcissist chances of them thinking they are believing a lie is about zero. I have spent the majority of my own years (now 64) (narcissist mother 85) trying to have respectful discussions with mom. They don’t exist. Anything I present to her she believes is a lie. She is always right. I am wrong. And most other people are wrong, well, except for her conspiracy theory leaders and Donald Trump, and aliens.

        I don’t know Amy’s mom but I do understand when she says that she knows better than to get into those discussions. There’s a good reason. Avoiding those conversations are more about saving our own minds and bodies from the heartache of continuously hearing our own mothers chose lies over their own children.

        Again, it just depends on the mother/person.

        • Avatar
          clubschadenfreude

          do you still interact with your mother, zoe? The reason I ask is that, IMO, you reward her interacting with her in anyway at all.

          I can understand some people are unreachable, but most aren’t.

  4. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Mississippi legislators just announced that they will remove the Confederate battle flag from their state flag – an admirable Signal that the legislators finally agree to remove an offensive symbol – but the new flag design must include the phrase “in God we trust”. My thought was that was just a way to get white evangelical legislators to go along with removing their offensive symbol. Sigh.

    • Avatar
      BJW

      OC, I’m still shocked Mississippi is taking down that flag. I have relatives there and boy oh boy, they have got to be steaming mad over it.

  5. Avatar
    CarolK

    What great comments all! On the rare occasion that I go to meetings where the pledge is said, I leave out the “one nation under god” phrase” and have for at least 25 years. I also tend to stress the “liberty and justice for all” part after attending meetings of Greenville (SC) County Council where they were debating an anti-gay resolution that was identical to the one in Cobb County, Georgia that kept Olympic events out of the county. The resolution also kept the Olympic torch from being run through our county save for inside the Greenville City limits. Yep, they put the torch inside a van, got it out, and handed it to a runner once to got to the city line. We had a big celebration downtown, but it was a shame that the torch had to be veiled in the county. The torch run would have been within a few blocks of our house and I’d like to have taken the girls to see it. The stupid resolution was finally rescinded by county council just this spring.

  6. Avatar
    clubschadenfreude

    many Chrisitans have no problem at all lying. The generic god lie is similar to the lie that the latin cross isn’t a Christian symbol when these vermin want to keep crosses on soldiers’ graves when they have no idea what those people believed.

  7. Avatar
    kei

    Madison also made a point that any believer of any religion should understand: that the government sanction of a religion was, in essence, a threat to religion. “Who does not see,” he wrote, “that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?” Madison was writing from his memory of Baptist ministers being arrested in his native Virginia.

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/americas-true-history-of-religious-tolerance-61312684/?no-ist=

  8. Avatar
    Martin Nee

    Agreeing with Original post in total, and Mr. Ruiz’s addition about the value and purpose of the Pledge of Allegiance itself (which I believe almost all of our founding fathers would have been horrified by), I would make one small suggestion. If we are collectively to pledge ourselves to something let us make that the Constitution, not a symbol such as a flag. The flag can and has been used to promote all sorts of unamerican ideals. The Constitution, although imperfect, is at least a comprehensive compact between the citizens and the state about rights and responsibilities.

  9. Avatar
    CarolK

    Hear, hear, Martin Nee! I have no patience for flag worship. Another thought I’ve had: Do other countries have a pledge of allegiance or is it just the US of A?

    • Avatar
      Martin Nee

      Thanks. I know other countries do have a pledge. Funny story from personal experience: I went to a catholic parochial school until sixth grad. It was run by an order of priests and nuns who had escaped from communist oppression in Lithuania. Teaching the Lithuanian language was part of the curriculum and the Lithuanian flag hung next to the US flag at the front of the class. Each day all of the kids, Lithuanian or not, would pledge allegiance to Lithuania, in Lithuanian, before the pledge to America. I never gave it a thought until about ten years ago when my older sister reminded me about how odd that daily ritual was!

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