Where I live in Georgia, license plates with the phrase “In God We Trust” are ubiquitous. Though I am a follower of Jesus Christ, I will not put such a license plate on my car. Intended as a motto for the United States and for most American “Christians,” “In God We Trust” is dishonest and hypocritical. We trust not so much in God as in the elaborate security apparatus we have erected for ourselves—personal firearms, prisons, and an imperial military.
Americans own more firearms than any other people on earth, 270 million. That’s nearly six times as many as India, the second most heavily armed country. We in the US have 89 firearms for every 100 residents. Among other countries only Yemen comes close to that rate with 55 per 100 owning guns. Among the Georgians I know with “In God We Trust” license plates, many talk about the guns (plural!) they own as if they saw no contradiction between trusting God and trusting guns.
But wait. What if all those firearms are used for hunting? Do their owners need to hunt in order to feed their families? That seems unlikely since in 2012 only 13.7 million Americans went hunting. So each hunter needed 20 firearms to kill that elusive deer? In fact, many of the gun-owners I know neither hunt nor eat game. So what do they want those guns for? Read on.
Speaking at this year’s meeting of the NRA, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre made very clear what his membership needed guns for as he repeated his favorite mantra: “the surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!
We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and car-jackers and knock-out gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping-mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all.So the world is a constant threat and there is nothing to defend us but our own armed selves.
In a move that surely pleased LaPierre, the benighted state of Georgia recently passed a “guns everywhere” law. The law allows owners to carry guns in bars, churches, public buildings, parks, and airports. With the possible exception of some parks, I’ve yet to see many game animals in these places. The “guns everywhere” law enabled a man last week to carry a gun at a children’s baseball tournament without risk of arrest, frightening children and their parents. What might he be hunting there? I don’t know whether the armed man claims to be a “Christian,” but Mike Griffin, who supports the “guns everywhere” law, certainly would claim to be:
. . . Mike Griffin, public affairs representative of the Georgia Baptist Convention, expressed support for the legislation, telling The Times last month that the legislation lets churches set the rules for themselves.So now the same state that a few short years ago tried to require its citizens to have “In God We Trust” on license plates, presumably to honor the one who said “Love your enemies,” now passes a law allowing guns in bars, airports, and churches where their only possible purpose is to shoot not game animals but people.
Much as we trust in firearms, we also trust in prisons. We in “the land of the free” incarcerate more of our people than any other nation on earth. At 716 prisoners per 100,000 people, we rank first in the world in the proportion of our people in prison and with over 2,200,000 in prisons and jails, we imprison more people than any other country in the world, including such more populous countries as China, and India. In fact, our incarceration rate is half again that of Russia and three times that of China. It certainly seems like we trust in prisons. So while protecting ourselves by locking away millions of our fellow citizens, we have license plates to honor the one who came to “set the prisoner free.”
And then there is our imperial military that enforces our pax Americana. In 2012 we spent $682 billion on our military, more than the next ten biggest spending nations combined. We invaded, occupied, and essentially destroyed Iraq because of unfounded suspicion that it was developing nuclear weapons. And we have nearly gone to war with Iran over the same suspicion. Yet the US, the only country ever to use such a weapon, has nearly 5000.
A survey conducted among 66,000 people in 65 different countries asked which of the world’s countries is most dangerous. Ranked first, with 24% of the vote, three times the percentage of second-ranked Pakistan and six times the percentage as Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea, was the United States. Thirteen percent of US citizens surveyed ranked the US as the greatest threat to peace. So the country that puts “In God We Trust” on its currency, the country that is regarded by many of its citizens as “exceptional” because divinely chosen, is regarded by many as the most dangerous on earth. Surely I am not alone in seeing the irony in that.
Last week I had a conversation with friends over a meal at my church, a conversation that led me to write this rant. When the conversation shifted to the Ukraine, a highly respected elder in the church said, “I say we should nuke ‘em all.” When I asked whom he meant, Ukrainians or Russians, he responded, “All of ‘em. They’re just a bunch of troublemakers.” And by the way, he has “In God We Trust” on his license plate. So much for honoring the “Prince of Peace.” Thank God, no one brought up Bundy!
Our fear of people and nations that are different and that therefore we fear as dangerous has led us into an insane obsession with security, an obsession that belies our claim to trust in God. So no, I will not display “In God We Trust” on my license plate. That would be a blatant lie.