Giving unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and leaving God out of it

Decades ago, I earned a Ph.D. in political science. Today I’m ready to toss my diploma into the trash. 

“Political” and “science” are two words that should no longer be connected. They form an oxymoron, at least in their application to contemporary American governmental processes. U.S. politics are becoming ever more irrational.  

Americans in increasing numbers vote against their own interests. Many boast about democracy and condemn communism, socialism, and autocracy but simultaneously discredit U.S. elections. Current conspiracy-brewing among our leaders is growing into a national schizophrenia.

But I think it’s the recent debacle over the election of the speaker of the House of Representatives that will push the U.S. over the edge of sanity. Consider the following words by Louisiana Republican Rep. Mike Johnson in his remarks before the House members upon his election to speaker on Oct. 25: 

“I believe that scripture, the Bible, is very clear that God is the one that raises up those in authority. He raised up each of you, all of us, and I believe that God has ordained and allowed each one of us to be brought here for this specific moment in this time.”

So, God places our representatives in office and endows them with authority? 

I have believed that the consent of the “governed” is the source of governmental authority, at least theoretically. I admit I’ve infused this “social contract” notion into the unwary minds of college students I’ve taught.

But there, inscribed on the U.S. Capitol building wall above the speaker’s podium, were the words, “In God We Trust.” Johnson pointed them out. The phrase is our national motto, formally adopted in 1956 and incorporated into federal law: Title 36 USC 302. 

The speaker’s address reminded me that “In God We Trust” is also written on U.S. currency. I’ve carried the national motto around in my wallet and pockets through my adult life. But I’ve understood that those green bills and coins only work for purchasing goods and services and paying people for their labor, if people put their trust in each other and our fiscal institutions, mutually believing our currency carries value.  

Moreover, I point the speaker to a prominent saying in the very Bible he reads: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God, the things that are God’s.” (Gospel of Matthew 22:21) This scripture passage has an undeniable First Amendment aspect to it: the separation of state and church. 

I find putting God’s name on money, or the wall of the Capitol building, perverse. Moreover, I’ll not attribute to God those failings by our nation that at times have been unjust, inhumane, and atrocious. 

I remind the speaker that our current national motto was preceded by our original one: E Pluribus Unum—“from many, one.” This motto dates back to 1776 when it was proposed by a committee that included John Adams, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. It remains as part of our nation’s Great Seal, written on a banner held in the mouth of a bald eagle. It’s also posted at the foot of the Statue of Freedom that stands atop the Capitol building dome, and displayed on the ceiling fresco inside it.

One can also find our original national motto on the opposite side of our coinage that bears “In God We Trust” and on the dollar bill. 

Our original national motto refers to the people who have formed our country. It reflects the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “We the People of the United States” have established this key founding document of our nation. 

Therein lies the source of authority of the House of Representatives and its members: not God, but the American people. 

Mike Johnson helped lead efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election outcome, yet the Republican members of the House of Representatives voted unanimously for him to be speaker. 

The Democratic members of the House voted unanimously for Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York) to be speaker, their minority leader, knowing that the office belonged to the Republicans who won control of the House in the last general election, and that Jeffries would not be accepted by the Republicans.

Republicans, I ask, how could you not choose from among your more than 200 colleagues a speaker who at least believes in elections and authentically respects truth and democracy? 

And Democrats, I ask, how could you be so partisan and discard the opportunity to work with reasonable Republicans to find and support such a speaker in their ranks, willing to lead a bipartisan effort to serve our nation’s people in such dangerous and testing times?

This is putting power before people; a plague on both your parties!

And Speaker Johnson, know that you insult the intelligence and faith of many Americans.

Scott Fina writes to the Sun from Santa Maria. Send comments for publication to [email protected].

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