“E Pluribus Unum” (Out of many, one) was the motto chosen to represent our nation in 1776. It was suggested by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere to the committee responsible for developing the Great Seal of the United States. It not only gave reference to the fact that our country was born out of 13 separate colonies, it represented the great diversity of the new nation. Unfortunately, Christian conservatives, capitalizing on the fear of a “Godless” communist Cold War opponent, voted to replace the motto in 1956 with “In God We Trust.”
The message it sends is dramatically different.
Does it really matter? After all, it’s only four words. The answer to that question is, most definitely, yes. You see, I worked in the advertising industry for more than 40 years. Much of that time, I was charged with creating mottos or slogans – a few words that clearly define a brand. That’s what the motto does. It defines the brand of the United States, suggesting that we are governed by faith (I would describe it as blind faith) over reason. How else can you explain the indifference of so many toward issues such as climate change and gun violence? These are not matters for God. These are problems caused by human behavior. And they are problems that we, as humans, must solve. They are problems that require an understanding of science, logic and reason. Unfortunately, too many seem to believe that such problems are too big or too complex for us to solve. They choose to ignore the problems, believing that if we pray hard enough, God will solve the problems for us.
Our Founding Fathers would not have done so. Prioritizing enlightenment and reason over blind faith, they chose to take matters into their own hands – to create their own destiny. If they had left it up to prayer alone, we would still be part of the British Empire. The Founders were also sensitive toward people of many faiths. That’s why the Declaration of Independence never actually refers to God in the traditional sense choosing, instead, to use more inclusive words such as “Creator” and “Nature’s God” – choices that could encompass people of all faiths, as well as those who belonged to no church at all. Neither did the Founders mention God in the Constitution – likely because many of them were, in fact, deists (people who believe in a higher power, but disdain organized religion).
E Pluribus Unum was all-encompassing. It told the world that the United States of America embraces all cultures, and that we could all work together for a common goal. By contrast, the current slogan implies that, if you do not believe in God – the approved Judeo-Christian God – you are somehow less of an American.
Given the divisiveness that has permeated every aspect of the American experience, reclaiming the original motto would help us reclaim our identity. It would show that all Americans count; that we are willing to pull together for the common good.
Sometimes the best way to move forward is to first take a step back.