Fifty years ago today Yuri Gagarin became the first human to venture into space. What an adventure by a true hero! I’ve heard great things about the book Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin. I wish it would come out in e-book format.
An inspiring quote attributed to Gagarin is:
“I saw for the first time the earth’s shape. I could easily see the shores of continents, islands, great rivers, folds of the terrain, large bodies of water. The horizon is dark blue, smoothly turning to black. . . the feelings which filled me I can express with one word–joy.”
For more information about what it must be like to orbit Earth, check out Ethan Siegel’s Orbiting Earth 101: What You’d See / What You’d Do.
Given the propaganda uses of both Soviet and American astronauts, many stories about Gagarin and quotes from him are apocryphal. I’m sure many are true as well. Either way, my favorite Gagarin quote is:
“I looked and looked but I didn’t see God.”
It was a message from the hero of an officially atheist nation directed towards America which, at the time, was busy differentiating itself from the USSR by promoting Christianity as part of the Cold War. America had just added the words “under God” to the pledge of allegiance seven years earlier in 1954, and adopted the official motto “In God We Trust” in 1956. That motto had first been placed on some American coinage to introduce the notion that God was on our side during the Civil War. Starting in 1957 all paper money started to printed with that motto as well.
Previous to that, our money and mottos tended to be remarkably deity-free, embracing the notion of a secular state. Benjamin Franklin supposedly designed our first penny with the motto “Mind Your Business” in it which was also used as the design for the Continental Dollar. The motto “We Are One” was also incorporated into the designs of money at that time, followed by “E pluribus unum” after ratification of the Constitution.
War, though, seems to breed insecurity and fear, which apparently sends Americans running to God. Laws are adopted in these times of war which otherwise wouldn’t have been allowed. The Americans of 1865 understood the Establishment Clause, yet chose to ignore it because they were afraid and insecure while the nation was at war and in peril. The rush to God became even more extreme in the 1950’s during the Cold War. States started forcing all children to openly pray to the Christian God. The official public school prayer in New York State was
“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.”
Following those wars, however, we never seem to fully shed the unconstitutional trappings adopted in those times of crisis. The Cold War, after all, dragged on for 40 years. Americans couldn’t let their guards down for two generations. By the third generation after the start of the war few Americans remember that America didn’t always have a Christian government, but was, in fact, founded as a secular nation and operated as a secular nation (except in times of war).
We have now reached the point where the Supreme Court has decided that the phrase “In God We Trust” is secular and not religious. If that’s the case, perhaps we should change the motto of the United States of America to “In Gods We Trust”. That is, after all, a more accurate secular phrase. Somehow I’m guessing that the most religious people in the nation would complain about such a change the most. That alone should be enough to demonstrate that the phrase is indeed religious and then, maybe, we can get rid of it.
But that won’t happen because we are at war. It’s once again time for all fearful and insecure Americans to look to God to smite our enemies. Never mind that this Forever War will last longer than the Cold War; the people are afraid and need their God running the country, not mere mortals. The problem is that not every American has the same God or, indeed, any god at all.
If only some really smart people would have thought to create a secular government and constitution that protected all citizens by preventing the government from respecting the establishment of any religion while still allowing the practice of all religions in the nation. Our founding fathers must have been idiots if they couldn’t have come up with an idea like that. Maybe we should add an amendment to the US Constitution along those lines.
Oops, I forgot about the Forever War.