In Whose God Do We Trust?

According to Dr. Joel Mathews, the phrase “In God We Trust” was first printed on our coins in 1864 and on paper bills in 1957. It had been proposed that “Our Country, Our God, Our Trust” be used, but that was shortened to be able to stamp the motto onto coins.

Kansas State University Polytechnic’s March Civic Luncheon began with Kansas Weslyan University’s Dr. Philip Meckley asking:
• How can we look at comparative religious traditions?
• How can we live with differences for the sake of our human community?

Matthews, a K-State Polytechnic instructor, began the lecture by saying the presentation was not an attempt to sway, convince or proselytize. He said, “Religions are open to interpretation.” Foreshadowing the data he was about to present, he said, “Survey data is subject to social desirability.” When asked about their belief in God, many will answer in the affirmative.

Data from the Public Religion Research Institute shows Kansas is composed mostly by white Evangelical Protestants, then unaffiliated, then white “mainline” Protestants. Other states are predominantly Catholic (Connecticut), or unaffiliated (Oregon), or other (Mormonism in Utah).

Mathews said, “No religion was born or exists in a vacuum.” Continuing, he said:
• Religions are subject to political, cultural, economic and other social forces.
• Religions tend to be flavored by past culture. He noted that certain components of Christmas and Easter celebrations have their roots in pagan traditions (wreaths and eggs). Many Puritans did not celebrate these holidays because they could not find dates for these specified in the Bible.
• Successful religions evolve over time; mythology didn’t survive because it didn’t evolve.

As general trends, Mathews said:
• Worldwide, the importance of religion tends to be inversely related to the Gross Domestic Product, but the USA is an outlier.
• Atheists tend to be the least trusted, according to Pew Research.
• Hindus have the highest level of educational attainment in the USA.
• Jews tend to earn the most in the USA.
• The millennial generation has the highest rate of unaffiliated individuals.
• One in four (1:4) Americans believe God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event.

When most refer to the “Hindu” religion, Mathews said among its members it is known as “Sanatana Dharma”. He described it as “broad, flexible, and adaptable”. Some say it is polytheistic and are familiar with Shiva, Vishnu and Braham among others; but, Mathews said they believe “there is only one Source for everything; there is only one God; God is beyond words.” Mathews said, “The different Gods are facets of the same reality, just like a tree’s bark”, roots, branches and leaves are part of the same reality of the tree.

Buddha is the name of this faith tradition’s founder. A belief in Ultimate Reality (God) is not necessary for Buddhism; the focus is on “being a good person”. Mathews explained that this faith focuses on orthopraxy—the acts of a believer in the here and now, as compared to orthodoxy–the knowledge and beliefs (doctrine) of the individual.

Sikhism believe in one God, one Source of all reality. God is transcendent and the source of salvation. With their belief that God is ever present, many Sikhs have been killed defending others rights to believe in their own faith traditions; they have simply asked, for example, that if a person is going to be a Buddhist that they be a good Buddhist. Referring to religious tolerance, Mathews asked, “How much pain can you tolerate?” He spoke of “co-existing” and “embracing” different faith traditions.

Judaism believes in one God who is personally intimate and devoted to humans, and that God has high standards for humans to live up to. They believe in justice, ethics, and Who rewards the good and punishes the evil. Jews believe creation itself is good; “it is human limitations/frailties that cause suffering”. They also believe God will intervene when necessary.

Mathews described Christianity as having one God, “with God also incarnating in Jesus of Nazareth”, resulting in the Trinity. The definitions and characteristics of God vary according to various denominations and creeds. Some churches are highly organized while others can be “more mom and pop” in nature. Mathews related a conversation with a student who was taught in a Christian church that hell holds only Jesus; Jesus resides there to free everyone from sin, so all can go to Heaven.

Islam has one God personified. Mathews characterized Islam as being most similar to Judaism, with a saying that “there is no God but God”. They view Jesus as a prophet but not as God incarnated. They believe God is just, omnipotent, merciful and eternal. The root word of Islam means submission.

Baha’i believe all religions are from the same God. God is known through various prophets and God’s revelations will continue through future prophets. Baha’i “uniquely embraces science”. When there is a difference between religious beliefs and science, they adopt science.

Mathews said, “Atheists believe there is no God; Agnostics cannot say one way or another.” He spoke briefly about Jain, Zoroastrian, Wicca, Tao, Confucianism, Folk (Native American among others), Unitarianism and Mormonism. Some of these religions have additional texts to the Bible, which some criticize. Mathews said that in response, these progressive believers “ask why God has stopped speaking to” those who say the Bible is the only word of God.

Mathews concluded his remarks by saying a person’s perceptions are determined by their orientation.
• Intrinsics hold religion as their core value and it is evident in all aspects of their lives.
• Extrinsics often include children who are told by adults that they will attend faith services; for them, religion is viewed as an obligation or duty. It isn’t fully integrated into their identity.
• “Quest” or seekers think the questions are more important than the answers; they tend to seek the truth in everything.
• Fundamentalists tend to think there is only one Truth and that all other religions are incorrect.

There was ample time for questions, which were varied and included specifics about different religions.