The motto “In God We Trust” is familiar to many Americans as the country’s official slogan, but its origin is not correctly attributed to the founders of the nation. Instead, the motto reflects traditional consciousness as it has periodically gained strength in the Civil War and Cold War.
In Dissent Magazine, Thomas A. Foster writes:
Only the motto “E Pluribus Unum” (“from many, one”) survived the committee in which Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin had served. All had agreed on that motto from the beginning.
The current motto, “In God We Trust,” was developed by a later generation. It was used on some coinage at the height of religious fervor during the upheaval of the Civil War. It was made the official national motto in 1956, at the height of the Cold War, to signal opposition to the feared secularizing ideology of communism.
In other words, “In God We Trust” is a legacy of founders, but not the founders of the nation. As the official national motto, it is a legacy of the founders of modern American conservatism—a legacy reaffirmed by the current Congress.
Conservative Andrew Sullivan cites the historical record as evidence of a repeated resurgence of Christianism. It certainly does speak to a periodic renewal of traditional religious values significant enough to change public policy.
A Motto for World Spirituality
Nations rely on mottos, but so too do movements and sometimes organizations. A motto can provide inspiration to participants and succinctly communicate a movement’s essence to outsiders.
The history of the rise of a truly global spirituality has yet to be written, the movement still being in the midst of birth. But is it too early to speculate as to what a suitable global motto might be?
E Pluribus Unum is a compelling contender, I think, in Latin or its English equivalent, “Out of many, one.” The motto is close in spirit to Ken Wilber’s motto for the Integral consciousness: “Unitas multiplex.”
In One Taste, Wilber quotes Jerome Bruner as saying that human existence has many local or surface features but also underlying universal structures:
Languages differ, but there are linguistic universals that make access into any language easy for any child. Cultures differ, but they too have universals that speak to the generality of mind and probably to some general features of its development. Unitas multiplex may still be the best motto.
Allow me to cast a vote for Unitas Multiplex as a proposed motto for worldcentric spirituality. I’m not a Latin scholar, but the translation to English that works best to my ears is Unity Within Diversity.
Unity Within Diversity speaks to the World Spirituality practitioner on multiple levels. As a political statement, it describes an orientation that incorporates both conservative (“unity”) and liberal (“diversity”) polarities.
And as a theological statement, it describes a unity between a radical diversity of manifestations of the divine (6,840,507,000 persons who are Unique Selves, completely irreplaceable and infinitely valuable individuals) as well as a radical unity of all beings (the True Self, of which there is only one.)
Unitas Multiplex, a motto of a global spirituality inspired by the philosophy of Ken Wilber and other integral thinkers? Perhaps. Now if only there were a global language in which to speak such a motto instead of Latin, one that is inspired by many languages not merely one with Western lineage!
Just as the U.S. history teaches, mottos come and go. One can even go so far as to imagine a future world in which Unitas Multiplex was not only the motto of a spiritual movement, but also the official national motto of countries throughout the globe.