Gordon ’14: Rebuttal
Lucas Husted ’13 appeals to your sense of absurdity when he makes the claim that an objection to “in God we hope” on the basis of disbelieving in God is silly. His argument is that the presence of God in the motto is simply not worth serious consideration. I disagree. That this would be considered a legitimate argument testifies to the lack of respect given to atheism and to the way in which the status quo seems inevitable right up until the moment it is changed.
Here is an analogous situation. For over a century now, proposals have been made to add a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun to English, so that it would be possible to talk about a person without specifying a gender if it is not relevant. While no gender-neutral pronoun has succeeded in breaking into everyday usage, the discussion is taken seriously, and modern authors are exceedingly conscientious of the choices they make when writing and how they can subtly suggest norms. We take the concern over gender-neutral pronouns seriously because we accept that our choice of words makes a difference — it isn’t just semantic squabbling. This is the case as well with the presence of God in our motto. There is a difference between “we hope” and “in God we hope,” and I don’t read the latter and automatically replace it with the former. The “Deo” in our current motto is clearly meant to refer to the supposed supernatural deity responsible for the creation of the universe.
I don’t see why those among us who don’t believe in God should be reasonably expected to have a wider, secular and humanist interpretation of the motto than those who do. If we are to put atheism and belief on equal footing, then we must not let either viewpoint be default and the other secondary.
As far as I can tell, the argument for keeping the motto boils down to the claim that things are okay the way they are, and we shouldn’t try to change them. This is the essence of institutional inertia and complacency, and it rules out all political and social change by refusing to give alternatives a chance to compete against the status quo. I believe that this kind of uncritical resistance to change is a moral wrong and should be resisted to the greatest extent possible. The more open we are to the complaints of others, the less likely we are to perpetuate wrongs. I ask you to imagine that we had no motto, and that we were choosing one for the very first time. Would we choose “In Deo Speramus” or something else, something that everyone could believe in?