So.. what do a Baptist church in Pollock, La., and the Washington Monument have in common?
The Baptist church in Pollock sits on the west side of Highway 165. You pass it every time you go to Camp Hardtner. Like most Baptist churches, it has a steeple. But unlike most churches with steeples, it does NOT have a cross on top.
Anyone happen to know what is on top of the steeple? It’s a hand with one finger pointing heavenward.
Now the Washington Monument does not have a hand on the top! It has a 4-sided aluminum cap, each side containing an inscription. Three of the inscriptions have to do entirely with the building of the monument: names, dates, etc.
The fourth inscription says what? It says, “LAUS DEO,” which is Latin for “Praise be to God.”
Now, a quick side story. The inscriptions on the cap of the Washington Monument are not visible from inside the monument. They are visible only to those who might be hovering in mid-air over the peak of the monument, in other words, people in helicopters and, presumably, God.
So the National Park Service created a replica of the cap that is on display inside the museum at the base of the monument. A few years ago, in the mid-2000s, the replica cap was moved to a tent on the grounds while the museum was renovated. When it was moved back indoors, instead of being placed catty-corner to the wall so that all four sides could be read, as it had been before, it was placed with the LAUS DEO side against the wall, which prevented visitors from seeing it.
An uproar ensued. The Park Service was accused of being ashamed of the Christian foundations of our nation. On snopes.com you can find a letter from the head of the Park Service stating that it was an accident, they had meant no offense and that it would be fixed. Since the letter is dated 2007, I assume the problem has long been corrected.
One interesting thing to me about that story, however, is that no one seems to notice or mention that “Praise be to God” is much more common as an expression of Muslim piety than it is as an expression of Christian piety.
Of course, Muslims typically say “Praise be to Allah,” and they routinely say it often: in times of gratitude and in times of distress, before beginning an important task and at the end, and on and on.
But if you accept that the God of all three of the Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Islam and Christianity—is one and the same God, then “Praise be to God” sounds much more Islamic than Christian. Christians are more likely to be heard saying, “Praise the Lord,” or “Thank you, Jesus!”
But whatever the builders of the Washington Monument had in mind when they inscribed “LAUS DEO” on the top of the monument, they, like the builders of a Baptist church in Pollock, La., were looking for God in all the wrong places.