Wednesday, November 29, 2006

On My Oath, This Is Nonsense [Update 12/3]

[Posted by reader_iam]

How is it that anyone can think that insisting, much less forcing, someone to swear on a book, the Bible or otherwise, which he or she explicitly does not hold sacred can do anything but undercut, trivialize and degrade the value of the oath--not to mention the book--itself?

I have to tell you, it has been a long time since I have read a supposedly serious column as full of nonsense or as wrongheaded almost from start to finish as this Dennis Prager piece. In it, he (with an oddly personal hostility, it seems to me) takes to task Keith Ellison, congressman-elect from Minnesota and a Muslim, for declaring his intention to swear his oath of office on the Koran.
In stentorian tones, Prager writes:
He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.

I could go into a riff on how over-the-top and reactionary that statement is, or give examples of far worse events, acts and situations that the U.S. has managed to survive, but instead, I'm going with the shorter version: Baloney.
First, it is an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism -- my culture trumps America's culture.

An act of hubris to a) not want to swear on the Holy Book of a religion you don't profess, b) want to swear on the Holy Book of the religion you do profess, or c) both? Maybe--just maybe--there might be a point with regard to the multicultural activism issue if, say, Ellison weren't actually Muslim but wanted to break with tradition only and merely to make a mean-spirited, anti-American statement. But that's not the case here. Even if it were (which manifestly it is not, since Ellison is Muslim), then the appropriate response would be to question how he could demonstrate his disrespect for the American ideal of religious tolerance and pluralism in using the Koran in that disgusting way. The appropriate demand would be that Ellison go with the option of affirmation, rather than oath--as allowed by another arguably sacred document to Americans. You know the one: the constitution. (Oh, yeah. That.)
What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.

Yes, and they're precisely right to say that, in the context of how an individual should or should not take oath or make affirmation, with regard to public office in the U.S. I say the same exact thing, and I'm of the Christian faith, a regular church-goer, and someone who does church-related work (volunteer and for pay) on almost a daily basis. While I'm not fundamentalist and couldn't be classified by any stretch as part of what's known as the Religious Right, I also cannot be classified any more plausibly as part of the Progressive Left. Not in terms of religion, and not in terms of politics. (Nor am I one of those "who believe[s] that one of the greatest goals of America is to be loved by the world." Not even close.)

Yet I find Prager's stance to be almost an affront, and I say that both as a (very proud and grateful, yet independent-minded) American and an (unapologetic, yet humility-valuing) Christian believer. Let me see if I've got this right: In order to force Ellison to make a symbolic (large "s") gesture to demonstrate his "loyalty" to "American tradition," Prager--ostensibly speaking from the Christian side of things--would cynically insist that the Bible be reduced to a mere symbol (small "s"), a mere tool, a mere expression of religious-right political correctness, to advance his politically partisan position? Or even his religious beliefs?

Pray tell: How dare he?

It doesn't matter to me how many before Ellison--Christian, Deist, Jew, Atheist, Whatever--have taken their oath of office, hand on Bible. (By the way, not "everyone" did, anymore than "everyone" swears on a Bible in court. Sigh.) Nor do I condemn those who did so without believing, in whole or in part, in its contents, but rather did so out of a sense of respect for the tradition to which Prager refers, or at least felt no conflict in conscience, for whatever reason. (I do condemn the climate that might have--surely must have?--forced people to do so on occasion, fingers crossed behind their backs, against their own consciences, when they might have preferred to have simply affirmed, and even should have. Certainly, they should have been able to feel free to choose that route.)

But I have mighty, mighty problems indeed with the attitude that Prager adopts, the insulting arguments he makes, the ignorance of our constitution he displays, and ultimately--whether he realizes it or not--the fundamental disrespect he shows for our constitution, its guarantees, AND the Bible itself, which deserves to be treated with more respect than a pH strip dipped into a beaker of piss. There should be shame in that--not in an individual refusing to, explicitly or by implication, profess that in which he does not believe. (You think there's a possibility that our founders considered this, in including the affirmation possibility and explicitly disavowing a religious test? Maybe, just maybe?)

You'll note that I haven't addressed the utterly absurd and disingenuous "Mein Kampf" reference; Prager surely knows full well that however ardently Nazis and Hitler supporters may feel about that book, the analogy is bogus--if only (but not only) because of the differences--historically! in terms of tradition!--between the Bible [edited later for clarity of reference], or others similarly associated in unique ways with major religions going back into the mists of time, and socio-political philosophical screeds [such as "Mein Kampf"] of more recent vintage and, in notable ways, more limited scope. If he doesn't, then I'd have to question why he's holding out the Bible as something special at all, for taking oaths upon, or otherwise.

If someone's worried about slippery slopes and future exceptions, why not simply advocate for simple affirmation? After all, if it's the intent of someone to be truly dishonest and subversive, no oath on this earth, on the Bible or otherwise, will in and of itself make a difference. By definition, under those circumstances, the oath itself will be in bad faith. To argue otherwise is... well...likewise.
If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11.

For the love of God, man, get a hold of yourself.

Update, 11/30: For those who view Prager's apparent larger attitude, as he presented it in his column, as emblematic of "all" Christians, even of conservative bent, may I suggest you visit Mark Daniels.

I'd also like to draw attention to the reactions, in the comments section attached to my post here, from Ruth Anne of Maternal Optimist and Pastor Jeff of Conblogeration, neither of whom could exactly be described in the dismissive terms that Prager employs in his assumptions of who might disagree with him on the issue at hand.

Update, 12/1 (just barely, central): Apparently, I need to clarify: Of course, Dennis Prager is Jewish. I've read his columns and been familiar with his background for years.

This changes the reading of his column "how," exactly? (Much less what he said on cable news tonight.)

Be specific--and don't ignore what he actually wrote and most important with reference to WHAT.

Update, 12/3 Oh, please. Now here's some hysterical nonsense from the other side.
Fox News and its billionaire media tycoon owner hates America and is spending billions to try to overthrow the rule of law and replace it with mob rule and Fundamentalist Theocracy.

For the love of a sense of proportion and logic, get a grip, dude.

(Hat tip, Memeorandum.