To understate the case, my last column, “America, not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on,” seems to have touched a national nerve.
It has caused a national discussion – actually, more hate-filled attacks on me than civil discussion – and has been covered by just about all major American news media. To their credit, CNN and Fox News both gave me ample time (in television terms anyway) to express my views on two of each network’s major shows: “Paula Zahn Now” and Headline News on CNN, and “Hannity & Colmes” and “Your World with Neil Cavuto” on Fox News. And many American newspapers have covered it.
In addition, there was widespread coverage on left-wing blogs, which, with no exception I could find, distorted what I said, charging my column and me with, for example, racism (see below), when race plays no role at all in this issue or in my column. For the record, because I deem this a significant statement about most of the left, I found virtually no left-wing blog that was not filled with obscenity-laced descriptions of me. Aside from the immaturity and loathing of higher civilization that such public use of curse words reveal, the fury and hate render the leftist charge that it is the right that is hate-filled one of the most obvious expressions of psychological projection I have seen in my lifetime.
Clearly, many Americans, including some conservatives and libertarians, have no problem with the idea that for the first time in American history, a person elected to Congress has rejected the Bible for another religious text when taking his oath of office (whether ceremonial or actual – more on this below). This includes some thoughtful colleagues in conservative talk radio (intellectual life on conservative radio is far more diverse than intellectual life at most American universities).
So, for those who do cherish dialogue, including those on the left who have trained themselves to avoid thought by merely choosing from a list of epithets – “racist,” “bigoted,” “homophobic,” “Islamophobic,” “sexist,” “xenophobic,” “fascist” – here are my responses to the most frequently offered objections to my piece:
Accusation: I am advocating something unconstitutional by demanding that the Bible be included in oaths of office. I am reminded that Mr. Ellison has a right to practice the religion of his choice and that there shall be no religious test for candidates for office in America.
Response: I never even hinted that there should be a religious test. It has never occurred to me that only Christians run for office in America. The idea is particularly laughable in my case since I am not now, nor ever have been, a Christian. I am a Jew (a non-denominational religious Jew, for the record), and I would vote for any Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Mormon, atheist, Jew, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Wiccan, Confucian, Taoist or combination thereof whose social values I share. Conversely, I would not vote for a fellow Jew whose social values I did not share. I want people of every faith and of no faith who affirm the values I affirm to enter political life.
My belief that the Bible should be present at any oath (or affirmation) of office has nothing whatsoever to do with the religion of the office holder. And it never has until Keith Ellison’s decision to substitute a different text for the Bible. Many office holders who do not believe in the Bible at all or who reject some part have nevertheless used the Bible at their swearing-in (I noted this in my column). Even the vast majority of Jews elected to office have used a Bible containing both the Old and New Testaments, even though Jews do not regard the New Testament as part of their Bible. A tiny number of Jews have used only the Old Testament. As a religious Jew, I of course understand their decision, but I disagree with it.
I agree with the tens of thousands of office holders in American history who have honored the American tradition – I am well aware it is not a law, and I do not want it to be – of bringing a Bible to their ceremonial or actual swearing-in. Keith Ellison is ending that powerful tradition, and it is he who has called the public’s attention to his doing so. He obviously thinks this is important. I think it is important. My critics think it isn’t.
Why wouldn’t Ellison bring a Bible along with the Quran? That he chose not to is the narcissism of multiculturalism that I referred to: The individual’s culture trumps the national culture.
You don’t have to be Christian to acknowledge that the Bible is the source of America’s values. Virtually every founder of this country knew that and acknowledged it. The argument that founders such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were deists, even if accurate (it is greatly exaggerated), makes my point, not my opponents’. The founders who were not believing Christians venerated the Bible as the source of America’s values just as much as practicing Christians did.
America derives its laws from its Constitution. It derives its values from the Bible. We don’t get inalienable rights from the Constitution; we get them from God – which is exactly what the signers of the Declaration of Independence wrote: We are endowed with inalienable rights by our Creator, not by government and not by any man-made document. And that Creator and those inalienable rights emanate from the Bible. Keith Ellison’s freedom to openly believe and practice Islam and to run for elective office as a Muslim is a direct result of a society molded by the Bible and the people who believed in it, a fact he should be willing to honor as he is sworn in.
I cannot name any Western European country that does not have a document similar to the American Constitution and something akin to our Bill of Rights. It is, therefore, not the Constitution that has made America unique and a moral beacon to the world’s downtrodden. What has made America unique is the combination of Enlightenment ideas with our underlying Judeo-Christian values. (I have described 24 of those values in 24 columns in 2005, all available on the Internet through www.pragerradio.com.)
It was understood from the beginning of the republic that liberty is derived from God, not from man alone. That is why the Liberty Bell has an inscription from the Bible (from the Torah in the Old Testament) on it, not an inscription from any secular Enlightenment (or ancient Greek) source.
Accusation: Very many critics note the fact that members of Congress are not sworn in individually with Bibles but all together in the House chamber and without the Bible. The use of the Bible is a ceremonial act that takes place in private before family, friends and the press. My critics cite this fact as if somehow it invalidates my larger point.
Response: First, it was Keith Ellison who raised the entire issue of taking an oath on a Quran rather than a Bible. He did not make his announcement in the hopes that it would be ignored but to make a statement. I was responding to that statement. Critics who are unhappy with it becoming an issue should direct their ire at Mr. Ellison.
Second, the very fact that it is a ceremony makes my point far more forcefully. Obviously, Mr. Ellison will have already been officially sworn in. Therefore, the use of the Quran has absolutely nothing to do with taking an oath on the book he holds sacred. It is used entirely to send a message to the American people. So all the arguments that he must be able to swear on the book he holds sacred are moot. He will have already been sworn in.
Ceremonies matter a lot. As I told the Associated Press, ceremonies are essential to the continuity of a civilization. Therefore, the first time in American history that a congressman has decided to jettison the Bible for another text should not go unnoticed – or elicit yawns, as it has from conservative and libertarian critics.
Accusation: My column and/or I are racist, bigoted and Islamophobic.
Response: “Racist”: It is impossible to fully respond to absurdity. How is race possibly involved in my wanting the Bible to be present at swearings-in of American politicians? I wrote in my column that I apply the same standard to Jews, Scientologists and everyone else. Those who make this charge merely cheapen the word racism and therefore weaken the fight against it.
“Islamophobic”: I wrote not a word against Islam or the Quran and made it clear at the beginning of my column that nothing I write is specific to Islam or the Quran. All those who write that I “compared” the Quran to “Mein Kampf” are lying – deliberately lying to defame me rather than respond to my arguments. I simply offered a slippery slope argument that if we let everyone choose their own text at swearings-in, what will happen one day should a racist decide to use “Mein Kampf”? A slippery slope argument is not an equivalence argument. The left regularly argues that vouchers to support Catholic schools can one day be used to support religious extremists’ schools. Are they comparing Catholicism to religious extremism? Of course not. And no one on the right has ever stooped so low as to make such a charge. Moreover, I not only mentioned “Mein Kampf,” I mentioned “Dianetics,” Scientology’s most revered work, the works of Voltaire (for secularists) and other works.
“Bigoted”: Bigoted against whom? Against non-Christians? I am a non-Christian. Am I bigoted against myself as a Jew? I happen to be one of the most active individuals in American Jewish life and co-author of probably the most widely used English-language introduction to Judaism of the last 30 years.
In fact, it is as a Jew that I am so aware of the fragility of all civilizations, including ours. I am therefore aware of how uniquely good America has been for all its citizens, including and especially its Jews. This uniqueness does not stem from secularism alone, but from an extraordinary Judeo-Christian value system that has been our civic religion. Europe is secular and is a failing civilization, one that is also increasingly judenrein (empty of Jews) because of its anti-Semitism.
I am for no law to be passed to prevent Keith Ellison or anyone else from bringing any book he wants to his swearing-in, whether actual or ceremonial. But neither I nor tens of millions of other Americans will watch in silence as the Bible is replaced with another religious text for the first time since George Washington brought a Bible to his swearing-in. It is not I, but Keith Ellison, who has engaged in disuniting the country. He can still help reunite it by simply bringing both books to his ceremonial swearing-in. Had he originally announced that he would do that, I would have written a different column – filled with praise of him. And there would be a lot less cursing and anger in America.
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