Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Back Off

Now that Keith Ellison has won "point, set, match" by revealing that it is Thomas Jefferson's Koran he'll swear in on, the little man who started this big controversy, has finally started to back down. A little. But not much. Indeed, despite an early contrite tone ("There were sentences in that column that I regret writing and that deserved criticism. I was wrong in writing them."), it is amazing just how much bluster Mr. Prager still has left in him, as he desperately tries to maintain his completely ludicrous argument that the Christian Bible is the source of all that is good and just in the world.
My entire concern has been about the Bible and Judeo-Christian values disappearing as the primary sources of moral and civic values in America. America has been uniquely good to its citizens (blacks and Indians historically excepted of course, but see below about why America abolished slavery), and this goodness has emanated overwhelmingly from the majority's belief in the Judeo-Christian values they derive from their Bible (the Hebrew Bible and New Testament).

I'm going to do my best to ignore "blacks and Indians historically excepted", as if mass murder and enslavement is some footnote we can just brush aside. Prager goes on to argue that slavery was abolished largely by the effort of those who had religious motivations for their actions. That may well be true, but it ignores the mirror image: slavery was established and maintained by those who quite quickly, readily, and easily offered up biblical justifications (indeed, mandates) for their actions. One can argue that the oppression of Native Americans was nearly exclusively justified via Christian principles (from here on out, I'll continue to use the term "Christian", because I remain utterly confused about what "Judeo-Christian" actually means beyond a token sop to religious pluralism).

Sure, Soviet Russia was viciously anti-Semitic (even with formal rules prohibiting it). On the other hand, so was the historical Catholic Church, and many Protestants--and they didn't even bother pretending to hide it. To act like Christianity--either around the world or in America specifically--has been a wellspring of pure happiness and light is simply delusional.

Prager says he is simply "worried" that, without everyone acknowledging that our rights stem from Christianity, we'll lose the freedoms we hold dear. History does not come close to suggesting that outcome. It does suggest that when we let religious dogma overwhelm our respect for others, and replace the politics of dignity with the politics of division, the lantern of liberty will flicker and die. If Prager is looking at threats to the American way, he can start by looking in the mirror.


Mark said...

Two points.

We've discussed what "Judeo-Christian" means in the past. It means that Jews and Christians share a significant measure of scriptural text (note below). That theological scholars (Christian Old Testament, jewish Torah, Tanakh et al) are interested in and can (and do) share research. That's all. What are you "confused" about or is that a just a rhetorical sally.

Soviet Russia wasn't just "viciously anti-semitic". It was viciously anti-Christian as well.

Oh. You've got that last bit hind-end foremost when you say, "It does suggest that when we let religious dogma overwhelm our respect for others," (?!) ... Judeo-Christian dogma insists on respect for others (Judeo-Christian is the correct term because both trace that "dogma" to Leviticus). How can dogma "overwhelm" our respect for others when it demands it?

Ed Darrell said...

1. "Judeo-Christian" is a line used usually by conservative, often Jewish-wary Christians. One will not find Jewish philosophers or theologians using the phrase. Nor almost any other Jew, for that matter.

2. To keep from losing our rights, we need to fight to defend them. Prager, on the other hand, urges that we vitiate the First Amendment. Vitiating the First Amendment to "protect our rights" is like copulating promiscuously to save virginity.

3. "Uniquely good?" No, we've failed spectacularly from time to time, and generally when we think we just about have it right we screw up and oppress some other group. But we do have an ideal, and we try to live up to it, from time to time. It's not that we have protected rights forever, but that we recognize that as a good, and work to do it, even when we fail.

David Schraub said...

Mark: You know I think the gaps in philosophies and theologies between Judaism and Christianity are too deep and numerous to blithely group them together in Prager's manner. (I do agree that Soviet Russia is viciously anti-Christian, but Prager specifically cited to its anti-Semitism, so I was responding to that).

Also, I think there is a bit too much history behind Christian dogma being used to utterly obliterate any semblance of recognizing the dignity of non-believers. I of course believe one can construct a coherent Christian theology that allows/demands respect for the other--but Muslims too also say that the Koran "insists on respect for others", and I'd make the same response.

Anonymous said...

Is there any record of a Congressman swearing on the Jefferson Bible? Now that would be even more interesting.

Mark said...

Can you substantiate your claim re usage of Judeo-Christian primarily by "Jewish-wary conservative Christians" (Prager, I think is Jewish himself).

You didn't say you that Prager "blithely" groups Jewish and Christians together, you said you "remain utterly confused" about what the term means. I question your confusion.

I didn't say Jewish (or Christian) theologians use the phrase, but that they share their research and research interests as well as almost certainly many probably publish their results in common journals. The existence of that shared heritage gives lie to a valid usage for the term. For another example both traditions draw from the same text, specifically the Psalmody in their worship liturgy. I challenge you to find such similar commonality in any of the other major religious liturgical practice.

It seems that while you concentrate on differences, which of course there are. If you spent some time considering commonality you'd find some there as well. What I don't get is why you feel a need to deny that part.

David Schraub said...

I am "utterly confused" about what it means in this context--when we're talking about normative ethics rather than liturgy. Nobody uses "Judeo-Christian" to talk about shared elements in services. They (Prager et al) use it to imply that their is some broader moral worldview the two share, which is highly misleading.

Anonymous said...

If anyone does win elective office and wants a ceremonial swearing in on a Jefferson Bible, I'm happy to loan my copy.

Personally I'd rather try to bring in all the books considered to be holy texts in Hinduism. I could stack them up on a little platform an inch off the floor, and they'd probably be higher than my head.

George said...

I too am confused by the whole JudeoChritian moniker.

Mark said...

Then you're not actually confused about what Judeo-Christian means for you'd be equally confused about what is meant by a Christian normative ethical standard. There is a wide range to the latter and I'd wager the set is little changed adding the former.

And if you don't think normative ethics and liturgical praxis are related, there I'd have to disagree.