Thursday, July 12, 2007

True Colors

I'm always stunned when the Family Research Council disappoints me. Not because I think they are a particularly admirable or principled organization. Much the opposite--my standards for them have dropped so far I simply refuse to believe they could be undercut. And yet, time and again I am proven wrong.

Today's atrocity is their reaction to Hindu chaplain Rajan Zed delivering a prayer before Congress. It is the first time a Hindu invocation has been given in Congress, and thus is somewhat of a milestone. And the FRC, which has fought tooth and nail to preserve prayer in the public square, fight against "hostility" towards religion, and generally pressed that official religious exercise does not result in favoritism or discrimination against people or creeds, has issued a response from its chief, Tony Perkins:
There is no question that under the first amendment Zed enjoys freedom in this country that Christians do not enjoy in his home country. But does that mean it is appropriate for him to open the nation's highest elected body in prayer? I think not. This prayer is more than ceremony, although many may treat it as such. It is a plea to God....

No one can legitimately challenge the fact that the God America refers to in the pledge, our national motto, and other places is the monotheistic God of the Jewish and Christian faith. There is no historic connection between America and the polytheistic creed of the Hindu faith. I seriously doubt that Americans want to change the motto, "In God we Trust, which Congress adopted in 1955, to, "In gods we Trust." That is essentially what the United States Senate did today.

Now, I am not surprised that the FRC is not thrilled at Zed's barrier-breaking. I have no doubt they deeply dislike Hinduism, view its practitioners as hell-bound infidels, and do not want to see it gain any credibility or presence on America's shore. However, I am stunned that they would say it out loud. This was an easy mark for the FRC. There is no risk that Hinduism will take over America (they don't even have the hyperbolic "Muslim hordes will turn us into a Sharia state!" fear to go on here). This is obviously not going to become the norm. The vast majority of American legislative prayer will still take place within the Christian religious tradition. This was a gimme. Talk about how this proves America is non-discriminatory. Show that it gives lie to liberal cries of Christian domination or theocracy. Brag about how ecumenical we are. It won't change reality, and it would score some points.

But no. The FRC simply can't stand Hinduism, and couldn't take the incredible gift it was being offered here. So they spouted off, and made themselves look like idiots in the process. Let us take note of some of the ways how.

1) "Zed enjoys freedom in this country that Christians do not enjoy in his home country." Zed is from Reno, Nevada. He was born in India, but that hardly matters. If he was originally from India, he now calls Reno (and thus, America) his home. This is his country, just as much as it is mine (well, obviously, since I'm Jewish and thus every bit as damned) or any of the FRC's Christian buddies.

2) The capitalization of "God" when it refers to the Christian deity, but the lower-case for Hindu ("gods"). This is just disrespectful.

3) "The monotheistic God of the Jewish and Christian faith." This one is so obscene, it can be divided into four independent specimens of idiocy. First, I've heard that many Hindus consider their religion to be monotheistic--one God in many forms, yes, but that can't be too distressing to anyone who believes in the Trinity. Second, if it is the God of the Jewish and Christian faith, then it has to be the God of the Muslim faith too--we're all stemming from the same Abrahamic tradition. Third, there is no more of a "tradition" from the Framer's era of viewing this God as a "Jewish" God than of a Hindu God. Rewriting history to pretend like most American Christians at the founding viewed Judaism as completely full and equal partners is intellectual dishonesty. Fourth, this faux-inclusiveness for Judaism is belied by the prayer Perkins cites as the exemplification of an "appropriate" prayer, referring to America "as the only nation on earth that came into being 'for the Glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.'" Well gosh, that puts me in a bind, now doesn't it? Given that generally, me and mine are the first targets (and I use them term deliberately) of Christian "advancement" efforts, that's a bit disconcerting. Don't play me, Tony. You're not really on my side here. The smile I'm getting is one of a predator. Jews are a marginalized non-Christian religious minority in America. And when you start supporting discrimination of any non-Christian minority, you threaten all of them. That's why, Abrahamic ties notwithstanding, I am far more tied to Zed than I'll be to you (It's also worth noting that Jews tend to be treated rather well in Hindu-dominated counties, especially compared to our history in Christian locales. There, "the advancement of the Christian faith" has been the moniker by which my people have faced continual persecution, oppression, bigotry, hate, and genocidal rage. What makes you think I'd trust you more than them?).

Other reactions:

Nathan Bradfield of Church and State pretty much has an orgasm over Perkins' fine words of wisdom. I doubt this will make a difference, but I'll pitch it anyway. I love it that y'all say you want to include Jews. But standards such as the ones you advocate are inherently anti-Semitic, threaten my equal religious standing, and are the reason Jews will never leave the Democratic Party no matter how often you pledge your allegiance to Israel. They are the words of an enemy, not a friend. As an observant Jew, there is very little I find more repellent than this false partnership. At least with Hamas you know where you stand. Here we have folks trying to enlist the good name of Judaism to hurt other religious minorities and bring about our own demise. Play the Christian partisan if you want, but don't pretend to be my friend while you prepare the dagger for my back.

If Mr. Bradfield wants a Jewish perspective from actual Jews (and mine isn't sufficient), here's another. I guarantee you--every major Jewish organization in America is coming down on Zed's side here.

A smattering of liberal blogs have commented on the disruption of Zed's prayer by Christian fundamentalists. Talk about hostility to religion in the public square. When is the last time radical liberals interrupted a Christian preacher--much less because he was the wrong religion, and not because our public squares should be neutral turf?

This has been a post written in anger, so let me end on a positive note. Zed's prayer is a great moment for America and our progress into a diverse, pluralistic, tolerant nation. I am sorry that it had to be marred by a few religious extremists. But I am confident that vast majority of people, from all faiths and from none, share in the ideals and principles that allow Zed his moment, and are as proud that our nation has taken this step as I am. God bless you.


I thought the plural (and adjective) form of "Hindu" was "Hindi." I thought "Hindus" sounded silly. It turns out I was wrong, and now I look silly. The correction has been made. Sorry, PG :-(.


Anonymous said...

I believe Mr. Perkins was referring to Christian Jews. Not liberal Jews. Liberal Jews have simply lost their way and are following the pied piper of the Democrat party who want to destroy the very fabric of our being that gave us the liberties we enjoy today. Your siding with Zed is sadly mistaken as it stabs every Founder in the back.

David Schraub said...

"Christian Jews" is a contradiction in terms. Jews aren't Christian, and Christians aren't Jewish. If Mr. Perkins is only defending "Christian Jews", he is not defending any Jews, and thus gives aid and comfort to those who wish me silenced, suppressed, or dead. So you'll forgive me if I do not view him, his compatriots, or you as a friend or an ally to the Jewish people.

PG said...

FYI, Hindi is a language. A Hindu is a member of the religion Hinduism. Hindu prayers typically are delivered in Sanskrit, which is basically a dead language used only for religion and scholarship (we're pre-Vatican II/ Pope Benedict like that).

As for FRC's claim that Zed enjoys religious freedom in the U.S. that Christians do not in India, I'm not exactly sure what they're talking about. India's Constitution guarantees religious freedom, indeed to a far greater extent than the U.S. does, because it allows people of various religions to have Family Law specific to their faith, instead of all having to follow a single secular law. (I'm not in favor of this diversity because it tends to stifle women and inter-religious marriage.) I will concede that the Indian Constitution provides less of a free speech protection in its text than the U.S. Constitution, and its effect is more silencing than the current Supreme Court interpretation of the Constitution generally would permit.

A few Indian states have attempted to put legal limits on proselytizing by Christian missionaries through "force, fraud or allurement," and have failed to impose normal legal sanctions on those who assault and even murder missionaries. So did the U.S. government in the 1940s fail to sanction those who assaulted and harassed Jehovah's Witnesses (read the story behind Chaplinsky). Governments go through periods of nasty majoritarianism -- as David pointed out, Perkins missed a real opportunity to note this as proof that the U.S. government isn't going through such a period. Christians who didn't proselytize their Hindu neighbors never have had anything to fear in post-independence India -- indeed, given the history of sectarian violence, they may be the one group along with Jews that haven't. Much like the Hindus of the U.S., Christians and Jews of India are too small a minority to stress about much. (The terror of conversion has led to some results that were merely odd rather than rights-violating, as when a "lost" group of people who were historically Jewish repatriated to Israel, and the Indian government insisted that whatever ceremony they underwent to make their place in Judaism clear, take place on the flight instead of on Indian soil.

There have been Christians in India longer than in much of Europe; St. Thomas -- aka Doubting Thomas -- brought a Christian faith that has remained, especially in Kerala, probably centuries before either Perkins's or Bradfield's ancestors heard of Jesus. (David's ancestors, of course, knew him as that slutty Mary's boy ;-)

Mark said...

Just judging on rhetoric between you and Mr Perkins whom you link, I'd say you've gone overboard.

"atrocity", "spouted off", "obscene", "deeply dislike Hinduism" et all are used and have as far as I can discern from his text, no relation to anything in the text you linked.

Oh, on

The capitalization of "God" when it refers to the Christian deity, but the lower-case for Hindu ("gods"). This is just disrespectful.

The term is not "disrespectful" it's grammatical. Capitalization of God vs gods is because it's used as a proper name not because it's marginalization of a religion. Shiva or Kali and so on would be capitalized I'm sure if Mr Perkins referred to any Hindu god in particular. However, it is the practice (following Judaism) that God has no name, hence the word God is capitalized.

Finally, I'll note, that I'm not necessarily in agreement with Mr Perkins. I think arguments can be made that the god referred to in foundational documents of our country do not necessarily refer to the Christian God (or the Hindu gods) but a unitarian deism. And furthermore the nature and particular faith and text of Congressional prayers seems an odd issue to me to get worked up about in any case, a point in which it seems I differ but which puts you in the same boat as those nuts who protested ... but perhaps not Mr Perkins if the heat of rhetoric is any measure.

David Schraub said...

Begging your pardon, but God does have a name in Judaism. I capitalize "God" as a term of respect, and because the name of God is not supposed to be revealed in Judaism, not because its the name. And even insofar as the name of God is sacred in Judaism, it's Hebrew, not English--the word "God" doesn't have any particular significance in Judaism aside from being the English translation of "El", which isn't even the most common moniker given to our deity (that would be Adonai, translated as "Lord"). Incidentally, this makes the people who write "G-d" doubly ridiculous, though (for complex reasons of Jewish law that I don't want to go into) I understand where they're coming from.

Perkins' argument was bigoted, religiously prejudiced, and was doubly-hostile to Jews in that it tried to incorporate us into his discriminatory paradigm without actually making us equals. I've read Mr. Perkins' work nearly daily since he took over the FRC. I feel pretty confident about what his beliefs are, and what esteem he holds the Hindu (and Jewish, for that matter) religions. When he tries to use my faith as cover to provoke discrimination against my friends and allies, you better believe I'm going to call him out on it, and hard.