Saturday, December 02, 2006

Freedom to Choose a Good Book Is the American Way of Civilization

American fascists are making Keith Ellison a household name. Who, you might wonder? Keith Ellison is the newly elected congressman from Minnesota's Fifth District and is the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress. Much to the consternation of American fascists, Congressman elect Ellison has announced that he will not take his oath of office by placing his hand on the Bible, and instead chooses to be sworn in using the Koran.

I recently learned that a national campaign has begun to oppose the use of the Koran in the swearing-in ceremonies for representatives, senators, and even the President and Vice president. The American fascists are sending emails and letters to legislators asking for a law to prevent the use of any other book than the Bible for taking the oath of office.

Why? Because to use any other book would “undermine American civilization” according to columnist Dennis Prager. The so-called “good Christians” of the American Family Association have endorsed and embraced Prager’s fascist views and assert that because Prager is a Jew that it is not just a Christian issue. Of course they don’t acknowledge that the first half of the Christian Bible is the Jewish Bible, and therefore for a Jew to advocate the exclusive use of the Christian Bible is actually advocating the exclusive use of the Jewish-Christian Bible. Of course for Prager to place his hand on the Bible to take an oath, if he were an observing Jew, he would have to accomplish the mental gymnastics of having his hand only reach down to the first part of the book and stop before including the New Testament.

Prager’s un-American ranting is really something to wonder at. First he says, Ellison “should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.” This silliness is really fascinating from someone who is supposed to be engaging in rational discourse. If one believes that placing one’s hand on the Koran is a threat to American civilization, then clearly the holder of that belief is extremely hostile to the Koran. To argue otherwise is just absurd sophism.

Then Prager says, by way of example, “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.” Dennis Prager’s education is woefully lacking as he evidently never learned in school that America doesn’t have a “holiest” book, because the USA believes in the doctrine of the separation of Church and State. This doctrine by the way is enshrined in our US Constitution’s First Amendment, as well as evidenced by the fact that God is not mentioned anywhere in the US Constitution. What a great document it is!.

But the real irony is that the fascists like Prager overlook the very core of the symbology of the oath taking ceremony as it relates to American civilization, that is the very purpose of putting a hand on a book. The person is not swearing allegiance to the book, nor to a religion or a culture, he or she is swearing allegiance to the US Constitution. The ceremony is one in which the person is stating an oath of allegiance, based exactly on their own personal religious and spiritual faith, that they will uphold and protect the US Constitution. We accept this oath precisely because it is based on the person’s sincerity and personal integrity as evidenced by their hand on the book that they themselves uphold to be the highest expression of their spiritual and moral life. That's not to hard to understand is it?

Contrary to how Prager and similar totalitarian thinkers see damage “to the fabric of American civilization” if Ellison is allowed to choose his own book, it is squarely this choice that is the fabric of American civilization. The book chosen is intensely personal and individual by design! Other wise the oath of office would be meaningless. If would be as meaningless to a Muslim to make the oath with his hand on the Bible as it would for a Jew to make the oath with her hand on the Koran. Or for either to make the oath with their hands on the phonebook.

There are only two rational positions to have on this question. Either the person being sworn in must get to choose the book that represents to them their most personal and important evidence of their own integrity and sincerity, or the book should be the document to which they are pledging allegiance, that is the US Constitution.

If the fascists want to avoid having the Koran being used in the oath of office, then the only American alternative is to remove all religious books from the ceremony and have the hand placed on the US Constitution itself. This of course would change the central meaning of the act itself. Instead of being the indicator of the source of one’s spiritual and moral values, as the book now represents, the hand on the book would simply indicate the object to which the oath is being given. That is workable, but the consequence means that there would be no observable ritual and ceremony showing the personally meaningful traditional source of the moral integrity of the oath taker.

If a person puts his or her hand on a Bible, Koran, Buddhist Sutra, or whatever book that gives them their roots of moral strength, then I feel that is a welcome indication of the character of the person who is taking the oath. Prager’s Chicken Little “the sky is falling in on American civilization” warning, of course, only presents his own hubris even as he projects his hubris onto Ellison. For Prager to worry that some elected Nazi might use Mein Kampf, or that an elected Scientologist might use the book Dianetics,is really a baseless worry. If those are the books a newly elected Congressperson would choose, then those books are the evidence of their sincerity. I would much rather have a congressman openly show us that he considers Mein Kampf to be his greatest moral inspiration than to have him secretly embrace it while publically putting his hand on the bible.

Mr. Prager, this is America – with its separation of church and state– if you don’t like to have Muslims in office, then don’t vote for them, but you don’t get to dictate your religions views onto others and prevent them from using the book that means most to their moral character.

Mr. Ellison, thank you for putting your hand on the Koran. You make America a better place to live by showing that a Muslim can get elected and make an oath to support the US Constitution.

Now, when do we get to have a Buddhist or an atheist elected to Congress?

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