Recently there was a huge hoopla over Keith Ellison, the new Democratic representative of Minnesota, and his decision to attend his swearing-in ceremony with his Q’uran instead of the Bible. Ellison’s critics claim he will be swearing on the Muslim holy book instead of the Bible. This betrays a bit of confusion on their part, but we’ll get back to that in just a bit. The contention this has created would almost be comical if people didn't take their ancient literature so seriously. This illustrates, rather pointedly, that the liberal bromide of religious tolerance, as well as the possibility of mutual equanimity among the religious are utter myths. Moreover it lays bare the distracting effects of injecting religion into our political discourse. Any substitive discussions about the politics of Keith Ellison were lost in the noise of the pious. If all the news broadcasts on this subject are indicative of the general public’s attitude, then the U.S. is not a land of religious tolerance.
Not even in the slightest.
Sean Hannity, well known conservative talk show host, equated Ellison’s choice with using Mein Kamph, Hitler’s witty tome. Sean Hannity wasn’t being orginal either. He swiped the line from Dennis Praeger, a fellow conservative talk radio host. Both Hannity and Praeger fear something called the “Islamicization of America.” These selfless defenders of the homeland are not alone. In addition to the echo chamber that is conservative talk radio, they are joined by Virgil Goode, Republican congressman of Virginia. It was his fiery letter condemning the actions of representative Ellison that got the miniature Crusade going. “The Ten Commandments and ‘In God We Trust,’ are on the wall of my office” he says in a letter to his constituents that also advocates doing away with the diversity of visas being issued for fear of “having many more Muslims in the United States.” Never mind about the huddled masses yearning to be free.
All of this has brought me to the conclusion that we really ought to remove all religious reference from our government institutions. Period. I don't care if they have historical worth. I don't care if the God referenced is a benign interpretation so far removed from that of the earnest faith it is barely even a religious reference. Military Chaplains? Bye, bye. Engraved
biblical quotes? So long! The phrase, In God We Trust? Please take them all away. I yearn to see the superior (and former, est. 1776) national motto, E Pluribus Unum which means "out of many, one," on our money and in the hearts of our citizenry again. Unity is our own undiscovered country. It ought to be our goal, not the trite Cold War silliness that we find on every bit of coinage we have.
God, exit stage left (or right, or center). You'll find the Smithsonian much more to your liking. Its more reverent of history and your usage there will be much less cynical. Speaking of cynical, here is a curious fact. The congressional swearing in ceremony does not involve the Bible or any other holy book. Nor has it ever. Politicians just raise their right hands. It is only later and in front of cameras that they pose with a copy of the Bible. The difference this time is that someone wants his photo-op with a different holy book. Thus the holy hoopla that Sean Hannity, Dennis Praeger, Representative Goode, and others started was always spurious.
Yes, yes put all these monuments to our Iron Age sensibilities in a museum. This is where they belong. The fawning, ridiculous piety of our political leaders is strapping us all to an ox-drawn cart back to the first century. I don't know about you, but I actually like the idea of a bridge to the future.
That being said, I do like the oath of office. But why is it not enough to affirm a commitment to duty on something that is actually germane to the day to day, year to year, century to century business of governance, as they do when they swear to uphold the Constitution. It is only later that these holy books get cynically trotted out. The whole silly controversy has in fact been manufactured by pundits and politicians on both sides of the aisle by turning their religions, or at least those of their constituents, into PR stunts. Perhaps I am being unfair to Goode and Ellison who don’t seem to be using religion as a stunt. But that doesn’t improve the situation. It just ensures that they will be unable to have any kind of meaningful dialogue. Maybe it is time to stop wearing faith like a badge for one’s constituents or some benighted sense of duty to a deity and start talking about issues as if we live in the 21st century.
Forget the Bible, the Q'uran, the Iliad, the Tanahk, the Da Vinci Code, the doctrines of Hinduism, the book of Mormon, Dianetics and Beoulf. A politician's personal theological beliefs should only minimally inform their duties in the governance of our country. On, or to what, then, should our public servants swear? They should simply continue to swear to uphold Constitution of the United States.
Clearly a person's religious faith will have an effect on how they approach issues. It is just as clear that a politician would not be expected to give up faith or church in their private time. Any citizen of any race, religion or creed should be allowed to run for office.. That much has been, and remains clear.
What has not been clear is that the drives and desires of the faithful should not trump the Constitution. It has not been clear in Washington – for too long – that it is the constitution that comprises the backbone of our great system of government.