Let’s Make Hypocrites!

November 29, 2006

Why would anyone want to force someone to make a statement of belief in the Bible? Such an act would not only be distasteful for the individual who has been coerced, but it would also degrade the Bible by making it a weapon instead of a book about God’s love. Well, that is exactly what Dennis Prager seems to want in a Human Events column entitled “America, Not Keith Ellison, Decides What Book a Congressman Takes His Oath On.”

Prager is upset that Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, has decided to be sworn in with his hand on a Koran instead of a Bible. Prager writes:

He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.

... 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.

... If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress.

... Ellison’s doing so will embolden Islamic extremists and make new ones, as Islamists, rightly or wrongly, see the first sign of the realization of their greatest goal -- the Islamicization of America.

... If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9/11.
Besides the fact that Prager’s piece attempts to spark fear in people by exaggerating the issues, there are major problems with his argument. The seemingly obvious point that Prager does not seem to consider is that if Ellison took the oath with his hand on the Bible it would not mean anything. He might as well just swear on The Cat in the Hat or Tuesdays with Morrie. It would do just as much good. The whole point of people swearing on the Bible was that they were swearing by that which they kept as most sacred so as to prove that they meant the oath. For Ellison, that which is most sacred is the Koran.

Prager misses the point in his article for two reaons. First, he commits a logical fallacy by building a “straw man” argument. He writes, “Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison’s favorite book is.” He uses the phrase “favorite book” to describe the Koran. However, that drastically understates the issue. For Ellison the Koran is not merely his favorite book but his sacred book, just as for Christians the Bible should be more than just our favorite book but also our sacred book.

Prager misses the point again later in the column. He writes:

Of course, Ellison’s defenders argue that Ellison is merely being honest; since he believes in the Koran and not in the Bible, he should be allowed, even encouraged, to put his hand on the book he believes in. But for all of American history, Jews elected to public office have taken their oath on the Bible, even though they do not believe in the New Testament, and the many secular elected officials have not believed in the Old Testament either. ... Nor has one Mormon official demanded to put his hand on the Book of Mormon.
Just because none of them have (though I’m not sure I can trust Prager that absolutely none have), that does not mean that it is wrong for Ellison to use another text. Perhaps the others were wrong and should have. Or maybe they were afraid of being attacked by Prager or others. Either way, just because no one has does not mean no one should.

The fact is that as Christians we should not try and force people to respect the Bible as we do (though I’m not sure we always act like we respect it). Nor should we be as concerned about what people put their hands on as much as whom they put their faith in. Additionally, Prager just assumes that it is right to swear on the Bible at all. Yet consider the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Maybe instead of worrying so much about making a Muslim swear on the Bible, we should look at the plank in our own eye and consider if Christians should even do so. Prager will probably attack such an idea as he did Ellison’s. Maybe he again write that it “undermines American civilization” and is doing “damage to the unity of America.” But oh well, when did Jesus ever say anything about upholding America?

UPDATE [11-30-06]: Now the American Family Association has sent out Prager’s column and is urging Christians: “Send an email asking your U.S. Representative and Senators to pass a law making the Bible the book used in the swearing-in ceremony of Representatives and Senators.” Not sure yet how such a law would protect families (though I am similarly puzzled by most of the AFA’s actions).