Saturday, December 02, 2006

By demanding that Keith Ellison not swear his oath on the Koran, some Americans confuse jingoism with Christianity

Keith Ellison (D-MN) is America's first Muslim congressperson. Being a Muslim, he wishes to swear his oath of office with his hand upon the Koran. America stands for freedom of religion, among many other freedoms, so his wish appears perfectly reasonable to me ... if being Muslim were a problem for Minnesotans, they would not have elected him.

Dennis Prager, writing for the American Family Association, insists that:

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

"America, not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on."

"Devotees of multiculturalism and political correctness who do not see how damaging to the fabric of American civilization it is to allow Ellison to choose his own book need only imagine a racist elected to Congress. Would they allow him to choose Hitler's "Mein Kampf," the Nazis' bible, for his oath?"

"But these naive people do not appreciate that America will not change the attitude of a single American-hating Muslim by allowing Ellison to substitute the Koran for the Bible. In fact, the opposite is more likely: 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."

Some posters on Titus One-Nine, a conservative Anglican blog, espouse similiar sentiments.

RAMcClain: "Let him resign if he refuses to swear on the Bible. I don’t believe we should give in to him, or anyone else who chooses otherwise."

Dee in Iowa: "The voting on AOL’s question as regards this is 2 to 1 in favor of him having to use the Bible. FYI I voted with the minority…."

MK: "1. because it represents Muslim expansionism into the accepted ways of the United States, which are Christian in foundation."
"He was raised a Roman Catholic and attended a Jesuit high school, then apostasized to Islam when he was 19. What did he learn at school?"

Christopher Hathaway: "Maybe it’s time we challenged the idea of a secular State indifferent to the religion which gave it life. The Koran knows no such thing as true religious freedom. I say keep that damned book as far from our government as possible."
"I think I have made clear my loathing of Islam as a vile and dangerous religion. It is not friendly to Western civilization."
"This country is a country based upon the freedom given to us by God, the God of the Bible, not the god of the Koran."

There's no easy way to say this, but the church in Nazi Germany (both Catholic and Protestant) confused jingoism with Christianity, and for the most part failed to condemn Hitler. For us to conflate Christianity and jingoism in America is to tread down the same path.

Prager's comments on "multiculturalism" are quite disturbing. Many White Americans seem to be afraid that their country is being overrun by people of color - Arizona, for example, declared English as the official language of the state. Prager is Jewish, and that makes it a lot more interesting. He forgets that Jews were once subject to discrimination and persecution in the US. If some political figure were to make a similar statement when anti-Semitism was still acceptable, it would invite, or at least legitimate, attacks on Jews.

Prager also comments that Jewish legislators in America have always sworn on the Bible. Indeed, Sens Coleman and Wellstone of Minnesota, both Jewish, swore on Bibles. But, they felt comfortable doing so. This isn't a Christian-only state. The oath is to the Constitution, not to the Bible. If Ellison can only honestly swear his oath on the Koran, then he absolutely should do so.

And, to bring us to face our racism, I should ask: if we elected a Jewish senator who insisted on swearing on the Torah, would the response be quite this vitriolic?

Titus One-Nine page:

Prager's piece at American Family Association:

Addendum: Titus 1:9 is maintained by Canon Kendall Harmon of, I believe, South Carolina. The articles he posts are usually very good and give a good view of the conservative side of the Episcopal Church. A lot of liberals and moderates frequent his blog as well, but some of the more virulent conservatives post things that are not so good.


Lawrence of Arabia said...

important and very well written

-frank said...

Weiwen, don't put too much energy in trying to convince the fundies and evangelicals to change their thinking. Their minds are made up and no amount of effort will change that. (don't want you to suffer burnout in a futile effort)


Weiwen Ng said...

frank, thanks for the comment. I doubt any of the people you mention are reading this blog. it's less about convincing them than about exposing them for what they are, how their modes of thinking have infiltrated the culture, and how those strands of thought affect Christians who are trying to change that.

JM said...

I wonder how many of those folks have actually, I don't know, read the Koran? They'd probably be surprised how familiar a lot of it is. It's not inimical to American civilization by any means. In fact, it has many of the same stories and figures as Christian scripture. Even, in this time of Advent, an account of the Virgin Birth!

Weiwen Ng said...

Indeed, jm, not only should these folks read the Koran, they should also read the Bible. The latter I know is full of injunctions to commit genocide, and other grave sins. Apologies to Muslims, but the Koran is imperfect, JUST LIKE THE BIBLE. The idiots who criticize the Koran shouldn't throw stones in glass houses.

David said...

It's been my experience that both sides in the current unpleasantness have behaved badly on occasion, but on the liberal side that behavior seems to come from genuine hurt that has been suffered in the past. Not justifiable, certainly, but excusable. I'm at a loss, however, to understand what motivates the religious right. What is their fear, their hurt, and how can it be healed in Christ's name?

Jody said...


First off: Hello, I got to your blog via Titusonenine where Kendall has posted your last note as a jumping off point to remind folks to be calm and respectful in their comments. Nice blog.

Now to the question at hand: I think you're off base to confuse all opposition to Mr. Ellison's swearing on the Koran as jingoism-though certainly some are motivated by a strong dose of xenophobia. I personally have no problem with Mr Ellison swearing his oath on the Koran in the abstract, however, in our context I do. What do I mean? Well, what version of Holy Scripture did Senator Joe Lieberman use when he took his oath of office? Was it a the Torah? What about Rick Santorum, did he use a Catholic bible complete with deuterocanonical books? Do Episcopalians necessarily get to use a Bible with the Apocrypha to demonstrate our stepped canon? What about atheists, do they get to swear an oath upon an atom symbol or a copy of Darwin's Origin of Species? No... All of them have sworn their oaths of office on the protestant Bible, Old and New Testaments with the understanding of their importance in the civil religion that has existed in the US from its earliest days. They recognize that they may not agree with every jot and title of the Protestant Bible, but they understand that insofar as it represents the principles of a tradition--something once referred to as judeo-Christian--it represents the origins of the very political liberalism on which the United States and its republican democracy flourish. To grant Mr. Ellison's request would not only be a case of "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," but a case of making exception for a minority of folks which alters the fabric of our civil life and makes a situation similar to the "for every tribe a flag" syndrome where every sectarian group with any adherents in public office could expect special treatment--maybe when Tom Cruise runs for office he could be sworn in on a copy of Dianetics.

Weiwen Ng said...


Thanks for commenting!

In response to your comments, a secular humanist or a Reform or Reconstructionist Jew might see swearing an oath of office on a Bible as participation in the US civil religion, and not as a religious oath.

Keith Ellison does not. His faith tradition means that he understands the gesture of swearing on the Bible differently.

As I said, if him being Muslim was a problem for the voters of Minnesota, they should have voted for someone else (and yes, I would castigate them for it). They voted him in, and his religion is part of the package. If they don't like it, let them vote him out in the next election.

The number of immigrants in this country is increasing. The number of Muslims is also increasing (Ellison, by the way, was born here). The understanding of exclusively Judeo-Christian tenets as part of the US civil religion does work anymore. Remeber, the Jews once faced persecution, and I'm sure that at some times in US history, saying the term "Judeo-Christian" would have invited verbal or physical attack.

Multiculturalism enriches the US. Yes, immigrants should adopt many facets of their new culture, but mandating complete conformity impoverishes everyone. Those who have a problem with that should go ahead and support candidates like Sen Virgil Goode who would close the borders completely. Sen Goode's rant against Muslim immigrants has been posted elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

American Chaplain discovers the truth.
What is the Bible - REALLY?