Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Pox on Both Their Houses

Dennis Prager, fighting an internal war whose opponents, Silliness and Ignorance, are locked in a battle for supremacy, has become truly wroth over newly elected Congressman Ellison's (D - Whackamole) decision to swear the oath of office on the Q'uran:
Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.

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


As always, beware of passive voice. Not be allowed to do so? By whom, pray tell? The Constitution, profound ignorance of which really does undermine American civilization, has this pesky thing called Article VI:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.


So unless the voters decide not to give Mr. Ellison a second term, "should not be allowed" is a phrase taunting the notion nature abhors a vacuum.

The battle is hardly settled, though:
... many secular elected officials have not believed in the Old Testament either. Yet those secular officials did not demand to take their oaths of office on, say, the collected works of Voltaire or on a volume of New York Times editorials, writings far more significant to some liberal members of Congress than the Bible.


Having been a secular official who has taken many times taken an oath of office, I would like to disabuse Mr. Prager of this bit of silliness: such officeholders do not take their oaths on anything, Voltaire, Bible, or otherwise.

As for Mr. Ellison, he is either ignorant of his own faith, or a liar. While the former is hardly an innovation, he can scarcely claim some spiritual gravitas in his oath taking while being blithely unaware that the Q'uran is antagonistic to the very Constitution he is swearing to uphold.

Unless he is aware, which brings the latter into play.

What to do, when faced with an ignorant, ranting believer on the one hand, and an ignorant, or lying, believer on the other?

Wish a pox on both their houses, that's what.

51 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Even Lileks, a Prager admirer, threw him overboard on this one.

If you have a daily radio show, there's all that dead air to fill, I guess, and sometimes not much to fill it with.

We could state it as a law: People who have something to say do not have daily shows.

Or, nobody has enough to say to justify a daily show.

December 06, 2006 9:52 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

"... the Q'uran is antagonistic to the very Constitution he is swearing to uphold."

Is no part of the bible antagonistic to the Constitution? Are the Q'uran amd Constitution merely antagonistic or mutually exclusive?

Not surprisingly, I suppose, I think that taking an oath on the bible has an important symbolic meaning. And I think that it's not exactly a religious test.

When I was in college, I joined a fraternity (at the time, the majority of students did so where I went to college). At one point during the induction ceremony, I was asked something like, "Do you believe in the bible?" I answered "No, I don't". A very awkward silence ensued. Then, the question was revised: "Do you believe a book called the bible exists?" My response: "Um, well, yeah, sure, I guess so." I think what happened next was that I took some oath with my hand on the bible.

What I then realized, was that by playing along, I was paying respect to the beliefs of the community into which I was being inducted. It had nothing to do with my beliefs and everything to do with the community's traditions, customs, and beliefs. Those things are important and I think it's a mistake to undermine them.

Thus it doesn't matter if an elected official is muslim or hindu or christian or a non-believer. They should still take the oath on the bible since that is the tradition and custom of the government that they are joining. It pays respect to the traditions, customs, and beliefs of the greater society.

If you can't bring yourself to do that, you shouldn't be in government. I agree with Prager on this one.

December 06, 2006 11:10 AM  
Blogger David said...

Prager is out of his mind on this point -- I think he just said something stupid and now refuses to back down (hey, has anyone ever seen Prager and OJ at the same time?), but Skipper isn't doing much better.

[T]he Q'uran is antagonistic to the very Constitution he is swearing to uphold Now, who's imposing a religious test?

December 06, 2006 11:59 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Harry:

Or, nobody has enough to say to justify a daily show.

Unless they have a staff of writers, lots of guests, and use a quarter of the hour doing comedy.

Bret, David:

The Q'uran is, in many places, and even more so than the Bible, antagonistic towards the Constitution.

That is a material conclusion, debatable on its merits; note, I didn't assert Mr. Ellison be barred from swearing upon the book.

However, it is, at the very least, ironic to swear an oath upon such a book. Just as if one were to swear upon Das Kapital. There's no religious test involved in concluding that to do so with a oath that binds its swearer to defend and protect the US Constitution just doesn't add up.

Bret:

They should still take the oath on the bible since that is the tradition and custom of the government that they are joining.

That is wrong on two counts. First is the way Prager was wrong, SFAIK, congresscritters do not actually swear their oath on anything, they simply hold up their right hands and repeat the oath.

Secondly, taking that approach is much like "In God We Trust" on money; the exercise becomes nothing more than background noise.

And, by the way, forces certain very religious sects, Quakers, Jehovah's Witnesses, to commit a sacrelig.

December 06, 2006 1:24 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

There were several threads about Prager at Volokh. In Hawaii, no book is used, and according to Volokh posters, that's pretty generally the case nowadays.

I'd say oath-taking is a quaint survival of a time when it was believed that oath-breaking had supernatural and unpleasant consequences. I doubt anybody believes that any more.

December 06, 2006 1:55 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

hey skipper wrote: "congresscritters do not actually swear their oath on anything, they simply hold up their right hands and repeat the oath."

Oh. Okay. But then why doesn't Ellison just do that (hold up his right hand)? He still shouldn't use the Koran. That's not the prevailing tradition, custom, or belief. I don't know about the "allowed" part, but he could be censured.

hey skipper wrote: "...the exercise becomes nothing more than background noise."

I think there is some merit to the "tradition/custom" version of background noise.

December 06, 2006 2:01 PM  
Blogger David said...

Prager is just wrong. People get sworn on the Torah or the Koran or simply affirm their oath every day. That is the tradition, not having someone swear an oath on a book they disdain or simply ignore.

Skipper: You are being a little disingenuous. If you meant what you said about the Koran, than you necessarily think that someone who believes in the Koran cannot be a good American.

December 06, 2006 2:38 PM  
Blogger David said...

For what it's worth, there are some very religious Christians who think that it is wrong to swear an oath on the bible, and they won't do it.

December 06, 2006 2:40 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Having been a secular official who has taken many times taken an oath of office, I would like to disabuse Mr. Prager of this bit of silliness: such officeholders do not take their oaths on anything,

Are you saying they perjure themselves because they think perjury is a joke?

Nonetheless, I agree. It is appalling not to allow a Muslim to swear on the Koran, and I'm astounded that wasn't settled decades ago. Of course your theory that Islam is incompatible with the Constitution is something I would expect Paris Hilton reading from notes to say, but never mind, you hit the right result.

So sad. It is obvious the solution here is to have different communities and their leaders work out respectful compromises. That would involve recognizing Islam for what is is, not what a bunch of religion-hating secular libertarians who have just completed Koran 101 tell everybody it is. That would involve making reasoned judgments on the basis of history, tradition and effort, something I am rapidly concluding is impossible in our modern, legalistic world and is gone with the wind.

December 06, 2006 4:13 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Volokh wrote a response to Prager at National Review.

What's worse for Prager, he's being savaged from the Right. Today, probably his closest friend in the talk radio business, Michael Medved, slammed him. I think it's a bad idea for all the reasons Medved and Volokh cite, but I won't paint Prager as an ogre here. He's basically advocating what Bret is talking about. Here's a quote from his reply to his critics:

Accusation: I am advocating something unconstitutional by demanding that the Bible be included in oaths of office. I am reminded that Mr. Ellison has a right to practice the religion of his choice and that there shall be no religious test for candidates for office in America.

Response: I never even hinted that there should be a religious test. It has never occurred to me that only Christians run for office in America. The idea is particularly laughable in my case since I am not now, nor ever have been, a Christian. I am a Jew (a non-denominational religious Jew, for the record), and I would vote for any Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Mormon, atheist, Jew, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Wiccan, Confucian, Taoist or combination thereof whose social values I share. Conversely, I would not vote for a fellow Jew whose social values I did not share. I want people of every faith and of no faith who affirm the values I affirm to enter political life.


I can respect that. The Prager/Bret love of tradition camp seems very British, in that respect. Americans won't go for it because we take the symbolism of our religious/philosophical commitments seriously, as seriously or more than the symbolism of our national commitments. This is precisely what Prager is advocating, that collective national symbols trump individual religious symbols.

That is a formula for a Church of England religiosity. Americans don't want that. I'm not sure if we're smarter or dumber than our English chums in this regard. I have a certain admiration for the passion for which the Brits honor and perpetuate the most arcane and obscure traditions out of sheer love of their culture.

December 06, 2006 4:32 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

There is a good deal of oath-taking in the Bible, though not, I think, on things.

The practice of taking an oath on something is, I believe, pure German paganism.

December 06, 2006 8:26 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Ahem.

Not sacrelig, dingbat, sacrilege.

Speed typing at 4am is not conducive to public spelling devoid of embarrassment.

Bret:

What Ellison is doing, SFAIK, is doing an individual photo-op swearing in with the Q'uran, not the real, en masse, deal.

He wouldn't be the first, BTW, to not do so on the Bible. I happened to be in the gallery during the swearing in of a judge in FL (my mom was part of the selection committee). He chose to take his oath on the Torah. Should he be censured?

Nixon, a Quaker, should not have done so, but did anyway. It's hard to say if the consequences bear out the should not have done, or the sheer emptiness of the exercise.

David:

Skipper: You are being a little disingenuous. If you meant what you said about the Koran, than you necessarily think that someone who believes in the Koran cannot be a good American.

You point out the irony of this whole thing. If Mr. Ellison believes in the whole Koran, not just the bits he has chosen to find attractive, then he cannot both do that, and swear to uphold the US Constitution. Even the most ardent judicial activist would have a hard time fitting sharia law, or dhimmitude, into it.

So he would, by his own lights, be consistent in swearing upon the Q'uran, but lying about his intent.

On the other hand, if he is selectively believing in the Q'uran, then his oath to uphold the Constitution is sincere, but his using the book as an affirmative basis is simply silly.

Can't have it both ways.

Of course, the same thing could be said about the Bible. At least Rushdoony and his fellow Christianists see the disconnect and are straighforward about their intentions.

Peter:

Given that essentially all people who swear upon the Bible are hewing to the anodyne bits, I don't think there is any issue with swearing upon the Q'uran, and no more import either way than placing one's hand upon a stack of Action Comics. People will act in office the way they are going to act, empty symbolism notwithstanding.

That would involve recognizing Islam for what is is, not what a bunch of religion-hating secular libertarians who have just completed Koran 101 tell everybody it is.

I prefer to go by what the book says, not what "context" and "learned reading" dodges say.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, while not without flaws, clearly demonstrates that the Q'uran and Haddith are, in places, genuinely vile.

Vile, without escape clauses, BTW.

True Muslims want me dead. Why should I have the tiniest respect for that religion?

Duck:

You hit the nail right on Prager's head. On the one hand, he makes the exercise the foundation of American Civilization, then, on the other, strips it of all meaning.

Memo to Mr. Prager: when you find you've dug yourself into a hole, stop digging.

December 07, 2006 1:50 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Ah, Skipper, once again you demonstrate the only religious folks you respect are literal fundamentalists. You do admire their philosophical spunk, don't you? You remind me of the old Dick Gregory joke about the black power guy and the KKK'er who discovered they had much more in common than they thought--neither wanted mixed seating on the bus.

If Prager knew anything about Islam, he would know that an oath of allegiance to the USA made on the Koran by a Muslim would have much effect on his conscience than on another holy book. it should give him comfort. If you knew anything about oaths, you would know they are not theological affirmations of scripture, they are public affirmations of the binding of conscience beyond the mundane. As you don't believe in anything beyond the mundane, that poses a dilemma for you that you respond to by getting insulted and mocking those who do, but that doesn't mean you get to define what an oath is. A Christian swearing on the Bible is not declaring his literal belief in the miracle at Cana.

The rage of the atheist about all this is interesting. It must stem from the kind of philosophical self-love that demands folks take their "word" about what they say or promise--how dare you doubt me, yada, yada. It's like the guy who gets all indignant with his lover about marriage vows and insists his private promise to her to be faithful and true should satisfy her and that her wish to hear him say the vows publically is profoundly insulting to one as modern and noble as he. Does she not trust him?

Harry:

There seems to have been historical pagan influence on when we say oaths (i.e. trials, etc.), but the idea is hardly pagan in origin. The Romans said them all the time.

December 07, 2006 3:43 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

I have an excuse for a 1:50 AM time stamp; you do not have one for 3:43 AM. Get some sleep!

[The] only religious folks you respect are literal fundamentalists.

Sometimes I think I have more respect for religion than you do. Religionists decry the (in their eyes) complete moral relativism that ensues from eschewing revealed truth.

Fine.

But once you have taken that position, and you, personally, have, then it is singularly disingenuous to start picking and choosing, of your own volition, which parts of revealed truth you wish to retain, and which to reject.

What I have read of oaths (as opposed to affirmations, which Article VI also mentions) is that they, through the halo effect, add gravitas to the promise, due to the divine imprimatur attending the revealed text. To make that claim, while invoking human agency to decide which parts of that imprimatur to respect, and which to reject, is as pure a contradiction in terms as one is likely to ever see.

It simply doesn't wash to make a special claim on the power of an oath while simultaneously picking and choosing which parts of that claim are valid: doing so throws such an oath taker into the same briar patch as the one who dispenses with it from the git go.

Can we agree that the Q'uran contains divine direction that would otherwise be considered as evil?

Can we also agree that in order for the Q'uran to be considered other than the ravings of a lunatic, it must be divinely inspired?

If so, then how do mere humans decide which parts of divinely revealed truth are true, and which are not? The Story of the Moral is relentless. Either morality is divinely directed, or it isn't. You can't have it both ways, although that is exactly what all but literalists are insisting upon.

As you don't believe in anything beyond the mundane ...

Be careful with your terminology. As a Dunnoist, I have absolutely no opinion worth the pixels required for its display as to the existence of anything beyond the mundane. What I do possess is the conviction that religion deserves absolutely no claim to do so, either. The Divine and religion are not the same thing.

So that does not pose any sort of dilemma for me. When someone, say, Dennis Prager, makes a claim as to the worth of an oath taken on the Bible, Q'uran, or last months Road & Track, he is making a material statement open to examination; that statement utterly fails even cursory inspection, and appeals to "public affirmations" scarcely fare any better.

Unless, that is, you can provide some cogent reason why an oath, based upon completely subjective interpretation of divinely revealed truth, is somehow superior to an affirmation dispensing with that whole aspect.

One also might note, and Mr. Prager should have, that by swearing on the Q'uran, the latest revealed truth, Mr. Ellison was directly stating that all oaths taken on the Bible are inferior.

He can't have it both ways. That is the sine qua non of being a Muslim, and all the ecumenical blathering in the world cannot elide that fact. When Harry points at the problems inherent with monotheistic universalism, it is precisely this at which he is staring.

So when you talk about the rage of the atheist, you are completely missing the point (granted, Dawkins' perorations on the subject relentlessly conflate God's existence and religious predation; anger at religion is understandable, when directed at the ineffable, it is nonsense).

The rage of the dunnoist is the consequence of the endless, self contradicting, preening of the knowists.

The knowists can't have it both ways, yet, save for the literalists, insist on doing just that.

The Romans said [oaths] all the time.

What, in Christian terms, is the difference between the religion of the Romans, and paganism?

December 07, 2006 5:01 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Peter, I took the trouble to look up 'oath' in Smith's Bible Dictionary (at my elbow whenever I write) and was surprised to find about a dozen entries.

Although I think of the Bible as being full of 'covenants,' I had not thought of those as 'oaths.'

So I never suggested the practice of swearing oaths was pagan in origin, although I bet it is; that is, I bet lots of societies had oath-like practices before the Hebrews invented monotheism.

But the oathy practices I associate with oaths, like swearing on my mother's grave or a saint's bones, derive from pagan German practice.

Among the funniest books I've ever read is Lea's 'Oath and Ordeal.' I particularly like the practice of 'oath-helpers.'

Each side would recruit as many partisans willing to swear an oath that their man was in the right as it could, and they would count noses.

Presumably, the false-swearers would subsequently lose their pigs (on this earth) or their souls (in the next).

December 07, 2006 9:10 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Harry:

like swearing on my mother's grave

That's oriental, isn't it? Lots of Christian practices started with pagan converts hanging on to the old ways and this may be one, but I think the point is not that it started here or there, but that oath-taking is a universal impulse shared by all cultures no matter how different the forms and details. Skipper will, of course, take that as irrefutable first-order evidence everybody else in the world is nuts, but you know Skipper.

Each side would recruit as many partisans willing to swear an oath that their man was in the right as it could, and they would count noses.

Not "right" in the sense "speaking the truth", but right in the sense that the litigant's oath was "pure". It was kind of oaths built on an oath. Marxists would have a field day with the fact that the legal value of your oath varied according to your social status in the very early feudal system (This was all pretty much gone or diluted by the 11th century). Barely comprehensible to us today, but can we not agree it beat ordeal by hot oil hands down?

December 07, 2006 10:56 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

Sometimes I think I have more respect for religion than you do.

Yes, that would explain why you always take care to describe it in such respectful language.

But may I suggest it is not religion per se you have a back-handed respect for, but rather literal fundamentalism? That may be because you are one. Just as the fundamentalist says "It is written..." and goes on to straightline, unambiguous conclusions, so you start with "Let x equal..." or "first-order evidence" or "the scientific method" and follow that path religiously until we find you insisting natural selection explains music, Shakespeare and the Corvette Stingray.

But what you have no time for is anyone who muddies the waters by doing anything ambiguous like trying to mix faith and reason or using history and experience to interpret his/her faith. Indeed, you seem to save a special contempt for, say, the orthodox rabbi who teaches one is permitted, nay compelled, to break the Sabbath strictures to save a life or the Muslim who doesn't believe Allah wants him to kill anybody. Talk about moral relativism, eh? Don't they know they are supposed to be out slaughtering people? Obviously they are hypocrites or dummies, not like your "pure" scripturalist pals.

Do you ever ponder what the religious people you know are actually doing when they worship or proclaim faith? It's fun to pretend that religion is the exclusive preserve of the uneducated or fanatical, but you know very well that isn't true and never was. What do you think the Orthodox Jewish doctor or Catholic computer geek is doing? Do you think they are consciously leaving their brains and educations in the parking lot and going inside for their weekly indoctrination on how the world was created or how God cures diseases?

I note you Duckians never respond when David points out religion is a human construct, and I assume that is because you don't want it to be. You are more than happy to keep it as science's direct competitor and restrict it to a childlike objective Authority that explains history in detail through miraculous tales and passes on a lot of orders from on High. That child like version is the one we challenge in undergraduate seminars ("Do you really believe Daniel tamed the lions? Well, do ya, ya putz!"). And, as many brights stop right there and don't explore further, that's the only sense of religion they have for the rest of their lives --one suitable for twelve year olds.

But, of course, many of those religous folks you don't understand and can't respect because they refuse to equate Leviticus with the criminal code aren't asking themselves the question: "What do I believe?". They are asking themselves "How shall I revere, and with whom?" It is as much a bottom-up venture as a top-down one, and faith is where the two meet and are reconciled. That place is the story of religion and the thousands of differences amongst them and within them. I don't have the slightest sense you are aware of this at all, which is why your treatment of the subject seems so ham-handed and why your well-sharpened rationalist sword keeps swishing through air. It is also why the religious people you keep describing are a minority in most faiths, although they can and do get the upper hand at times. Not for long, but the consequences are alarming. Nice to see you respect them so much, though.

December 07, 2006 11:55 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

hey skipper wrote: "When someone, say, Dennis Prager, makes a claim as to the worth of an oath taken on the Bible, Q'uran, or last months Road & Track, he is making a material statement open to examination; that statement utterly fails even cursory inspection..."

I'm lost now. Isn't Prager's argument/claim subjective? In which case it's true to him, no? Oaths are for the witnesses, not the oath-taker, no?

Peter, I like your revere with whom description.

December 07, 2006 2:23 PM  
Blogger David said...

I meant to blog, but didn't, about a Saturday service a few weeks ago when the Rabbi read out a passage from the Torah and then said, "It can't possibly mean that." It was one of those "kill them all" passages so beloved by Jeff and Harry. He went on to talk about how we have to understand these passages metaphorically and kill the sins within us, or some such. I actually didn't have much trouble with the passage as written -- I think that the interpretation the Rabbi rejected was unnecessarily broad -- but, and this is a little sad, his "It can't possibly mean that" immediately made me think of the Duckians.

December 07, 2006 3:02 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Hey, I'm the one who keeps insisting that religion is a human construct. What else could it be?

As for oaths, they are a fine example of a tradition that makes no sense if you think about it.

If you can't trust a man unless he swears an oath, how can you trust the oath?

If going through the motions of taking an oath slows down a testifier and helps make him aware of the seriousness of the statements he is going to make, then it might serve a practical function. That a similar ritual would chasten a crooked politican seems more doubtful.

December 07, 2006 3:24 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Harry:

I should have said "...I assume that is because you don't want the religious to see or recognize it as such and still remain religious."

As to oaths, they are completely rational. They are an acknowledgment that the truth or sincerity of what is being sworn to is inaccessible to others and therefore lying is largely unsanctionable by humans. So you try and bind his conscience in some way. Hardly failsafe, but surely you aren't going to tell me the oath means nothing to the average Marine and he would be as brave, fierce and loyal if we just asked him and his pals to yell "Let's Roll! after basic training".

But, back to the history of oaths. What is interesting about this very early legal history is how irrelevant they thought what people claimed they saw or heard was. Part of it was no doubt that Pre-Enlightenment realism about human scumminess and incompetence, but a lot of it must have been epistimological--they lived in a different reality about such things, although they still knew you had to plant seeds to make the crops grow.

December 07, 2006 4:15 PM  
Blogger M Ali said...

If you're a Muslim living in a non-Muslim country, you're ordered to live in accordance with the laws of the host nation, not push for shariah. If you feel doing so conflicts with observing Islam, then you leave. So, I don't see the conflict for a Muslim office-holder in a non-Muslim state taking his or her oath of office on the Quran and swearing to defend the US Constitution.

I disagree with Skipper's interpretation of the Quran but we've already had that debate a couple of times.
"
Thus it doesn't matter if an elected official is muslim or hindu or christian or a non-believer. They should still take the oath on the bible since that is the tradition and custom of the government that they are joining. It pays respect to the traditions, customs, and beliefs of the greater society."

That's an interesting viewpoint. However, I think most people swear on holy books of their own religion because they're making an oath on behalf of the beliefs they practice. The willingness to take office in the first place is the act of respect.

December 07, 2006 5:32 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Fair enough, I guess, but if you have had the bad luck to join a religion that has a doctrine of taqqiyah, you have to expect some skepticism about your oath, no matter what you swore it on.

Do I think that a Marine is specially bound by his oath? Specially impressed with the ritual, perhaps. Maybe some people still expect spiritual sanctions for violating their oaths, as they allegedly used to do. But hardly anybody I know would, I suspect.

December 07, 2006 7:15 PM  
Blogger David said...

Yeah, the point we seem to be having trouble communicating is that Prager is just wrong factually. There is no tradition of taking oaths on the Christian bible. There is a tradition of taking oaths on one's own holy book.

December 07, 2006 7:18 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

...Which makes sense, since the point of swearing is presumably to ensure that you are being truthful, so to a Muslim swearing on a Bible would carry no more import than swearing on a copy of the Beano, thus rendering the ceremony even more ridiculous than it already is.

December 08, 2006 1:24 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

David:

There is no tradition of taking oaths on the Christian bible.

Well, except maybe among non-believers. :-)

Brit:

Not truthful, bound. Most oaths are promises, not statements of fact.

December 08, 2006 1:35 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

David, your story about the rabbi leaves me cold.

I do not cast many aspersions about mainstream Christians (or other religions) who go about their daily lives with their sacred writings as a sort of Ace bandage that they use as an assist from time to time.

But there are plenty of Christians and Muslims who say flat-out that they take the holy book literally (they never do, completely, upon careful analysis, although that is beside the point); and who consider that no steps are too extreme to ensure that everybody else conforms, too.

Even that wouldn't be bad if the holy book had been written by Miss Manners or Norman Vincent Peale. Fact is, all the holy books I have read are vile, as Skipper says, in places. Some viler than others.

Lukewarm Christians bothered Jesus but they don't bother me.

December 08, 2006 8:48 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

... but that oath-taking is a universal impulse shared by all cultures no matter how different the forms and details. Skipper will, of course, take that as irrefutable first-order evidence everybody else in the world is nuts, but you know Skipper.

Having actually taken the oath of office -- never on a book, and always appended with "so help me God" -- roughly 6 times, and witnessed it far more frequently, I can assure you your conclusion regarding my attitude is ill founded.

I completely agree that binding oneself to an oath is very important. Where I strongly disagree with Mr. Prager is that doing so, or not, on the Bible is fundamentally irrelevant (never mind making such a requirement either a violation of Article VI, or a fatuously empty exercise). What's more, where he demands such because the Bible is the basis of American Civilization, he risks serious contradiction by those who could plausibly find Common Sense or The Declaration of Independence much more immediate, and just as firmly connected, import.

As this is somewhat OT (my fault, BTW), I'll try to keep this brief: When I say I have more respect for religion than you, I mean that I respect what is required to make religion's claims have any merit at all. For example, in Leviticus, God says to A, B, C, D, etc. If you assert the claim that religion possesses objective morality, then it is rather unbecoming to say, as if you were in a Chinese restaurant, that I'll have some of A, rather less of C & D, and of B we shall not speak, or engage in semantic revision so extreme as to render its words worthless.

Most Muslims (but, depending on the region, barely a plurality) do not believe Allah wants them to kill people, but they cannot possibly reach that conclusion based on what the Q'uran actually says (while I am certain M Ali knows far more than I do on this issue, either there are a whole bunch of dodgy English translations that all agree with each other, and disagree with him, or he is also relying upon a black belt in semantic revisionism).

That's bad enough. What's worse, though, is that they have no basis, other than their own moral compasses upon which to dissuade those who are up for killing. The imprimatur is the same for the anodyne and the vile. How can one be a good, true, Muslim, while playing pick and choose?

Like Harry, I sure as heck don't understand how you could ever conclude I think religion is anything other than a human construct through and through. After all, you surely must agree that Islam is a completely human construct, making the sectarian slaughter in Iraq so much futile savagery, right?

December 09, 2006 8:16 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

What Skipper said.

Of course it is a human construct. I don't understand how you can use that argument for your side, for religion is all about believing in revealed truths that are not human constructs. Once you conclude that it is a human construct, then you've removed any reason to give it a special place of reverence above every other thing that is a human construct.

Yes, that is why the fundamentalist resists giving any literal ground of the Bible to the metaphorical analysis camp. That's the way to surrender, to the realization that it is all human construct and zero revelation, because none of the non-metaphorical parts can stand up to scrutiny once you give that explanatory option a chance.

Once you say that Judaism or Christianity is a human construct, then it has no special priviledged status over other human constructs devised throughout history, or whatever system of morality and meaning that you can derive for yourself. You are in exactly the same postion as the prophets of the Old Testament, or Jesus or the Discipples or the fathers of the early Church. You're trying to figure out what it's all about, and the best way to live based on the knowledge that is available to you. You are under no obligation to kowtow to their human judgments with out reason.

December 09, 2006 8:35 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The underlying problem is not that the sacred texts are vile, but that if you surrender your own judgment to a piece of paper (or stone or whatever), then you are eventually going to be led down a path that, perhaps, in your more human moments, you would not have wished to go.

If we can get away from Muslims for a moment, the Japanese devotion to Imperial sacred texts caused them a lot of grief, once certain theologians came up with a novel and persuasive interpretation of the ur-text, one that had not been thought of earlier. The new dogma proved irresistible, because sacred.

Not being a Muslim, I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the inability of the average Muslim to resist the arguments of the ultras these days is directly related to the fact that he does not get to say, 'I think you're wrong,' but is forced to say, 'I reject the Holy Koran' in order to disagree.

As I say, I'm not a Muslim, but that's how it worked among the Christians in the South when I was young. Still works that way for many millions, but they have lost their social/political grip; while in Muslim countries, the trend has been decidedly in the opposite direction.

December 09, 2006 10:32 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

Science is a human construct. Does that mean my view on which side of the sky the sun rises on is as good as anyone elses?

December 09, 2006 1:38 PM  
Blogger David said...

You guys are not dealing with Peter's point. (Although, as an aside, I'd like to see the Koranic verses you think require all Muslims to be in a state of perpetual war with everyone else. You say similar things about the Torah that I know not to be true.)

Saying that religion is a human construct is not the same thing as saying that G-d does not exist, or that He is a human construct. It is simply an acknowledgement, a pretty much universal acknowledgement, that much of the gap filling has been done by people. One way in which Islam is different is in the insistence, within the text itself, that it was written by G-d. Both Judaism and Christianity expressly attribute their holy books to people.

Now, there are work-arounds here, and any number of people would argue that Moses, or Peter, or King James were filled with the Holy Spirit and wrote inerringly. That is, however, a religious tenet limited to very specific religions and sects. I don't belong to those groups, so I disagree. You guys don't get to have an opinion.

If you guys want to believe that there is no god, more power to you. You are free to so believe and to preach your belief and to vote on your belief. But you don't get to have an opinion on what characteristics the G-d in which you disbelieve has. If there is, within the wide range of possible gods, one you think is the True G-d, then you're not an atheist, you're just another sectarian. If you think no god is possible, then this discussion is closed to you.

Now, I have no hope that this will actually work. You guys are relentlessly opinionated about what characteristics my G-d must have and must not have. At least for the Americans, that's because you're all functionally Christians. (If you're going to disagree, at least have the decency not to disagree while your Christmas tree is up.)

December 09, 2006 8:00 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'Both Judaism and Christianity expressly attribute their holy books to people.'

Not true of the Christians who raised me (Roman Catholic) or among whom I lived (Baptists, various sorts of holy rollers).

December 09, 2006 10:38 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

We're all familiar with the exquisite image of the angry atheist who spends his life railing at the god he doesn't believe in, but you Duckians seem to have sentenced him to fulltime textual criticism. You really should think about establishing an anti-yeshiva.

Harry, did you ever consider that the American south in the 1960's just might not be the epicentre of two thousand years of Christian thinking? You have to get out more.

December 10, 2006 4:50 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Science is a human construct. Does that mean my view on which side of the sky the sun rises on is as good as anyone elses?

Yes, because your view will match everyone else's view. It is a simple observation that is impossible to get wrong.

We don't argue much about the "observables" of life, it is the unobservables that require constructs. And I don't see how the analogy to science applies with religion. There are two domains over wihch religion claims authority. One is metaphysics, the other is morals.

On metaphysics religions make claims to true knowledge based on revelation. Truth claims based on revelation only have authority to the extent that the revelation is not a human construct. If you are going to attribute that revelation with the authority of God, then you'd better make sure that you follow that revelation to the letter, and not layer it with interpretations and meanings of human origin. Otherwise you'll end up with false gods of human origin.

In the other domain, morals, religion derives its authority from both revelation and the inspired reasoning of theologians and holy men. But morals are not like metaphysics, because they involve the observable behaviors of people and the consequences thereof. Morals are a human concern and everyone, to a greater or lesser extent, has the capacity for moral reasoning. If the 10 Commandments were not divinely revealed but are a human construct, then they carry no more authority than any other humanly devised moral code.

With morals, authority ultimately lies with the individual and his conscience. You can't have an assumption of free will and hold people accountable for their moral decisions otherwise. The only thing that separates my moral decisions from the moral decisions of the prophets, who created the rules and laws in the Bible, is time and place. They bolstered the appeal of their laws by claiming divine revelation, but as we know religion is a moral construct.

December 10, 2006 7:32 AM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: All the Catholics I know read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I know that Christian monotheism sufficiently vague for 3=1, but I've never heard any Christian stretch it to 7=1 by including the Gospel writers.

December 10, 2006 7:51 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Saying that religion is a human construct is not the same thing as saying that G-d does not exist, or that He is a human construct. It is simply an acknowledgement, a pretty much universal acknowledgement, that much of the gap filling has been done by people.

Yes, but the gap filling done by people cannot claim special authority over the conscience, only the gap filling done by God, if there is any. If you can't clearly establish the latter, or if the latter is so diluted with the former as to make its true nature suspect, then all you are dealing with is the former. Its all just a big guessing game.

But you don't get to have an opinion on what characteristics the G-d in which you disbelieve has. If there is, within the wide range of possible gods, one you think is the True G-d, then you're not an atheist, you're just another sectarian. If you think no god is possible, then this discussion is closed to you.

No, the whole question of God is meaningless unless you posit characteristics which the word is used to define. The word God has a specific meaning in the mono-theistic world, it refers to a personal, all-powerful, all-good being that is separate from the universe but whom created the universe our of the essence of his being.

Now you can hedge a little on the details, but if you are going to make wholesale changes to the definition then you are talking about something else. If you say "I believe in a god that is an impersonal ground of being" then you don't believe in god, you believe in something else.

If you have a dog, and someone asks you if you have a cat, you don't say "yes, but my cat barks", you say "no".

December 10, 2006 7:56 AM  
Blogger David said...

Duck: Except that I disagree with you about "personal" and "all good." As I believe and you don't, why should I care what you think G-d must be like?

December 10, 2006 10:24 AM  
Blogger David said...

In other words, Duck, you're being sectarian. The god in which you don't believe is a very particular god. I don't believe in that god, either. I also don't believe in Zeus, but so what? That doesn't make me a nonbeliever or make my actual belief less earnest.

But your point is that you reject the existence of any being not bound by the laws of physics as we understand them. That means that you have no standing to get involved in a debate among believers about which laws of physics the actual G-d violates.

December 10, 2006 10:30 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The Gospels are presented explicitly in Catholic ritual as 'the word of God,' not the 'word of Mark.'

Similarly with the holy rollers.

The teaching in Catholic school was that the Gospels are God's word transmitted through, not by, men.

The attitude of Southern Christians is only more truculent, not really different from the attitude of many, probably most American Christians.

I used to think, before I left the South, that the rest of the country was somewhat less primitive religiously, as it was less primitive in its economic or political organization.

I have spent the past 30 years outside the South. Turns out I was wrong.

December 10, 2006 11:26 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

If the 10 Commandments were not divinely revealed but are a human construct, then they carry no more authority than any other humanly devised moral code.

And those other humanly devised moral codes would be what? Oh right, the ones that say :"Thou shall dishonour thy mother and father; Thou shalt commit adultery; Thou shall take the Lord's name in vain provided it is witty."

Duck, in the world you and I live in, there is pretty much only one moral code, although there is endless argument about its meaning and extent. The argument is not between competing codes, but between those who submit and those who say: "Hey, I'm the Boss and I'll decide what's best for me."

December 10, 2006 2:58 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Peter, the world we live in today is not nearly so constricted as it was even 10 years ago. There are millions of people in the US and Canada who do not accept a moral code very like the 10 Commandments.

Quite apart from the fact that the 10 Commandments, as such, are no longer accepted even by people who go to Christian churches. I did an analysis a couple years ago; despite all Orrin's braying, only 3 out of 10 are reflected in US laws.

The ones against theft, murder and lying. By the lights of most people in the world, Americans do not respect their mothers and fathers, for example.

December 10, 2006 6:43 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Science is a human construct. Does that mean my view on which side of the sky the sun rises on is as good as anyone elses?

Of course it is.

To the extent that it works.

David:

If you guys want to believe that there is no god, more power to you. You are free to so believe and to preach your belief and to vote on your belief. But you don't get to have an opinion on what characteristics the G-d in which you disbelieve has. If there is, within the wide range of possible gods, one you think is the True G-d, then you're not an atheist, you're just another sectarian. If you think no god is possible, then this discussion is closed to you.

For all the time we have been banging on about this, I can't believe you wrote that.

Dunnoists do get to have an opinion as to the degree with which religions have apprehended the ineffable:

G-d != religion

About G-d Dunnoists have no opinion whatsoever. Religion, being ever so material, is another thing entirely. Within the wide range of religions, extant and extinct, a scintilla of divine revelation would be a mountain compared to what any possess.

In mistaking the Dunnoist critique of religion as an assertion about G-d you have completely missed the entire point. When Prager, or Neuhaus, Haggard, Rushdoony, or Mr. Judd, make religiously based material claims Dunnoists are pefectly entitled to inspect those claims.

(If you're going to disagree, at least have the decency not to disagree while your Christmas tree is up.)

Christianity attempted to co-op a pagan holiday. Turns out the co-optee co-opted the co-opter.

Although, as an aside, I'd like to see the Koranic verses you think require all Muslims to be in a state of perpetual war with everyone else.

Ok.

2:61 Allah stamped wretchedness upon the Jews because they killed the prophets and disbelieved Allah's revelations.

2:176 Slay [the unbelievers] wherever you find them.

2:178 Believers must retaliate. Those who transgress will have a painful doom.

2:193 Fight them until religion is for Allah.

2:216 War is ordained by Allah, and all Muslims must be willing to fight, whether they like it or not.

3:118 Believers, do not make friends with any but your own people. They will spare no pains to corrupt you. They desire nothing but your ruin.

4:50 Those that deny our revelation we shall burn in fire.

4:89 Have no unbelieving friends. Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them.

4:101 The disbelievers are an open enemy to you.

5:12-13 Allah has cursed the Jews and hardened their hearts. Nearly all of them are treacherous.

etc.

December 10, 2006 8:23 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Harry:

The commandment is to honour your parents, not to respect or love them. They're about actions, not feelings. Goodness, man, having told us exactly what kind of god we must believe in and how we must interpret scripture, are you now going to tell us that it's not good enough to obey the Commandments, we have to have fun doing it too?

We're not kids any more, guys. Time to leave Sunday School behind.

Skipper:

I have to give you credit. You are the first guy I've ever come across that has tried to prove dhimmi was a cop-out for the spiritually lazy.

December 11, 2006 2:55 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Exactly my point, Peter. Did you ask your father to find your spouse for you?

I'm afraid that your notion that the default position of Christianity/Judaism is an amalgam of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church and a Reform synagogue is out of date. When we are talking about national attitudes, Sunday School is just the level we are at.

Do you suppose that when Bush went to Bob Jones he was signaling the party's acceptance of Union Theological Seminary Christianity?

Vote-seekers are pretty thin on the ground at Union.

December 11, 2006 8:39 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Harry, you really should fund your retirement with a book on Christian ethics (Skipper can do Islam and we'll keep The Torah for Duck). You could use the occasion to re-write the dictionary while you're at it.

December 12, 2006 5:39 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

And Orrin can do secular humanism?

Oh yeah, he already is.

I'm not making this up, you know. I'm just a reporter.

December 12, 2006 8:44 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Can we agree that the Q'uran contains divine direction that would otherwise be considered evil?

Can we also agree that in order for the Q'uran to be considered other than the ravings of a lunatic, it must be divinely inspired?

If so, then how do mere humans decide which parts of divinely revealed truth are true, and which are not?

December 12, 2006 1:32 PM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: Most of those quotes clearly don't say what you claim (i.e., go kill everyone). Some of those that do seem to say that I couldn't find in the resource I was using (here). And those I could find you were clearly taking out of context.

So will you admit that the Koran doesn't command every believing Muslim to wake up every morning and kill every unbeliever he comes across?

December 13, 2006 7:22 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

Most of those quotes clearly don't say what you claim (i.e., go kill everyone).

I never made that claim. To refresh, here is what I do claim:

the Q'uran and Haddith are, in places, genuinely vile.

Vile, without escape clauses, BTW.

True Muslims want me dead.

...

Can we agree that the Q'uran contains divine direction that would otherwise be considered as evil?


And, interestingly enough, this is my source. I left out every passage that discussed what Allah, that cuddly guy, would do, and included only some of those that were Allah's direction to humans.

And those I could find you were clearly taking out of context.

Ahh, the all powerful get out of jail free card: Context.

So will you admit that the Koran doesn't command every believing Muslim to wake up every morning and kill every unbeliever he comes across?

Okay, you have me there:

4:89 Have no unbelieving friends. Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them.

Is all about where, not when.

The difference is eluding me, though.

December 15, 2006 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Skipper: I'm not Muslim, so obviously I don't think that the Koran is a true revelation of G-d's will. It is certainly, though, a reflection of a true revelation and it is the basis of a "fit" society, so in your terms it must be a true morality.

My only question here is whether we have to preemptively wipe the Muslims out -- a conclusion I am loath to reach -- because they are our unrelenting enemy. As I understand it, you and Harry argue that they are, and your prime evidence is the Koran. I've looked, and I don't see that. I certainly don't see evidence sufficient to warrant genocide.

For example, the translation I found of 4:89 goes:

4:89 They long that ye should disbelieve even as they disbelieve, that ye may be upon a level (with them). So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back (to enmity) then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them,

In other words, the command is to make war on those who make war on the faithful after making peace. Far from being at odds with what I understand to be your morality, that seems to be your morality.

December 18, 2006 7:07 AM  

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