Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A question about the inauguration

If this isn't a Christian nation, then why are presidents (including this one) sworn in using a Bible, rather than, say, the Koran or Bagavad-Gita?

25 comments:

Lee said...

Simple answer: they don't respect the Bible, but they know a lot of us do.

Anonymous said...

From Obama's speech today:
"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers."

There is no legal requirement that the President be sworn in on a Bible. The US Constitution does not contain the words "Bible" or "God". It even states that there is no religious test for public office.

Are you not a lawyer, Martin?

Lee said...

If history means anything, we are indeed a nation of Christians and Jews. Muslims and Hindus? Not so much.

When the Constitution was written, they reached a stalemate. Ben Franklin suggested that they pray about it, and so spent the next three days in fasting and prayer. Then they came out and had the Constitution in three weeks.

I think they probably prayed to the Christian God. In any event, I doubt they prayed to Buddha or Siva.

All laws contain the words, "In the year of our Lord." All sessions of Congress are opened in prayer.

We do know that Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus have emigrated here, presumably because it was better than the option of staying where they were. Society is a complex algorithm, but is it just possible that one of the reasons why America is the better place to live is its Christian heritage?

And if the God in Heaven happens to be the "jealous God" of the Old Testament, is it just possible that His blessings will be withheld as we shoo him out of public life?

I don't suppose those who invoke His name when it suits them, for purposes of their own, care whether that's true. If so, all that matters is who is really in charge.

Anonymous said...

Actually, a good proportion of the founders were Deists and did not pray to the "Christian" God. They were products of the Enlightenment.
It is interesting that God did not punish us or withhold his blessings for leaving mention of him out of the Constitution. God runs the universe but will be upset with us if we don't invoke him at every public event. Sure.

Anonymous said...

Of course we could abolish the separation of church and state, the Constitution, the PResident, and all thouse other anoying secular things and things would go like this from scene 7 of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail":

GOD: Arthur! Arthur, King of the Britons! Oh, don't grovel! If
there's one thing I can't stand, it's people groveling.

ARTHUR: Sorry--

GOD: And don't apologize. Every time I try to talk to someone it's
"sorry this" and "forgive me that" and "I'm not worthy". What are you
doing now!?

ARTHUR: I'm averting my eyes, oh Lord.

GOD: Well, don't. It's like those miserable Psalms-- they're so
depressing. Now knock it off!

ARTHUR: Yes, Lord.

GOD: Right! Arthur, King of the Britons -- your Knights of the Round Table shall have a task to make them an example in these dark times.

ARTHUR: Good idea, oh Lord!

GOD: 'Course it's a good idea! Behold! Arthur, this is the Holy
Grail. Look well, Arthur, for it is your sacred task to seek
this Grail. That is your purpose, Arthur -- the Quest for the
Holy Grail.

ARTHUR: A blessing!

LAUNCELOT: A blessing from the Lord!

GALAHAD: God be praised!

And thus could the National Science Foundation annual budget would be spent on the QUEST! Forget NASA we can dunk witches!

Lee said...

And a good proportion of the framers of the Constitution were Christian, as well. And practically none were Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist.

> It is interesting that God did not punish us or withhold his blessings for leaving mention of him out of the Constitution.

There was plenty of other mention of Him elsewhere, and plenty of belief in Him from its citizens.

I don't purport to know, whenever bad things happen, whether it is because God is withholding his blessing, only that it is Biblical that He does so when His people turn away. Someday, He'll probably tell us when that happened, if it happened.

But why tempt such an outcome?

> God runs the universe but will be upset with us if we don't invoke him at every public event. Sure.

I would guess, probably better not to invoke Him at all, than to invoke Him without belief, sincerity, or for political or cynical reasons.

But I would think "upset" is probably the wrong word in this context. He is already "upset" with us, if our fallen condition means anything. Try to think of it like this: our sin is sending us to Hell, and He is holding out a lifeline known as Jesus' sacrifice. I think God blesses us as much as much as our infatuation with our own sin allows him to do so.

Lee said...

> Of course we could abolish the separation of church and state...

You have pointed out that the Constitution does not contain the words "Bible" or "God", so maybe it will matter to you that neither is the phrase "separation of church and state" contained in the Constitution.

Or is cherry-picking allowed?

> ...the Constitution, the PResident, and all thouse other anoying secular things...

It seems to me that it is the liberals who want to do away with the Constitution. It keeps getting in the way of the Greater Day.

Anonymous said...

Let us improve the economy by throwing a virgin in a volcano to appease the volcano gods. The method has always worked before and we don't dare tempt their wrath...What??? We're out of virgins? Oh crap!

Anonymous said...

O Lord, please don't burn us,
Don't grill or toast your flock,
Don't put us on the barbecue,
Or simmer us in stock,
Don't braise or bake or boil us,
Or stir-fry us in a wok.

O please don't lightly poach us,
Or baste us with hot fat,
Don't fricassee or roast us,
Or boil us in a vat,
And please don't stick Thy servants, Lord,
In a Rotissomat.

Art said...

Methinks a Christian nation wouldn't demote the Bible to the status of a law book (John Quincy Adams) or nothing at all (Teddy Roosevelt).

Martin Cothran said...

Anonymous,

Have you checked out the Declaration? And why is it necessary to America being a Christian nation that it legally require a president to be sworn in on a Bible?

And, no, I'm not a lawyer.

Martin Cothran said...

Anonymous,

The fact that many of the Founders were not orthodox Christians is entirely irrelevant to whether this is a Christian nation. The only thing that matters is what principles they based this nation on, all of which were entirely Christian.

There were plenty of Deists, but even these men accepted Christian ethics as an unspoken assumption. Thomas Jefferson may have clipped out the miracle passages from his Bible, but the fact is, it was a Bible, and he left the rest.

And to say that they were entirely products of the Enlightenment is just ignorant, I'm sorry. Their influences were fairly wide, including the Bible, along with Enlightenment thought, as well as a good dose of classical influence, since almost all these men were formally or informally the products of classical education (which was Christian and classical, and mostly conducted by ministers).

And even if they were entirely products of the Enlightenment, it would still prove my point, since even the Enlightenment was the product of a Christian culture and would have almost impossible in any other.

Martin Cothran said...

Art,

Is that the rule? Or the exception?

Lee said...

There is a concept we Reformed folks call, "means of grace." In layman's terms, it means that the grace of God rubs off of people, even non-believing people, if they are exposed to His word and His people.

This would mean that even a civilization that prides itself as descending from the so-called "Age of Reason" can go a long way still, based on the Christian remnant that struggles against its influence.

Think of it like this: atheists still mostly believe in a moral/ethical system that people should adhere to, even though there is no rational reason for individuals to sacrifice their conflicting desires to do so. This phantom moral system, which somehow crawled out of the mud with mankind itself, still loiters around because of the means of grace.

Take the means of grace away, and you have another society that thinks, e.g., human sacrifice is fun.

Art said...

Well, if we're going to invoke influences and the like, I guess we need to remember that Christianity as it unfolded in Europe (the alleged inspiration of our American ideals) is but an historical extension of the Roman Empire.

I guess that would make America the New Rome.

Now I've gotta go watch The Godfather.

Lee said...

I wouldn't necessarily disagree with that, Art. But the Roman Empire struggled in its declining years between choosing Christianity or Paganism. The masses preferred Christianity, and the "intelligentsia" (probably for aesthetic reasons rather than theological ones) held onto Paganism. Sound familiar? In the Reformed world view, it's quite possible that God ended the Roman Empire as a judgment on it, leaving the Christian church as the only institution strong enough to survive on its own. (It would not have survived had not the Goths been converted.)

The Church will survive. America might, but not without the Church. Just keep your eye on Europe, a.k.a. the canary.

Anonymous said...

The dominate religion of the men and women who established our nation was Protestant Christian.Many were also deists who valued the virtues found in the Bible. Out of this tradition the Bible was the religious text of the culture and thus the USA. The founding ideas of our nation are rooted in Greek,Roman and Hebrew/Christian traditions as well as some early enlightenment ideas. Just because a nation uses the Bible to swear in a president does not make a nation Christian. Oneness Pentecostals and Arian heretics of various strips use the Bible as an authority as well. It seems to me that the distinguishing feature of Christianity is the Holy Trinity. If the swearing in ceremony included the words Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God rather than the general term "so help me God" then maybe one could begin to claim that the swearing in ceremony was "Christian" in content. I cannot see any direct evidence in the founding documents that point to the Holy Trinity.It seems like the general God of deism won out and is even on our money. No one looking at many of the laws of our land and listening to the prayers at our public gatherings could conclude that we, as a nation, reflect historic Christian faith and practice.BTW, great blog!

Joseph

Lee said...

> Methinks a Christian nation wouldn't demote the Bible to the status of a law book (John Quincy Adams) or nothing at all (Teddy Roosevelt).

Think of it as improving our ideas about what the laws ought to be, rather than demoting the Bible.

All laws are based on someone's idea about what constitutes "the good." Liberals simply want to leave the Bible out of any discussion of what "the good" means. It's not a question of having no moral compass, just whose we're allowed to use. Why anyone ought to prefer their moral vision over the Bible's is the debate they don't have to make simply because they have managed to get the Bible thrown out on technical grounds.

Lee said...

> It seems to me that the distinguishing feature of Christianity is the Holy Trinity. If the swearing in ceremony included the words Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God rather than the general term "so help me God" then maybe one could begin to claim that the swearing in ceremony was "Christian" in content.

I have not argued that America is a Christian nation, only that it is a nation of mostly Christian people. And that it's not that Christianity needs America, but the other way around. And I believe that many people would rather see America become a smoking ruin than a nation more devoted to Christianity. In the years to come, I don't expect this to be merely a hypothetical dilemma.

(You can see harbingers of this struggle at a much smaller scale, as more and more liberal news outlets are discovering that liberalism is costing them readers and profits, and their response is to become more liberal.)

> Oneness Pentecostals and Arian heretics of various strips use the Bible as an authority as well.

They may indeed, but they would be forced to cherry-pick their interpretation of it. And there is a difference between using the Bible as "an authority" and using it as "the authority."

> It seems like the general God of deism won out and is even on our money.

Deism is sort of the common denominator. A prayer to a Deist god sounds a lot like a prayer to the Trinitarian God, but not necessarily the other way around.

Trinitarians believe in "one God", too; they go on from there to believe He is Three in One. It's hard to define, granted, and if you focus on one aspect too much as opposed to the other, almost always one is lead into a heresy of some major or minor import. Focus too much on the One God, and you wind up with Arianism or worse; focus too much on the Three, and you wind up with polytheism.

One of the aspects of Trinitarianism which I find quite profound is revealed by Jesus' claim that He is humble. It only makes sense for God to be humble if there are other personalities within God. A monadic God would have no use for humility, and in fact it would not make any logical sense for him to claim it. But Jesus could claim to be humble because He had spent timeless eons with the Father and the Holy Spirit; He always defers to them, and they to Him. We are never more like our Lord than when we are worshipping Him. The exact opposite is true of monadic gods, such as Allah: his believers are never less like him than when they bow to him.

Art said...

Lee, Rome did not become Christian. Rather, Rome subsumed Christianity.

Martin Cothran said...

I guess that would make America the New Rome.

That is precisely how many of the founders viewed it.

Lee said...

> Lee, Rome did not become Christian. Rather, Rome subsumed Christianity.

I think what I said was that there was a struggle in Rome between Christianity and Paganism, and that the Roman Church outlasted the Empire. I don't believe I said Rome became Christian, if by that you mean unambiguously Christian. What did I say that made you think I meant that?

solarity said...

The principles of charity, compassion and equality that run rampant throughout the Bible have been suffused into American culture since the Founding. It strikes me as perhaps the prime reason behind American exceptionalism.

Anonymous said...

Turns out Obama didn't hold his hand on "the" Bible the second time he was sworn in. In fact, there was never a requirement that he had to make use of a Bible or any other "holy" book.

Lee said...

There is also no requirement for an inaugural address, or even a swearing-in ceremony at all. Some things are traditional.