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April 10, 2005: Things Sometimes Overlooked

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Juan Cole, writing in SALON.COM, here tells us of what one tends to forget.

This is interesting -


In February 2002, the president and Laura Bush visited a Shinto shrine in Japan, to which they showed respect with a bow. They were immediately denounced by evangelical organizations for having "worshipped the idol." To listen to the anguished cries of disbelief from Bush's Christian base, you would have thought he had met the same fate as Harrison Ford in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," where Indie was hypnotized by the evil rajah into worshipping the pernicious Hindu idol of the thugees.

The reason for the evangelicals' frenzy is the first two commandments of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments), said to have been given to Moses on Mount Sinai by God. The first says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." The second says, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God..." George and Laura's respectful nod to the spirits in the Meiji Shrine violated those precepts in the eyes of true believers.


Most curious.

Some of us, had we paid attention to these dual bows in a Shinto shire, wouldn’t have paid attention at all. The Bush two were being polite, and, oddly enough, diplomatic.

But I guess some were offended. How many? Hard to say.

But are we not the most religious of Western nations? Are not most Americans born-again Christian zealots willing to rip the world apart to hasten the Rapture and usher Jesus back to Iowa or whatever? Cole doesn’t think so -


Both the reelection of George Bush and the Schiavo travesty have heightened the sense that the religious right in the United States is all-powerful. Reading the press, you get the impression that almost all Americans are devout Christians, people who believe in a literal heaven and hell and spend their idle moments devouring the "Left Behind" novels about the end of the world. This isn't true -- and it's getting less true all the time. While evangelical Christians are a significant political force, they are probably only a fifth of the country, and not all of them are politically conservative: Only 14 percent of voters in an exit poll for the presidential elections in 2000 characterized themselves as part of the "Christian right." In fact, polls show that the United States is becoming less religious. Only about 60 percent of Americans say religion is important in their lives. The United States is still a predominantly Christian country, but it is no longer an overwhelmingly Christian one. And more and more Americans are either non-religious, unchurched or subscribe to non-Christian religions.



Cole reviews what wasn’t covered on the news – how other religions weighed in on the recent arguments before the Supreme Court regarding the display of the Ten Commandments in official, state buildings. And this is curious -


Although American Muslims agree with the precepts enshrined in the Ten Commandments, they are fully aware that the move to post it in public buildings is designed to bolster the Christian right in an exclusivist way, and so they have largely made common cause with American Hindus against it.

The friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Hindus and others notes, "To members of non-Judeo-Christian religions, the Ten Commandments do not merely recite non-controversial ethical maxims; several Commandments (e.g., the first, second and third) address the forms and objects of religious worship." Underlining that there are nearly a million Hindus in the United States, and some 700 Hindu temples, the brief says, "Nor can Hindus accept the First Commandment's prohibition against 'graven images.' The use of murtis (sacred representations of God in any of God's various forms) is central to the practice of the religion for virtually all Hindus." The government-sponsored posting of the Ten Commandments implies a U.S. government preference for a theology that Hindus cannot accept. As for the country's 3 million Buddhists, the brief is even more blunt: "The conception of God, or the notion of worshipping creator gods, is considered an obstacle to the enlightenment sought by Buddhists."


Yeah, but are they real AMERICANS? Given this it seems some would argue they are not.

And Cole then reminds of a treaty often cited, but that bears mention once again.


The founding fathers signed into law a 1797 treaty with Tripoli (now Libya), which declares that "...the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion" and adds that "it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims]." The idea of the United States government as religiously neutral was linked in this treaty with the notion of peace among nations. The treaty adds, "it is declared ... that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries..."


Yeah, that’s for real.

Cole’s conclusion?


More than 200 years later, all the progress achieved in the realm of religious tolerance by the first generation of Americans is in danger of being wiped out by ignorant fanatics who are not good enough to shine their shoes. That danger arises even as the number of non-Christians has risen to record highs. The irony is that the true iconoclasts throughout Christian history would have recognized Judge Moore's two-ton behemoth for what it is: a graven idol.


Ah well, there’s no satisfying the righteous. In fact, that’s why it’s so hard to deal with the al Qaeda guys, as they are as righteous as any Methodist president from Texas, or that former Orkin exterminator Tom DeLay.

Ah, let the Godly fight it out. The rest of us can go on with our lives, not worried about such things.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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