Thursday, February 15, 2007

Religion and Presidents

In this week's Jewish Press, senior editor Jason Maoz interviews Paul Kengor, associate professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

Grove City College is a college that has as part of its mission statement the following sentence:
"Rejecting relativism and secularism, it fosters intellectual, moral, spiritual, and social development consistent with a commitment to Christian truth, morals, and freedom."

I wondered why the Jewish Press could not have interviewed a prominent Orthodox Jewish political scientist at a Jewish institution such as Prof. David Luchins of Touro, but on to the article itself:

Prof. Kengor quotes Michael Medved as saying that "A de-Christianized Western Europe could be a very bad Europe for Jews" and agreeing with the point. As if Europe has been good for Jews? Hitler wasn't Christian, but many of his henchmen were. And both Chmielnicki and Torquemada were devout Christians, as were the leaders of the Crusades and all the Czars.

Prof. Kengor then makes some statements that are misleading if not outright false. For example, he claims that all 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Christians. That only is true if you count John Adams as a Congregationalist, Thomas Jefferson as an Anglican, and Benjamin Rush as a Presbyterian. Their heretical views would never be taught at Grove City! He is correct about John Winthrop's views -- but neglects to point out that Jews were not welcome in Winthrop's "City on a hill", or that New Amsterdam (later New York) worshiped moneymaking at least as much as any transcendent creator. (Some would argue that this is still true!)

He continues:

"You can draw a straight line from Winthrop to Washington to Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. This piety is embedded in the very fabric of this nation."

I don't argue that the US isn't pious. But "straight line" from Puritan minister Winthrop to Anglican vestryman Washington to Presbyterian elder Wilson had to detour past out and out heretics like Jefferson, Unitarians John Quincy Adams (co-founder of All Soul's Unitarian Church in Washington, DC), Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft (later President of the American Unitarian Association) not to mention Andrew Johnson, who appears never to have set foot in a church in his life. (If anyone can find credible evidence to the contrary, please post!)
Many 19th century Presidents seemed to have had very little interest in organized religion although most had affiliated with some Protestant church at some point in their lives. (The aforementioned Unitarians, Lincoln, and Johnson were exceptions.) At least Prof. Kengor does give Jefferson credit for believing in God, which some of his contemporary political opponents did not.

Prof. Kengor makes the valid point that no American President has ever been actively hostile to religious expression. However, some folks on the right are unable to distinguish that truth from the fact that many 19th century Presidents, including Jefferson, Madison, and Jackson, took strict-constructionist views of the First Amendment that are similar to that of the ACLU today and confuse the ACLU position with hostility. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is little to argue about in Prof. Kengor's description of the evils of communism, which were well understood by most of the US left as well as the right. But in caricaturing the liberal view of President George W. Bush as a 'supposedly rigid fundamentalist Protestant' he fails to note that this liberal writer is well aware the younger President Bush belongs to a church that rejects fundamentalist theology and intolerance. Jews don't oppose President Bush because of his religious views, but because of his administration's policies, incompetance, and corruption.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jews don't oppose President Bush because of his religious views, but because of his administration's policies, incompetance, and corruption.

Oh, piffle. The majority of the opposition to Bush is petty partisanship. One gets whiplash watching folks like, say, Reyes shift from calling for "twenty thousand more troops" to opposing the "surge," simply because it's now Bush's plan.

(It kind of reminds me of a certain self-declared leftist criticising Rupert Murdoch for airing the pornographic show "Skin," and then criticising him again for pulling it off the air. If there is criticism for a person regardless of his or her actions, then perhaps the criticism is a better reflection of the critic than the criticised.)

- Moishe Potemkin

12:37 PM  

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