AN ADVENTURE IN RADIO LAND
A few days ago I appeared on a radio talk show in Ohio to promote my book, America Unraveling. The show was advertised as "Christian." During the interview, the host asked me to spell out some of the basic factors tearing at the fabric of our country's national life. I began describing them. Believe it or not, I have learned to do that in a minute or less, because the attention span of most citizens is not much longer than that, plus time constraints will not permit more. I was in the midst of my response to the question, emphasizing that the country is awash in relativism, which disclaims any "absolute truths" and is unable to make a distinction between pornography and beauty (since who's to say what beauty is, right?), when the host interrupted me with a protest, "Wait a second, Scott, you're sounding like a Bible-thumper."
A "Bible-thumper"? That is a pejorative term, is it not? When used in an accusatory way, it might even comprise an ad hominem attack. I was surprised by the remark and consequently thrown off my stride a bit. I was actually shocked! Not that the host had interrupted my train of thought – that is par for the course. But because he had called me a name without any reason or basis whatsoever. I had not mentioned the Bible, nor had I quoted from it. I was simply explaining what relativism is and how it works. I had also pointed out how liberalism and secularism insist that any vestige of the religious be stripped from the public square and relegated to private life.
The host continued his pugnacious exchange with me by asking if, since I favored prayer in public schools, I would object to a Muslim student offering a public prayer once a month. I replied that America's culture is not rooted in the Islamic faith and that I would therefore consider a publicly-offered Islamic prayer not so much morally wrong as culturally inappropriate. If one were an American ambassador living in Saudi Arabia, would he extend public salutations to his Muslim acquaintances in the name of Jesus Christ? Not hardly.
Allow me to adopt a metaphor utilized by a distinguished Harvard historian, the late Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. American culture is "a stew." The base of the stew is Anglo-Protestantism. It is an indisputable fact that our institutions – legal, political, educational, and otherwise – were established under the aegis of British Protestants. While the stock of the stew has been deliciously spiced by Oriental, Latin, and African traditions and customs, for which we should give thanks, these do not define its essence. Those who settled America, as opposed to those who subsequently immigrated to its shores, brought their culture with them. It was English and Protestant through and through.
I have no problem with Muslims, and others like Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians, and Sikhs, living in America. I believe that they can each and all contribute to its greatness. But I do have a problem with Muslims coming to this country and refusing to assimilate to American culture, complaining that their children are required "immodestly" to shower after physical exercise in the presence of others of the same sex, or insisting upon their children being dismissed during the school day in order to pray, or demanding that a school's toilet facilities be specially prepared for their children according to Muslim practice. This country is basically what it is, and its foundation is immutably fixed. Immigrants have no right to change it. If they cannot or will not assimilate to it, it is fair to suggest that they return from whence they came.
So back to public prayer. It is not solely a matter of religion. It is a matter of culture. Who we are as a people involves a "public faith." That faith is not Islamic. Should we Americans apologize for this fact? No more than Muslims living in Saudi Arabia should apologize for not being American.
By this time, I suspect that leftists of all stripes are champing at the bit to challenge me. Some of them are certainly itching to point out that George Washington himself maintained, "'The bosom of America' . . . was 'open to receive . . . the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges . . . . They may be Mohometans, Jews or Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists.'" And, then, there is the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797, signed by John Adams, which denied that America was "in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."
These facts sharply highlight, do they not, the founders' desire to downplay the religious underpinnings of American culture and to create a secular political sphere? Well, not exactly. America is not now, nor has it ever been, a theocracy. Yet George Washington was the one, please remember, who added "so help me God" to the presidential oath of office and, then, kissed the Bible on which he took the oath. John Adams believed that "[o]ur Constitution is made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." He, like his predecessor, fervently trumpeted the role that faith plays in our politics. The point is that, although both men believed in the freedom of conscience and one's right to worship as he pleases, they also believed the American political process to be imbued with a public faith undergirding that process and, yes, the culture itself. To live in America means to respect its public faith, which reigns by ethos, not by establishment.
I am troubled by the fact that, in our schools, courtrooms, houses of worship, and virtually everywhere else in American life, there is abject cultural cowardice. Thanks to the cancer of political correctness, citizens are afraid to support the formative ideals of American culture. A nation timid about affirming its identity will be unable to safeguard it and will, in the end, lose it. This momentous loss will in turn issue in disintegration and chaos.
So am I a "Bible-thumper"? No, not even a social prophet. I am one who, with fear and trembling, attempts merely to speak the truth. Let others make of it what they wish.
October 6, 2008