Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christianity & the Cross Aren’t Religions or Religious Symbols? Well, That’s What O’Reilly & Scalia Tell Us

I'm a bit short on time, but I really couldn't resist sharing some of this, especially after attending my son’s holiday band performance last night in which the “Hanukkah Medley” included an excerpt of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and in advance of my daughter’s choir performance next week in which she gets to sing four songs praising the birth and divinity of Jesus. Did I mention that she attends a public school?

Anyway, with that short lead in, I give you the following video from Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.

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Hopefully, at some point in the future, I'll have a chance to go through O'Reilly's "analysis" (sorry, I can't even write that without practically falling out of my chair laughing) line by line, but in the meantime, let's see how Jon Stewart responds:


For what it’s worth, I’ve asked several of my Christian friends if they view Christianity as a religion or a philosophy. Generally, I’ve been met with looks of disbelief at the idiocy of the question, but not one has agreed with the proposition that Christianity is a philosophy and not a religion.

While viewing these videos and reading a bit more on the subject, I came across an interesting article by Dahlia Lithwick (a great writer on legal issues) about a 2009 case before the Supreme Court. In Salazar v. Buono, the issue was a cross erected on public land. The decision in that case isn’t the issue; however, some of the comments from Justice Scalia during oral arguments are very illustrative of the worldview from which O’Reilly’s argument seems to spring:

[Justice Scalia] looks particularly queasy when Peter Eliasberg — the ACLU lawyer whose client objects to crosses on government land—suggests partway through the morning that perhaps a less controversial World War I memorial might consist of “a statue of a soldier which would honor all of the people who fought for America in World War I and not just the Christians.”

“The cross doesn’t honor non-Christians who fought in the war?” Scalia asks, stunned.

“A cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity, and it signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins,” replies Eliasberg, whose father and grandfather are both Jewish war veterans.

“It’s erected as a war memorial!” replies Scalia. “I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. The cross is the most common symbol of … of … of the resting place of the dead.”

Eliasberg dares to correct him: “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew.”

“I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead the cross honors are the Christian war dead,” thunders Scalia. “I think that's an outrageous conclusion!”

Stephen Colbert agreed with Justice Scalia (in a way that only Colbert can…):



I’m curious to hear from my Christian readers (well, actually, from all of my readers): Is Christianity a religion or a philosophy? Is the cross a symbol of the Christian religion or … um … something else? Should a Jew, Muslim, or atheist object to a cross on his or her grave (or, I guess more appropriate, the grave of a loved one)?

Oh, and one more quick question: O’Reilly repeatedly talks about our country being founded on Judeo-Christian principles. I’ve found myself carelessly echoing that from time to time. But I’d really appreciate it if someone could identify precisely how our foundational documents reflect a Judeo-Christian philosophy. I don’t recall the Bible (Old Testament or New) talking about democracy or representative government. I seem to recall the Bible talking about monarchy not independent branches of government with checks and balances. Last I checked, the Bible included a deity giving commandments with humans obligated to follow those laws rather than humans electing leaders who then met to discuss which laws to adopt and enforce. I’ll agree that the Bible seemed to permit slavery, but that seems a shaky component to be the sole similarity between the Bible and our Constitution. I’m pretty sure that we’ve never gone in much for selling disobedient children or stoning those who work on the Sabbath. So really, what do we mean when we say that our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles? And don’t go for the easy “be good to other people” mantra as your answer because I suspect that we’d find many religions (monotheistic or otherwise) share that core concept. No, what I want to know is what specific elements of the Judeo-Christian philosophy, unique from other religions and philosophies, formed a basis for our foundational documents.

When you find an answer, let me know. I’ll be waiting.

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