Too Many Historians Have Ignored or Downplayed the Role of the Bible in American Public Life

March 31 2021

Reviewing The Bible in American Law and Politics, a new 700-page reference work on the subject, Daniel Dreisbach asks a straightforward question: “Why has so little scholarship focused specifically on the Bible’s influence on American politics and law?”

The Bible, after all, was the most venerated, authoritative, and accessible book for much of American history; and few observers would deny its prodigious influence more generally on the nation’s life and culture.

The biblical illiteracy of our age may explain the failure of some scholars to recognize its presence in public life. Also, scholars trained in the modern academy with its emphasis on the strictly rational and the secular may discount biblical themes because they find them less noteworthy or sophisticated than other intellectual contributions. There may even be a discomfort with or, perhaps, hostility toward explicitly religious material and themes. Some commentators object to the mere acknowledgment of biblical influences on civic life, viewing it as a betrayal of a commitment to church-state separation. Some fear that acknowledging biblical influences will fortify the alleged theocratic impulses of some 21st-century citizens.

Some commentators find a focus on God, religion, and the Bible divisive or even offensive 21st-century, secular sensibilities. In an admonition seldom mentioned in the scholarly literature, for example, George Washington warned in his Farewell Address (1796) that one who labors to subvert a public role for religion and morality cannot claim the mantle of patriotism. Such rhetoric, unexceptional in its time, is discordant with the secular ethos of our time.

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Read more at Providence

More about: Bible, Religion and politics, U.S. Politics

Gaza’s Quiet Dissenters

Last year, the Dubai-based television channel Al-Arabiya, the Times of Israel, and several other media organizations worked together to conduct numerous interviews with residents of the Gaza Strip, taking great pains to protect their identities. The result is a video series titled Whispers in Gaza, which presents a picture of life under Hamas’s tyranny unlike anything that can be found in the press. Jeff Jacoby writes:

Through official intimidation or social pressure, Gazans may face intense pressure to show support for Hamas and its murderous policies. So when Hamas organizes gaudy street revels to celebrate a terrorist attack—like the fireworks and sweets it arranged after a gunman murdered seven Israelis outside a Jerusalem synagogue Friday night—it can be a challenge to remember that there are many Palestinians who don’t rejoice at the murder of innocent Jews.

In one [interview], “Fatima” describes the persecution endured by her brother, a humble vegetable seller, after he refused to pay protection money to Hamas. The police arrested him on a trumped-up drug charge and locked him in prison. “They beat him repeatedly to make him confess to things he had nothing to do with,” she says. Then they threatened to kill him. Eventually he fled the country, leaving behind a family devastated by his absence.

For those of us who detest Hamas no less than for those who defend it, it is powerful to hear the voices of Palestinians like “Layla,” who is sickened by the constant exaltation of war and “resistance” in the Palestinian media. “If you’re a Gazan citizen who opposes war and says, ‘I don’t want war,’ you’re branded a traitor,” she tells her interviewer. “It’s forbidden to say you don’t want war.” So people keep quiet, she explains, for fear of being tarred as disloyal.

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Read more at Boston Globe

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Palestinian dissidents, Palestinian public opinion