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

Is the Attempt on Salman Rushdie’s Life Part of a Broader Iranian Strategy?

Aug. 18 2022

While there is not yet any definitive evidence that Hadi Matar, the man who repeatedly stabbed the novelist Salman Rushdie at a public talk last week, was acting on direct orders from Iranian authorities, he has made clear that he was inspired by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s call for Rushdie’s murder, and his social-media accounts express admiration for the Islamic Republic. The attack also follows on the heels of other Iranian attempts on the lives of Americans, including the dissident activist Masih Alinejad, the former national security advisor John Bolton, and the former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was held hostage by the mullahs for over two years, sees a deliberate effort at play:

It is no coincidence this flurry of Iranian activity comes at a crucial moment for the hitherto-moribund [nuclear] negotiations. Iranian hardliners have long opposed reviving the 2015 deal, and the Iranians have made a series of unrealistic and seemingly ever-shifting demands which has led many to conclude that they are not negotiating in good faith. Among these is requiring the U.S. to delist the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety from the State Department’s list of terror organizations.

The Biden administration and its European partners’ willingness to make concessions are viewed in Tehran as signals of weakness. The lack of a firm response in the shocking attack on Salman Rushdie will similarly indicate to Tehran that there is little to be lost and much to be gained in pursuing dissidents like Alinejad or so-called blasphemers like Sir Salman on U.S. soil.

If we don’t stand up for our values when under attack we can hardly blame our adversaries for assuming that we have none. Likewise, if we don’t erect and maintain firm red lines in negotiations our adversaries will perhaps also assume that we have none.

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More about: Iran, Terrorism, U.S. Foreign policy