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Misusing Jesus for Political Purposes:

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is part of a large coalition of religious activists who are opposing the immigration reform law which the U.S. House of Representatives passed last year (and which still awaits Senate action). PCUSA's Washington office director Elenora Giddings-Ivory recently defended the church's lobbying position by stating: "Joseph and Mary had to flee persecution. Jesus was not born in his home community."

The statement is a gross misuse of the Bible, in part because the passages point to precisely the opposite policy result favored by Giddings and the PCUSA.

Joseph and Mary did indeed have to flee persecution; a few weeks after Jesus was born, they fled to Egypt because they learned that Israel's King Herod was planning to murder Jesus. Under current U.S. immigration law, the Joseph/Mary/Jesus family would have been entitled to asylum in the United States because they would have been able to prove that they could not return to their home country "because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion,nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." 8 U.S.C.§ 1101(a)(42)(A). (U.S. immigration officers and the reviewing court might not have credited Joseph's fear of persecution, which was based on a dream. But hypothetically, the family could have called the Magi as witnesses, who could attest to Herod's obsession with Jesus, and called other witnesses who could have testified about the Massacre of the Innocents that Herod had perpetrated in Israel.)

Accordingly, the Bible story of the Flight into Egypt could be usefully deployed in arguing against U.S. immigration law changes which would restrict entry by genuine refugees. The story could likewise be used to argue in favor of giving refugee status to Chinese families who are fleeing from the Chinese dictatorship's forced abortion policies.

However, PCUSA opposition to the House immigration bill is not based on refugee issues, but rather on the bill's attempt to stem the massive illegal immigration into the United States, principally from Mexico, for economic reasons. Thus, Giddings' accurate statement that Mary and Joseph had to flee persecution is irrelevant. And her other statement disproves her case.

It is true, as she says, that "Jesus was not born in his home community." His parents were living in Gallilee, but they were traveling to Bethlehem when Jesus was born. Why were they traveling? Not so that Joseph could live someplace illegally as an "undocumented worker," but for the opposite reason. They were going to Bethlehem to comply with the Empire-wide tax and census decree issued by Augustus Caesar. Joseph, being from the House of David, had to go to David's city because "everyone went to his own town to register."

Many historians find it unlikely that there really was a universal tax/census around the time of Jesus's birth, and even more unlikely that a Roman tax would have required people to travel to ancestral towns for registration. But for purposes of argument, I'm accepting Giddings' implicit claim that the story about Jesus being born away from his home community is true.

In any case, one of the symbolic points made by the story is that Joseph and his very pregnant spouse went far out the way (literally) to comply with a government tax and census law. Some scholars suggest that one original purpose of the passage, when it was written sometime around the middle or latter part of the first century, was to show the Roman authorities that Christians were not lawless rebels, but in fact were extremely law-abiding and submissive to government authority (as long as the authority did not interfere with Christian religious practices). Whatever you want to say about Joseph the carpenter, you have to admit that he did everything possible to make sure that he was not an "undocumented worker."

There are many interesting pro and con arguments based on the Judeo-Christian tradition, and on other religious traditions, which can be applied to the immigration reform debate. But there are some Bible-based arguments which are obviously nonsensical and self-contradictory; you can't use the Sermon on the Mount to argue that personal revenge is a virtue, or David & Goliath to argue that slings ought to be outlawed, or Noah's Ark to claim the emergency preparedness is sinful. Likewise, it is preposterous to invoke the story of the Gallilean baby's birth in Bethlehem to assert that it is immoral to enforce laws requiring people to pay taxes and declare their lawful identity.

CrazyTrain (mail):
This is a joke; correct?

Someone is using religion for political purposes; the horror!

The story of Jesus actually supports tax cuts for the rich, and abolition of the estate tax. . . .
2.23.2006 1:12am
Katherine:
And what's this business about not oppressing the widow because you were once a slave in Egypt? Not oppressing the slave, that might make some sense, but what do widows have to do with it? It's such a crass politicization.
2.23.2006 1:20am
Steve:
I think the Sermon on the Mount has been overruled by the National Prayer Breakfast.
2.23.2006 1:31am
Cornellian (mail):
Using religion for political purposes? I'm shocked, shocked. Quick someone call James Dobson!
2.23.2006 1:41am
anon:
A better Christian than I will have to explain how Christ's essentially personal teachings should be extrapolated to political or social issues. The message of "render unto Caesar" should be a caution to all about trying to mix Christianity and politics.
2.23.2006 1:44am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
I'm not sure invoking Jesus' predicament is to suggest that every potential immigrant is on par with Jesus, or even that they are facing a situation similar to his. Without being certain, I would guess it's a much more general suggestion, that we should try not to give people a hard time for wanting to come to a better place with better opportunities. Certainly not dispositive on anything, but seems fair enough to me.
2.23.2006 2:18am
Golambek (mail) (www):
I don't know that you'd want to abandon Jesus to the tender mercies of an immigrant ALJ. Although, I suppose it might amount so something very like the manger story; imagine him being born in a detention center while waiting for processing. Not sure that helps your point, though.
2.23.2006 8:37am
LeftLeaningVolokhReader:
I too was about to add another line about use/misuse of Christianity to advance a political perspective, but now, I'd just sound cliche.
2.23.2006 8:50am
Defending the Indefensible:
David Kopel,

I think this thread marks the lowest point for the VC I have yet seen.
2.23.2006 9:02am
Positive Dennis:
It seems likely to me that the registration took advantage of the fact that most Jews went to Jerusalem three times in the year for the Holy Days. What a perfect time to require registration.

But also an interesting study would be to follow the term "stranger" (Immigrant) in the Hebrew scriptires. They were not forbidden but were protected.


Positive Dennis
2.23.2006 9:04am
DK:
I think Dave Kopel has a good argument here and a nice Biblical analysis. IMHO, just as the proper remedy for speech you don't like is more speech, the proper remedy for political misuses of religious arguments is to offer better arguments (either secular or religious ones), not to complain about the use of religion or to joke about Dobson. Note Kopel didn't say the PCUSA was crass; instead he engaged his argument seriously. I know we have a lot of cynical commenters now who like to complain about post quality, but I enjoyed this post, and I do not understand why people who don't think a post is worthy of being here do think it is worth their time to comment on it.

Now, as far as the substance, I agree with Kopel that this particular Bible story is a really inapt one for the PCUSA to use, but in this case, I think the PCUSA is right on the Christian approach to this issue. First, as Katherine says, the Old Testament is very clear on the need to be kind to "the stranger in your midst." Second, IMHO as a Christian, a Christian church is required to take a global approach to poverty, ignoring issues of nationality or legality. ("In Christ there is no East or West, no slave or free," etc.) Note, though, that the American government has a duty to consider legality and national interest in a way that Christian churches do not share, so, a Christian argument IMHO is not sufficient to determine our immigration policy.

p.s. note that I share Dave Kopel's initials but I am definitely not him. I am trying to figure out how to get this identity out of my browser and start a new one to avoid confusion with him, dk35, and other people with similar id's.
2.23.2006 9:06am
digital commuter (mail):
You said "Joseph and Mary did indeed have to flee persecution; a few weeks after Jesus was born, they fled to Egypt because they learned that Israel's King Herod was planning to murder Jesus."

There is a problem with the above comment. King Herod was not the King of Israel, but the King of Judea. BIG DIFFERENCE.

The Kingdom of Israel had been destroyed by the Assyrian centuries earlier.


[DK: You're right that Herod was formally the King of Judea. His territory included both the ancient southern kingdom of Judea (which had been destroyed by the Babylonians) and the ancient northern kingdom of Israel (which had been destroyed by the Assyrians). I was using "Israel" in the modern sense, just to describe the territory involved.]
2.23.2006 9:08am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
As a Presbyterian, I can speak with a bit of authority. The Washington Office cares not for biblical logic. They have their left-wing points and haul out whatever cite they think might fit.

In addition, some of the reasons for controlling immigration leave the PCUSA lefties cold, as with other lefties. They think our society is as bad as societies can get. Therefore, balkanization, chaos, and fracturing are not bugs from uncontrolled immigration, but features. They won't say this in so many words, but you can put it together after discussing various issues with them.
One hierarch said he longed for the day when the Cross of Christ stood triumphant over death and chaos. That makes nice metaphorical pictures, but he was being literal. First, you need chaos and death right here. The victims of his stage dressing didn't seem to interest him.
2.23.2006 9:37am
Bezuhov (mail):
"First, as Katherine says, the Old Testament is very clear on the need to be kind to "the stranger in your midst."

There is kindness too in treating that stranger as fully human, i.e. holding them to the same standards of behavior as one's fellow citizens, including the duly enacted laws of the land.
2.23.2006 9:53am
Justin (mail):
A foolish hypocracy is the hobgoblin of small minds.
2.23.2006 10:31am
Justin (mail):
(And yes, I know what the actual quote is...)
2.23.2006 10:32am
Justin (mail):
Also, you know what makes this post even funnier: David Kopel, as one would imagine, is Jewish (as am I). It's nice to know us [sarcasm] Jesus killers [/sarcasm] can tell you all when you can and cannot invoke Jesus.

Of course, we've already decided that western conservatives can tell Muslim radical conservatives when a cartoon is or is not offensive (and, once again, this does not condone the obviously horrible overresponse to the cartoons).
2.23.2006 10:36am
Dustin R. Ridgeway (mail):
The greatest argument against mixing the civic &the divine is not the potential corruption of our civic institutions but rather the poisoning of religious majesty. Social Justice should be a concern for all, devout &secular. Slavery, Abject Poverty, AIDS etc. But whenever a supposed man of faith tries to make arguments about tax policy or immigration or unemployment insurance based on religion, Angels weep. That goes for Liberal &Conservative. They illustrate just how narrow a focus 'Worldly' can take.

When I go to church, I don't wish to hear about the struggles South American marxist rebels or the proper Christian response to medicare cuts. I don't want to hear why Jesus loves the Flat-Tax and would want you to support social security reform. I just want to hear the word of god.
2.23.2006 10:59am
JB:
Justin: It's "hypocrisy." "Hypocracy" is rule by insufficient means.

To hijack the thread (bad me): We're not telling them what's offensive. We're telling them what to do when presented with something offensive (i.e take it because that's what freedom of speech means).
2.23.2006 11:07am
Justin (mail):
I apologize greatly for my atrocious spelling and plead for mercy before the court of bluebookers.
2.23.2006 11:09am
Justin (mail):
JB - that explains some people, but certainly not Michelle Malkin, Christopher Hutchins, and now apparently Eugene Volokh, who are not only telling them to "take it" but also parading in support of the offensive cartoons themselves.
2.23.2006 11:11am
Scaldis Noel:
Defending the Indefensible

Maybe I'm dense and I am having trouble seeing the obvious, but why do you believe "...this thread marks the lowest point for the VC I have yet seen."?

It doesn't seem unreasonable to suggest that the PCUSA was making a political point and trying to justify it by invoking the Bible. Even if you disagree with that assertion, which is also not an unreasonable position to hold, why does that make this thread the lowest point for the VC you have yet seen?

Support your statement with reasons why you believe it to be true, and maybe someone will be convinced you're right. At this point, consider me unconvinced.
2.23.2006 11:13am
Michael B (mail):
Justin, The Prince of Pouts, intones on the subject of small mindedness. Rich.
2.23.2006 11:20am
Justin (mail):
Dustin - so basically what you're saying is - Political Jesus (TM) only good when my politics agrees with Jesus. How remarkably convenient that its okay for the Church to stand up for the rights of the unborn, a topic that the Bible says absolutely nothing on, and gay marriage, a topic that got 2 lines in the old testament and, depending on your translation, 0-2 lines in the new testament, but that the Church is forbidden from talking about (non-abject) poverty (such as social welfare), government oppression, or political minorities, topics that the Bible seems to spend much time on, lest the Angels weep.

The social/nonsocial dividing line makes no sense. Either one uses a political/nonpolitical line (which renders the abortion and gay rights policy talk into the realm of Ceaser), or the church has the moral stature to talk about all of its issues in the public arena.

And, yes, yes, I've already heard the argument of the "voluntary act" which shows how Jesus supports a liberterian form of government, allowing us rich folk the benefit of personal salvation by allowing us the voluntary choice of donating money.

While (as a Jew) I am not an expert on the New Testament, I can say that the violation for not tithing, or abusing your slaves (yes, yes, evolving concepts of moral justice), or mistreating your wife were very much punished by Man, through a legal system derived of Men (then, actually men, but once again, evolving concepts...)
2.23.2006 11:22am
Justin (mail):
Thank you Michael B, I always wanted to be royalty. Do you have a substantive point, or are you just here for the insults?
2.23.2006 11:23am
Justin (mail):
Ooops, a few corrections - on my 11:22am post, the whole justice by Men portion were references to the Old Testament, our Torah.

And as to the JB post, I had tried to use symbols to emphasize the point that this would be my last post on the Mohammad cartoons on this thread, bc of it being off topic (JB, you're free to have the last word).
2.23.2006 11:29am
Scaldis Noel:
Justin,

Unless you're referring to something Dustin said in another thread, I don't see how you can infer that he in any way suggested that "...Political Jesus (TM) only good when my politics agrees with Jesus." He made no reference to the issues of abortion, gay marriage, etc. that you apparently believe he was arguing for/against. On the contrary, it seemed pretty clear that he was saying that politics should be left outside of places of worship.

Please show us where he referenced a Biblical defense/prohibition for any of those issues.
2.23.2006 11:40am
Justin (mail):
I apologize that/if I read "social justice" as including those issues.
2.23.2006 11:42am
Mr Diablo:
This goes on the David Kopel top ten worst blog items list, right behind when he blamed "feminists" for that crazy woman and judge in New Mexico who issued the restraining order against David Letterman.

David, maybe being Jewish you don't ever pay attention to that little fringe group with 40million members called the Christian Coalition, or have never noticed how their leadership, and the leadership of like groups like the irresponsible and absurdly named "American Family Association" and "Focus on the Family", seem to invoke Jesus and God at any opportunity to promote their political agenda.

No wait, Kopel is based out of Colorado where James Dobson has his headquarters. Nevermind, this post is just shameless politicking despite obvious hypocrisy.

Kopel, save the stuff this stupid for your radio audience. People on the Internets are way too smart for it.
2.23.2006 11:46am
Wintermute (www):
Non-Kopel DK, try clicking the Change Information link above the comment box.
2.23.2006 11:53am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
DK,

>Note Kopel didn't say the PCUSA was crass; instead he engaged his argument seriously.<

Funny you say that. Look again at the title of the post. "Misusing Jesus for Political Purposes." That statement has one meaning: The PCUSA was crass.

Of course, he then backs off, and from reading it, we find that Mr. Kopel doesn't actually have a problem with "proper" use of Jesus for political purposes. Like a good partisan, though, that doesn't stop him from painting himself as advocating religious humility even when he's not.

And, then, of course, he way overstates his point. Contrary to Mr. Kopel's analysis, there is nothing remotely hypocritical about saying that "Joseph and Mary had to flee persecution. Jesus was not born in his home community." Sure, you can argue that there is another lesson to be drawn from Jesus' experience -- that we need harsher prosecution of illegal immigrants. Personally, I think it's a pretty strange argument, but I don't doubt that it can be made. But to say that Giddings-Ivory's point was completely backwards, like saying the Sermon on the Mount was about retribution? Either it's a disingenuous argument, or he just really missed the boat. From my perspective, I would say that Kopel's strong point is not seeing both sides of an issue.
2.23.2006 11:58am
Defending the Indefensible:
Scaldis Noel,

Constructive engagement with David Kopel's argument would only be feeding the troll. I don't care to have a religious debate here. I don't appreciate reading a religious lecture from someone who doesn't understand and misconstrues the scripture he is talking about. Moreover, by misusing Jesus for political purposes, David Kopel is engaging in flagrant hypocrisy.
2.23.2006 12:01pm
Henry Woodbury (mail):
I think the missing part of Dave Kopel's analysis (understandable given the chronological confusion in the two PCUSA sentences he quotes) is this: What was Egypt's immigration policy at the time?

Well it was clearly a different jurisdiction than Herod's Judea, but within the same empire. If that's the reason Jesus, Mary and Joseph were able to freely cross into Egypt, can we surmise that PCUSA endorses U.S. Imperialism? Apparently not. Note that PCUSA is on record as against CAFTA.

In all seriousnous, that seems a little incoherent to me.
2.23.2006 12:24pm
Scaldis Noel:
Defending the Indefensible

I just don't believe that David Kopel is "misusing Jesus for political purposes." I think that he is making the point (apparently poorly) that he can come up with Biblical support for his point of view just as easily as someone on the opposite side of a political issue, and that neither can reasonably claim to be the true and proper interpretation of the Bible. Maybe I'm reading too much into his argument or maybe he was too clever by half, but I don't see the argument he makes as being hypocritical, just (possibly) not clear enough.

If my reading of his argument isn't an accurate representation of what he intended, and that he actually was saying his interpretation of Scripture was more accurate than that of PCUSA, then I agree with you that he is being hypocritical.
2.23.2006 12:32pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
I think we need to come up with a new anti-sedition law to smite people who whine about the blog

Seriously... the post was cute, and the only reason he was invoking the Bible was to refute others who invoked the Bible. Obviously he wouldn't have raised this argument on his own. Lighten up, people.
2.23.2006 12:41pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Heh... that first sentence was supposed to be surrounded by [smithy] [/smithy] tags... I used the actual HTML punctuation by mistake.
2.23.2006 12:43pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Dave Kopel writes:


Many historians find it unlikely that there really was a universal tax/census around the time of Jesus's birth, and even more unlikely that a Roman tax would have required people to travel to ancestral towns for registration.
Hyman Alterman's Counting People: The Census in History (New York: Harcourt, Brace &World, Inc., 1969), mentions in passing the evidence from non-Biblical sources of Roman censuses in the early Empire period, and that while we do not have evidence of a census in the right period, we also have evidence that censuses were taken that have not survived--just references to them.

While Wikipedia isn't necessarily the best possible reference, this article about Roman censuses demonstrates that there were censuses that covered the entire Roman Empire:
Census beyond Rome

A census was sometimes taken in the provinces, even under the republic (Cicero Verr. ii.53, 56); but there seems to have been no general census taken in the provinces till the time of Augustus. This emperor caused an accurate account to be taken of all persons in the Roman dominion, together with the amount of their property (Ev. Lucae, ii.1, 2; Joseph. Ant. Jud. xvii.13 §5, xviii.1 §1, 2 §1); and a similar census was taken from time to time by succeeding emperors, at first every ten, and subsequently every fifteen years (Savigny, Römische Steuerverfassung, in Zeitschrift, vol. vi pp375‑383). The emperor sent into the provinces especial officers to take the census, who were called Censitores (Dig. 50 tit.15 s4 § 1; Cassiod. Var. ix.11; Orelli, Inscr. No. 3652); but the duty was sometimes discharged by the imperial legati (Tac. Ann. i.31, ii.6). The Censitores were assisted by subordinate officers, called Censuales, who made out the lists, &c. (Capitol. Gordian. 12; Symmach. Ep. x.43; Cod. Theod. 8 tit.2). At Rome the census still continued to be taken under the empire, but the old ceremonies connected with it were no longer continued, and the ceremony of the lustration was not performed after the time of Vespasian. The two great jurists, Paulus and Ulpian, each wrote works on the census in the imperial period; and several extracts from these works are given in a chapter in the Digest (50 15), to which we must refer for further details respecting the imperial census.
The same article discussing censuses taken at Rome shows that they asked for considerable information about each Roman.

This press release from CSU Bakersfield mentions that another part of the Empire had regular censuses:
“One of the important things about Roman Egypt is the presence of good census data. Every 14 years the Romans conducted a census. Because of that information on households we have a sense of what was going on there in terms of general demographics. Interestingly enough the information from the Roman censuses in Egypt is better than anywhere else in the Mediterranean because the climate preserved the papyrus census records.”



[DK: The Oxford History of the Biblical World (pp.478-79) cites Josephus for an Empire-wide census in 6/7 a.d., but that's long after Herod's death in 4 b.c. Since Herod is a major character in the Jesus infancy narratives, Jesus has to be born no later than 4 b.c., if you presume that infancy gospels are entirely historically accurate.]
2.23.2006 1:04pm
Bob Bobstein (mail):
I thought this post had an engaging mix of legal, historical, and religious material in his analysis. I think it's funny that Kopel cited 8 U.S.C.§ 1101(a)(42)(A) in his rebuttal. I think Daniel Chapman has it right, that it was a cute response to someone else's literature.

Marcus1 is right that Kopel phrases his title and conclusion too starkly, but the meat of the post is fact-based. Prof. Volokh drew some invective for the title he chose for a post yesterday; maybe the Conspirators have to pause for a sec before choosing their titles.

I've read a wee bit on early Christianity and had not come across the fact that some scholars considered this story to signal "that Christians were not lawless rebels, but in fact were extremely law-abiding and submissive to government authority."


[DK: Thanks for the kind words. I thought it was obvious that I wasn't claiming that the stories about Jesus's birth should be determinitive of U.S. policy regarding immigration; I was disagreeing with an advocate who did make that claim, and I explained why, even presuming that the infancy narratives should control U.S. immigration law, the advocate was seriously misapplying the narratives.


As for the implication of the tax-identity-compliance part of the story, see, e.g.,
The Oxford History of the Biblical World, p. 479: "Joseph and Mary, and therefore Jesus, are seen as adhering to the demands of the Roman government; travel anywhere when one is about to give birth, let alone by donkey over the rough terrain between Galilee and Bethlehem, surely proves dedication to duty." The OHBW then points to Acts 5:37, which describes a "Judas the Galilean" who led a revolt against the same census.]
2.23.2006 1:22pm
therut:
Where in heck is the left wing absolute Separation of Church and Staters. When am I going to see them at least on CNN lamenting the preaching of the PCUSA and how they are mixing Church and State.(REV. LIND?) Ooops I don't guess I will in my lifetime. Will I see a NYT anti-christian op -ed about this mixing of Church and STATE. OOOOOOOOOPPPPPPPPSSSSSSSSSSSSS I don't think so. Frank Rich where are YOU.
2.23.2006 1:26pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

[DK: The Oxford History of the Biblical World (pp.478-79) cites Josephus for an Empire-wide census in 6/7 a.d., but that's long after Herod's death in 4 b.c. Since Herod is a major character in the Jesus infancy narratives, Jesus has to be born no later than 4 b.c., if you presume that infancy gospels are entirely historically accurate.]
One of the points of Alterman's book is that we don't have a complete list of all the censuses--and some censuses that are missing are referenced elsewhere. There's no reason to assume that the 6/7 AD census is the first Empire-wide census.
2.23.2006 1:43pm
The Human Fund (mail):
I'm not as knowledgeable as I should be regarding history, especially early Christian history (if I may use that term broadly enough to include the time around Christ's birth). So, at the risk of going far astray of the thread topic, I have the following questions:

David Kopel responds to Clayton E. Cramer's post by citing The Oxford History of the Biblical World which cites Josephus for the proposition that there was an Empire-wide census in AD 6/7. Why is this relevant to the post? Or, put another way, does this census preclude a census from occurring in 4 B.C. or earlier? If it does, why is Josephus given more weight than the gospel writers when it comes to determining what occurred historically?



[DK: For the argument that the Bible account of the census at the time of Jesus' birth is historically accurate, see http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03731a.htm (section 9). As the author acknowledges, many scholars take the other position.]
2.23.2006 1:46pm
EM (mail):
Arafat was a fan of this view. In a speech at the UN in 1983, he said:

"Jesus Christ was the first Palestinian fedayin who carried his sword along the path on which the Palestinians today carry their Cross.”

There was a full house, but no one expressed either shock or disbelief, nor was there any later protestation from representatives of the Holy See or the World Council of Churches, even after my letter quoting his words was published in three Swiss newspapers.

FrontPage article, 2004
2.23.2006 2:12pm
JB:
Justin: Which cartoons? The 12? Or the 3?

The 12 aren't horribly offensive, and I have testimony from some random muslim friends of mine that they aren't. And even if they're mildly offensive, so what? Welcome to the West, where people have thick skins.

I don't think anyone's defending the 3 cartoons.
2.23.2006 2:43pm
Michael B (mail):
"Which cartoons? The 12? Or the 3?"

Or the thirty (30)? English translation of the letter which the Danish Muslim delegation, led by Ahmad Abu Laban, presented during their tour of the Middle East (small pdf). It begins:

"... a 40 page case file compiled by the Danish Imams. It contained the 12 cartoons from the Jyllands-Posten, plus 30 more drawings, of much more severe character, unknown origin, which has never been published in Jyllands-Posten."

More on Abu Laban's history here.
2.23.2006 4:20pm
KMAJ (mail):
To paraphrase that great legal scholar, George Carlin:

Religion is like a lift in your shoe, if it fits and is comfortable, that is great, just don't try to put your shoe (with lift) on my foot.

That said, who really has the moral authority to define for society what is or is not the line to be crossed. Depending upon who you ask, you will can get a myriad of responses. Is 'freedom of' religion synonymous with 'freedom from' religion ?

The issue of religion always seems to engender heated debate and offense, whether it be politicizing Jesus or defining the level of spearation of church and state. When religion enters the debate, there will always be some that take offense on both sides. Because one takes offense, is it really a low point ?
2.23.2006 5:03pm
Justin (mail):
The two that I find racist (as opposed to simply offensive) are the sword and bomb cartoons. The virgins cartoon is offensive, but probably not racist. All three were published - they are part of "the 12".
2.23.2006 5:45pm
lee (mail):
JB , often I see the term "hypocracy" and I know it is just(sorry Justin) ignorance of the spelling of the word "hypocrisy". When I saw your post I thought "oh, it is a word." I liked the definition you gave also. Problem is Dictionary.com doesn't know that. Do you have an attribution for "Hypocracy--the rule of insufficient means" or were you just being funny?
2.23.2006 6:02pm
Broncos:
Justin,
I agree that if any of the cartoons are Islamophibic or xenophobic, they should be deplored. (i.e. we should use our right to free speech to critize another's use of free speech; rather than using "freedom of speech" as a veil with which to hide our prejudice.)

But I'm not sure that any of the cartoons are either Islamophobic or xenophobic, though I grant that the sword and the bomb cartoons might be ambiguous.

In the US, most every respected public person distinguishes between Islam as a whole and radical violent fringe beliefs. (the exception apparently being Coulter.) In this US context, I would read the virgin cartoon as poking fun at a particular violent set of beliefs, rather than Islam as a whole. Likewise, I would read the (nonhumorous) sword w/women in the background and the bomb cartoons as graphically depicting the chauvinistic and violent characteristics of a particular set of beliefs - not as pillorying Islam as a whole. Perhaps Denmark is suffused with enough prejudice for these cartoons to have an obviously Islamophobic or xenophobic meaning, but this doesn't seem to be apparent.

Shouldn't we defend the "better" of two ambiguous meanings, rather than concede the "worse" meaning?

If we concede that the cartoons insult Islam, we bolster radical arguments that the west hates Muslims, and we make it difficult for moderate muslims to critize violent extremists.

If we argue, with just as much evidence, that the cartoons are aimed at a particular set chauvinistic and violent beliefs, we would spur a similar reaction - i.e. "Islam isn't about bombs, or killing people with virgin women as a reward" - but in a helpful way: It would help Muslim moderates to critize the beliefs of violent radicals, and would show that the west has nothing against Muslims, but only those who use Mohammad's name to murder. These cartoons should not worry moderate Muslims that the west lampoons their faith; and neither should our arguments.
2.23.2006 6:39pm
jr:
Hmm what would the Conspirators think about adding to the comments rule that comments that indicate displeasure with a post should be substantiated with reasons why they don't enjoy or appreciate such post. I think clearly comments like :
"Constructive engagement with David Kopel's argument would only be feeding the troll. I don't care to have a religious debate here. I don't appreciate reading a religious lecture from someone who doesn't understand and misconstrues the scripture he is talking about. Moreover, by misusing Jesus for political purposes, David Kopel is engaging in flagrant hypocrisy." By DtI clearly add nothing to the discussion and in my opinion are a sign of disrespect for our conspirators.


[DK: A fine suggestion which I hereby adopt for future postings. And the same principle applies to "yore stupid" comments directed from one commenter to another. If a comment does not engage in constructive discussion (of course constructive discussion includes reasoned disagreement) then the comment will be deleted. The VC's long-standing requirement of civil discourse will be enforced.]
2.23.2006 7:25pm
uncle lazar (mail):
"Joseph and Mary had to flee persecution. Jesus was not born in his home community."
I'm an agnostic who has not attended any religious service since childhood(and had very little religious training even then), but I seem to have a better understanding of the basic Christian story than the official spokesperson of the Presbyterian Church. You have to assume that she is either indifferent to Christian doctrine or she is simply being mendacious.
2.23.2006 7:44pm
uncle lazar (mail):
"Joseph and Mary had to flee persecution. Jesus was not born in his home community."
I'm an agnostic who has not attended any religious service since childhood(and had very little religious training even then), but I seem to have a better understanding of the basic Christian story than the official spokesperson of the Presbyterian Church. You have to assume that she is either indifferent to Christian doctrine or she is simply being mendacious.
2.23.2006 7:45pm
uncle lazar (mail):
"Joseph and Mary had to flee persecution. Jesus was not born in his home community."
I'm an agnostic who has not attended any religious service since childhood(and had very little religious training even then), but I seem to have a better understanding of the basic Christian story than the official spokesperson of the Presbyterian Church. You have to assume that she is either indifferent to Christian doctrine or she is simply being mendacious.
2.23.2006 7:47pm
Tom952 (mail):
Wise men know it is hopeless to attempt to counter religious arguments with logic.
2.23.2006 8:02pm
Broncos:

In any case, one of the symbolic points made by the story is that Joseph and his very pregnant spouse went far out the way (literally) to comply with a government tax and census law.

(Nice to add "one" of the symbolic points...)

I always took the "main" point of that portion of the Christmas story to be the inn keeper's action: though he had no room, he provided them shelter in the stable.
2.23.2006 8:09pm
fred (mail):
"Many historians find it unlikely that there really was a universal tax/census around the time of Jesus's birth, and even more unlikely that a Roman tax would have required people to travel to ancestral towns for registration.

It is a sad fact that especially in this area, "modern historians" often seem to tell us (sell us?) the exact opposite of what really happened. I find myself having to go back to 1980's or before to get accurate history. Something bad happened to historians in the last 20 years or so. Almost everything they say is incomplete, slanted or just downright goofy.
2.23.2006 8:54pm
JB:
Lee: "Hypo" means insufficient, as in hypoglycemia. "Cracy" means rule, as in Democracy.

I don't know if "Hypocracy" is a word, but if it was that's what it would mean. And since the English language is forgiving that way, that's what it does mean.

Radical anarchists hypocritically advocating hypocracy...opposing what they see as the hypercratic modern state.

Justin: The 3 cartoons you mention could lead to offense, yes, but to the degree that they shouldn't be published? A certain degree of offensiveness is the price of a free society. Showing Muhammad's head as a bomb is, well, a comment on how often followers of Muhammad make use of bombs. No different than Doonesbury's showing GWB as a blank. The virgins cartoon lampoons a belief that many Muslims no longer take literally, and many(most? nearly all?) extremist Muslims do not die for the chance to be the star of a porno. Not worth rioting over.

The "Muhammad is a Pedophile" and "Muhammad with pig's head" and whatever the third unpublished one was, on the other hand, may have risen to the level of harassment. Certainly, sent directly to the Imams, they were sent with the intent of offense. The former, pending historical verdict, may be libel against Muhammad. They are grounds for protesting of the specific groups that sent them, not the Jyllands Osten paper or Danish embassies.

The key terms are Published and Threatening. The ones which were the latter were not the former, and vice versa. The ability to target one's rage is a valuable aid to living in any society. That, and equivalent response, is another. Danes once served in the Varangian guard--how about posting a cartoon showing a Viking cleaving in half a defenceless Muslim, with the caption "Jyllands Ostland: Cheap Shot"?
2.23.2006 9:39pm
Josh_Jasper (mail):
Many historians find it unlikely that there really was a universal tax/census around the time of Jesus's birth, and even more unlikely that a Roman tax would have required people to travel to ancestral towns for registration.

Blashpehmy! You deny the Bible as the literal truth? Jihad now!

Oh, sorry. Wrong religion.
2.23.2006 10:40pm
InTheDetails (mail):
No one should use religion and faith to justify their arguments: They both have nothing to do with practicality and the rule of law.

If liberals are taking after conservatives and doing this kind of stuff, then they deserve equal contempt from thinking people.
2.23.2006 10:49pm
lee (mail):
Yes, JB, that's why I liked your definition. The only problem with having "hypocracy" as a word meaning that(English being so forgiving)is the legions using it, but thinking it is how "hypocrisy" is spelled. English, so forgiving in other matters, takes it revenge in spelling.
2.24.2006 12:15am
James of England:

Likewise, it is preposterous to invoke the story of the Gallilean baby's birth in Bethlehem to assert that it is immoral to enforce laws requiring people to pay taxes and declare their lawful identity.


With regard to taxes, the New Testament goes further than that. Matthew 17 sees Jesus calling a tax wrongful (possibly blasphemous), but still instructing his followers to pay.

It's true that the Scholastics and such saw a place for regicide, although I've always been suspicious of this (Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 suggest that Nero should be obeyed. How bad does a ruler have to be before you have a duty to revolt?) I can't see a pre-modern source for the notion that there's a middle ground where there is a legitimate authority that you don't have to obey. Can anyone point me towards such a source?

Matthew 17:24-27

24After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax[b]?"
25"Yes, he does," he replied.
When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?"

26"From others," Peter answered.

"Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. 27"But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."


Still, there's lots of great normative biblical arguments supporting the liberalisation of immigration policies. Two for starters:

Hebrews 13:2
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

Acts 7:5-7
5He gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child. 6God spoke to him in this way: 'Your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 7But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,' God said, 'and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.'
2.24.2006 1:49am
Defending the Indefensible:
David Kopel,

Thank you for demonstrating that the reason you generally do not enable comments is that you cannot tolerate dissent. There was no incivility on my part, nor did I call anyone stupid. Flagrantly hypocritical, yes, because you did precisely what you were condemning the PBUSA of, and I can say this without engaging the actual content of your argument.

Do you really think it would be productive to have a religious debate over interpretation of scripture? My point in not engaging your argument was and is to avoid precisely that.

Look what religious wars have done throughout history. The same happens in online discussions, albeit with less actual blood. It creates frustration and anger on all sides, and is a tremendous waste of time because it convinces nobody of anything. Introducing such a thread was pure flamebait in my opinion. This is what I meant by saying I did not want to "feed the troll." It was not to call you personally a troll, but the topic.

But it's nice to have your posts recognized with a pretty green border, I guess.
2.24.2006 3:15am
KMAJ (mail):
DtI,

I really dislike the religious wars smear being used in an argument, one could make the same counter argument about leftist ideology, the progressive movement and modern liberalism, not to be confused with classic liberalism (which is a conservative ideology), are merely socialism in new clothes, the collective/communal good, governent as care-taker, led to the worst atrocities in history, from Mao in China to Lenin and Stalin in Russia, even Nazi Germany was spawned from a socialist movement. Just those examples led to 100 million deaths. Would it be fair to condemn all who hold those beliefs with a similar broad brush stroke of what their beliefs have done throughout history, more modern history at that ?
2.24.2006 3:45am
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
DtI: How can you so grossly misunderstand the nature of the post? Kopel points out some misuse of scripture on the part of some religious left types who ignore the context, the point, the logical implications, and all sorts of other factors going on in the text itself. Kopel obviously is not endorsing the argument he makes. He's not Christian. He doesn't take these texts to be inspired by God. He even suggests that they might be historically inaccurate! It's thus utterly clear to anyone reading fairly that he's taking the assumptions of the PCUSA and pointing out that on their assumptions he would have to advocate a reverse policy. This is a common argument form that lawyers, philosophers, scientists, and all manner of people who argue against views will give. They start with what their opponent believes and derive a conclusion that contradicts the conclusion the opponent is claiming. It's insipid to call that hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is regularly doing something that you regularly claim as immoral and expect other people not to do. Pointing out inconsistencies in an argument or position simply is not hypocrisy.
2.24.2006 8:28am
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
I'm not up on the issues of the empire-wide census, but I do know that a number of scholars (e.g. H. Shuermann, Raymond Brown) have defended the possibility of expecting Jews to return to their ancestral home during a census. Their suggestion comes from evidence that the Romans tried to respect local customs in how a census would be carried out, and there seems to have been a Jewish custom of gathering with one's clan for census-like matters. I haven't spent a lot of time looking at this, but the point is that there need not have been an empire-wide decree for people to return to their ancestral home for there to be a Judea-wide decree of that sort, and the explanation for the latter would have been Roman respect of local customs, which we know to be a motivating factor in many Roman legal matters.
2.24.2006 8:36am
Walk It (mail):
"We're telling them what to do when presented with something offensive (i.e take it because that's what freedom of speech means)."

D.Bernstein: "But if you consider how the idea of "hate speech" has involved from banning Holocaust denial, cross-burnings and violent pornography to banning cartoons of Mohammed, one can see how laws that impinge on civil liberties are initially justified by certain concrete concerns, but then keep expanding way beyond the original rationales for the law..."

Perhaps the original laws were not so well justified and proponents should themselves better work on "taking it" (offensive speech not action)?
2.24.2006 8:37am
Walk It (mail):
"Pointing out inconsistencies in an argument or position simply is not hypocrisy."
2.24.2006 8:38am
jr:
DtI the problem is you leap to conclussions based on things not present on the posts you "analyze", in no place has DK demonstrated that "the reason you generally do not enable comments is that you cannot tolerate dissent". You do not "dissent", you insult and do not engage in civil discourse.
The difference between the VC and other blogs is that themes such as religion might come up from time to time and comments on them should stay civil, if you feel offended we aren't against you "dissenting" but I am sure most of the other commenters here, and readers, would appreciate the dissent being substantiated and made in a civil manner.
Personally I am interested in what you have to say about many things as I find some of your posts on other themes helpful but comments such as the ones made here I wouldn't mind never to have read.
2.24.2006 9:53am
JB:
Walk it: Considering that the initial laws were meant to stop, y'know, lynching, etc, I think they were justified. I'm even ambivalent about at-will employment (employment discrimination cases are a big front in this). But, for example, the doctrine of disparate outcome has clearly gone too far, as have a bunch of individual rulings.

But that's an argument for another thread. Your basic point is sound--Reward people for being offended and not only they, but other people, will be offended more often. Because of the fuzziness of the boundary between justified and unjustified outrage, that boundary will be crossed.
2.24.2006 10:48am
Defending the Indefensible:
Jeremy Pierce:

DtI: How can you so grossly misunderstand the nature of the post? Kopel points out some misuse of scripture on the part of some religious left types who ignore the context, the point, the logical implications, and all sorts of other factors going on in the text itself. Kopel obviously is not endorsing the argument he makes. He's not Christian. He doesn't take these texts to be inspired by God. He even suggests that they might be historically inaccurate! It's thus utterly clear to anyone reading fairly that he's taking the assumptions of the PCUSA and pointing out that on their assumptions he would have to advocate a reverse policy.

If David Kopel doesn't believe the scripture he's misusing for political purposes, then perhaps he's being cynical. That doesn't make it less hypocritical.

Please don't misunderstand. If David Kopel said it was fine to use scripture for political purposes, and proceeded to do so, that would not be hypocrisy. If he then explained how his interpretation differed from PCUSA, it would be a legitimate disagreement, albeit still a religious debate. Or if he said that he didn't agree with mixing religion and politics, and then gave his reasons why he thought what the PCUSA was advocating was wrong on policy grounds, it would be a legitimate political debate.

It is not "utterly clear to anyone reading" that David Kopel is taking the assumptions of PCUSA. It seems to me that he is saying he strongly disagrees with their assumptions, that it is appropriate to use Jesus for political purposes and that scripture supports/compels their preferred policy. This should preclude his using the same methodological approach he decries in trying to refute them.
2.24.2006 11:31am
KMAJ (mail):
DtI,

Could you be specific in your charges of Koppel using scripture for political purposes ? I read his post over a few times, and what I saw was a refutation of misrepresenting scripture by PCUSA, claiming the scripture they used was irrelevant and not analogous to today's immigration situation. He clearly stated there were pro and con within judeo-christian and other religious traditions. Why is it wrong for him to point out alleged errors in the use of scripture by PCUSA ? Once PCUSA has used scripture to back an argument, doesn't it open up their use to critique and rebuttal ?
2.24.2006 12:37pm
Defending the Indefensible:
KMAJ,

I think to be more specific I would have to engage the argument itself, and that's what I've deliberately avoided for the reasons I've already given. I don't disagree with your last point that PCUSA has opened themselves to critique and rebuttle, including on religious grounds by someone who accepts the legitimacy of relying on scripture as a basis for making a political or social policy argument.

My objection is more of a meta-criticism. I could engage the religious aspect, but it wouldn't be persuasive to anyone, because this is not my congregation and we have a diversity of faiths and non-faiths that make it unreasonable to expect a shared set of premises. And I'm not even saying I'd agree with the PCUSA's position, I'm simply not engaging either side of that argument.
2.24.2006 5:08pm
jr:
Then why comment at all?
2.24.2006 6:02pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
DtI,

How can you say that discussions about religion never convince anybody of anything?

There may be many people, or most people, who are unwilling to listen to dissenting views on religion. At some level, though there has to be some room for persuasion.

It seems pretty pessimistic to me to say that humans are incapable of talking to eachtother about religion. To me, a better approach is to show how it can be done in a productive way. If reasonable people swear off religious discussion altogether, I'm not sure that helps the problem.
2.24.2006 6:09pm
KMAJ (mail):
DtI,

I understand and can relate to your point about 'not your congregation', being a 'theist' who doesn't belong to an organized religion, by choice. I just didn't see Koppel making a case using religion, in this particular instance, but rebutting the PCUSA's case that used scripture to support their position. It could just be me or my perception, but had he been making an original point, instead of rebutting, and using scriptural support, I think we would be in the grounds you are objecting to.
2.24.2006 6:45pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Marcus1,

I don't think humans are incapable of talking to each other about religion. I do it often, it's how we learn from one another. If I want to express a sincere religious belief, though, I don't think this would be the most appreciated place for it. For me to engage with the scripture here I'd have to start preaching my thing, and it would be unwelcome.
2.24.2006 10:38pm
Defending the Indefensible:
KMAJ,

Here's the problem, in a nutshell, ok? If I agree or disagree with the PCUSA, or with David Kopel's interpretation, I could not express that position without independently engaging scripture. I don't believe he was being intentionally rude, and I recognize that even if he was, this is not my house, and if I don't like it I can shove off. Even so, I think our hosts want to make their guests welcome, and we should give them a little feedback from time to time to let them know when they are succeeding or when we are feeling uncomfortable.
2.24.2006 10:45pm
Defending the Indefensible:
David Kopel,

And I do apologize for my own rudeness. It wasn't helpful. I hope you will take my subsequent explanation and comments in the constructive spirit intended.
2.24.2006 10:46pm
KMAJ (mail):
DtI,

Thanks, I think I understand where you were coming from, and I apologize if I came across as trying to curtail your feedback, that was not my intention.
2.24.2006 10:54pm