Dennis Prager’s preposterous hissy fit over congressman-elect Keith Ellison’s desire to swear his oath of office is a nice illustration of John Stuart Mill’s argument that sometimes it’s useful to have wrong and misguided ideas aired, just because it forces us to more cogently articulate the correct ones, as Eugene Volokh ably does. (You can also watch Prager and Volokh square off face-to-face.)
The main reasons Prager’s wrong have been rehearsed at enough length, but what struck me was that a Christian would even want to insist on as farcical a public ritual as having Ellison swear on a Bible he doesn’t believe in. Imagine that I (an atheist) threw on a priest’s cassock, somehow insinuated myself into a church, and went through the motions of performing a mass. I expect believers would find this profoundly offensive, a debasing mockery of something that’s supposed to be sacred. And rightly so. It’s genuinely befuddling that any believer would want to demean both the oath of office and sincere faith with this kind of hollow sham. Prager’s position is, in effect, that what’s in the individual’s mind and heart doesn’t matter; it’s the outward trappings of religion that are important. Could anything be more utterly an inversion of the position Jesus himself was supposed to have preached?