I have two pressing questions about which I need your help. The two might appear to be unrelated but what ties them together is an Islamophobic radio host who works for a group on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of hate groups.
Here they are:
- Is it acceptable to lie if you're lying for Jesus?
- What's the opposite of plagiarism?
These two questions stem from comments that Bryan Fischer made on his radio show last week. Drawing on his background as a pastor, he proudly discussed how he fought a "knucklehead" member of the Boise city council who wanted to remove a statue commemorating the Ten Commandments from a city park. Although Fischer failed and the statue was removed because of the establishment clause of the first amendment of the US Constitution, now, years later, he's still angry.
Fischer tied this event to his antipathy for those with religious beliefs different from his and claimed that unless someone is devoted to Jesus Christ and to "the public acknowledgement of the Ten Commandments," s/he is a traitor.
Alluding to George Washington's Farewell Address as his source, Fischer said:
George Washington said, "Look, a guy cannot be considered a patriot, he cannot be considered a patriotic American, if he labors to subvert either Christianity or the Ten Commandments." The essence of what it means to be a patriot, according to George Washington, the definition of patriotism, the essence of patriotism, is a man who is a sincerely devoted follower of Jesus Christ and seeks to live his life by the Ten Commandments, who adheres to Christianity and to the Ten Commandments. That is the definition and the mark and the hallmark of a patriot.
He concludes with the following amazing statement: "You want to find a traitor to your country, find somebody who is actively working to oppose Christianity and oppose the public acknowledgment of the Ten Commandments. You are looking, my friend, right there at an American traitor."
Here's the full audio clip to show you I'm not making this up!
The fact is, however, that George Washington never said what Fischer claimed he said. In his Farewell Address, Washington made a far more generic point. He said, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men & citizens." Hardly the rousing defense of Jesus Christ Fischer claims.
Similarly, in his 1790 Letter to Touro Synagogue, Washington said something in direct opposition to what Fischer claims. In response to a letter from Moses Seixas, warden of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, looking for assurance of religious freedom for Jews, Washington demonstrated a very different understanding of good citizenship and patriotism than that offered by Fischer:
The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
So, no, Washington certainly didn't claim that only "a sincerely devoted follower of Jesus Christ" can be a patriot. And, no, you can't look to someone's religion to decide if that person is a traitor.
Fischer has a penchant for castigating those with religious beliefs that differ from his. One example will make this point. In a piece he published a while back entitled "Islam and the First Amendment: privileges but not rights," Fischer claimed "From a constitutional point of view, Muslims have no First Amendment right to build mosques in America."
While Fischer might well be a bigot, he's certainly not an idiot. He has to know that his claims about Washington are untrue and that point returns me to my two questions.
Years ago, I was ambushed by Ken Ham, the head of Answers in Genesis, the organization in charge of the two Kentucky creationist theme parks called The Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, when I agreed to do an interview on a fundamentalist Christian radio show. To my surprise, Ken was on the show ready to debate me. As I wrote years ago, "When asked why neither the host nor Ken had the courtesy to inform me that I was to participate in a debate rather than in an interview, I was told that they believed that I wouldn't have accepted their offer had I been told the truth. When I questioned them about the deception, I was told that since the debate was to further God's wishes, a minor deception of this sort was acceptable."
What Ham did seems similar to what Fischer has done: deceiving or lying to, in their minds, further God's wishes. If this sort of behavior is acceptable, what, really, does it mean to be a Christian?
We all know that plagiarism means taking of someone else's words or ideas and claiming them as your own. What is it called when you take your own words and claim that they were uttered by someone else? What is the appropriate terminology for the reverse of plagiarism, for this is exactly what Bryan Fischer did and he has to know it.
Even in our post-factual world, such behavior has to be considered unacceptable.