04 February 2010

Two Bibles Too Many

I happened to catch the swearing in of Scott Brown as a United States Senator on the radio on my way home from work today. There was a brief comment that he was holding two Bibles during the ceremony, which I thought was kind of strange, but nothing more was mentioned.

Later, I heard a conservative talk show host praising Senator Brown for the marvelous personal character he revealed by swearing upon these two Bibles. Apparently, the Bibles belong to his two daughters, and since his daughters could not be there, he wished to honor them by using their personal Bibles. (His daughters have Bibles?)

In purely symbolic terms, this is about as chilling a start as possible for the man I hoped would not be a conventional Republican. I don’t have very high hopes anyway; my satisfaction with his election was based not upon Scott Brown himself, but upon the apparent rebellion of Massachusetts voters that it signaled. But I thought he was at least free of the religious penchant of conservatives.


Lynne said...

I am hesitant to post this as I fear you may spend the rest of the evening defending your position rather than drinking wine and watching Castle with your wife.


Swearing on the Bible is part of the traditional swearing in ceremony. If you are religious, you may have your own Bible. If you need a Bible to swear on, and happen to own not one, but two Bibles which happen to belong to your daughters who happen to be unable to make it to said ceremony, you may use both of them. I'm just not sure you can jump to the conclusion that his reliance on the Bible in legislating has thus been symbolically doubled as you seem to imply.

In fact, you might say that in using the Bibles to represent his absent daughters he is dividing its symbolic importance to him by their real importance to him.

Of course, you might not. But I'm not too impressed with it one way or the other.

madmax said...

Two Bibles? Ugh.

The sad thing is that it seems that this is the only way Republican politicians come. The only Republicans that are even moderately free market or anti-socialist are all Social Conservatives. The ones that are secular are Leftist in their economics. This is the tragedy of our culture. Unless you are significantly influenced by Rand, there is only the smallest chance that you will be both secular and pro-capitalist/individualist.

We're really in a cultural bind.

Stephen Bourque said...

I understand what you are saying, Lynne, and I don’t want to overstate the significance of the “two Bible” affair. I agree that it does not necessarily signal a religious thrust in his legislating future.

However, in terms of symbols, he could hardly have chosen a more discouraging message to send to me, who cast my vote for him. At the very moment that he was swearing to uphold the Constitution, he was calling attention to the Bible in a positive, or at best neutral, way. Now, as you wrote, the Bible is part of the traditional procedure, and I would not think it particularly fruitful to rail against that tradition. But neither would I emphasize it. If a point is to be made, it should be that there is one too many Bibles in the procedure, not one too few.

Perhaps the whole affair was just another clumsy and innocent attempt of Scott Brown showing his love for his daughters, like the jokes (“. . . they’re both available!”) at his acceptance speech. If Senator Brown wanted to bring along a symbol to remind him of his daughters, though, virtually any other thing would have been more appropriate. The moment of swearing to uphold the Constitution is not one for exhibiting capricious whims. The separation of church and state is a matter of the utmost solemnity and inviolability, and I would have liked the next senator from Massachusetts to be serious and aware enough about that to refrain from fooling around.

This last point is all the more important because Brown is a Republican. As you pointed out, madmax, the Republicans we get to choose from seem to be either religious or moderate leftists (or both). I have few hopes for Scott Brown, but I thought he would let us down in exclusively secular fashion – which is to say, by exhibiting the same pragmatic, unprincipled betrayal of individual rights that Republicans have shown for decades. I did not (and I suppose, I still do not) expect him to advance a religious agenda on top of all the other defects.