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God help us
By Joseph Aaron
Chicago Jewish News
January 24, 2001
CHICAGO, There is a difference between Joe and John because
there is a difference between
Jesus and God.
A big difference. At least to us.
Now, I understand that to Christians there is no difference, that Jesus
is both the son of God and God. How
that can be, I must admit, I do not understand, but that really doesn't
matter. After all, it's none of my business.
Just as Jesus should not be the business of our government. But if some
early signs are any indication, he's
very much going to be a part of things for the next four years, which, as I
see it, is not a very good thing at all.
We all remember some of the things George W. Bush did and said before
became president that gave
some of us pause, Jesus-wise. How he said that only those who accept Jesus
will have a place in heaven. How he
declared Jesus Day in Texas. How, when asked which political philosopher or
thinker had had the greatest influence
on him, he answered Jesus.
It all made me more than a little uncomfortable, since one of the
absolute bedrocks of this society is the
separation of church and state. The notion that every individual has the
absolute right to believe and worship as he or
she wishes, but that government must absolutely keep away from anything to
We keep faith separate because faith tends to separate. And the miracle
of this country is how so many
people from so many different places with so many different beliefs and
traditions and customs all become
Americans and make it possible for us all to come together in America.
That's vital to who we are as a people and what we are about as a
Which is why I find the early days of the Bush II administration so
a cause for concern. And why I
find it absolutely unbelievable that there are some Jews, indeed Jews who
themselves as the most fervent of us
all, not only accepting it, but cheering it on.
Let us begin with John, not the apostle, but the nominee for Attorney
General. In a speech that still sends a
chill up my spine, and not the good kind, he told an audience at the racist,
anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic Bob Jones
University that in this country, ``we have no king but Jesus."
I thought the whole point of this country is that we have no king.
That's kinda why we had that whole to-do
with Britain. But I thought, more importantly, that Jesus is something
private, not someone a public official, let alone
the nation's chief law enforcement officer, should be proclaiming king.
So to hear John Ashcroft say in this country there is ``no king but
Jesus," is to see a flashing neon sign that
this guy doesn't get it. And so shouldn't be it. Attorney general that is.
Those on the right who support him, however, say that my saying that is
very unfair. Why? Because there
were many like me who had no problem with, indeed took great pride in, Joe
Lieberman getting up there and talking
about his faith, saying prayers and invoking God.
Why, they ask, is okay for Joe to talk about God but not okay for John
to talk about Jesus?
After all, fair is fair. If Joe didn't scare us with his God talk, John
shouldn't scare us with his Jesus talk.
What they don't seem to understand is that there is a very big
difference between talking about God and
talking about Jesus. God is inclusive, Jesus is exclusionary.
In God we trust. One nation under God. God bless America.
Those words are something all Americans (okay, yes, except for
feel part of, take pride and
comfort and meaning in. Bring us together, define who we are.
In Jesus we trust, one nation under Jesus, Jesus bless America, is a
whole other thing. Those are words that
say to all those who do not worship Jesus, that you are on the outside
looking in, that you're not part of things, that
you are somehow lesser.
That is not something a high-ranking public official should do. That is
not something our government must
For once you start down that road, it becomes a very slippery slope.
When John Ashcroft says that in this
country our only king is Jesus, he must inevitably deep in his soul, see
as somehow defective. When George W.
Bush, our president, says that only those who accept Jesus have a place in
heaven, how can that not effect his view of
Jews, his attitude toward Israel. It'll happen in ways he'll never express
and that we'll never know. But that doesn't
make them any less real. And that, indeed, makes them all the more
Equally frightening to me are Jews who have run to Ashcroft's defense,
including the spokesman for a
prominent fervently Orthodox group. When asked to comment on Ashcroft's in
this country, ``we have no king but
Jesus," the spokesman said, ``when Ashcroft refers to Jesus, it's akin to a
Jew using the word God."
How very wrong. No, it is not. God, as this rabbi should well know, is
something we all share, that
embraces us all. Jesus does not. Would it be the same, dear rabbi, if at the
end of his oath, George W. Bush would
have said, ``So help me Jesus," instead of ``So help me God." They would not
have been akin. At least not to me.
This is not petty semantics. For the exclusionary effect of Jesus not
only runs counter to the very essence of
what this democracy is about, but it is the first step to coercion and
intrusion and judging others. Lieberman's talk
about God gave us all common ground, whatever our specific beliefs,
encouraged tolerance and respect for each
other, for we are all the children of God. Ashcroft's talk about king Jesus
does precisely the opposite, highlights our
differences, makes some of us orphans.
God has and should have an honored and central place in the life of
country. We are one country under
God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Jesus should have an
honored and central place in the hearts and
lives of any of our citizens who choose that. But there is no place for him
in the public square. We are not one
country under Jesus.
Which is why I am so fearful not only about Ashcroft but, more
importantly, about George W. Bush. My
fear is that his administration will engage in what, appropriately enough,
the Jesuits call ``holy effrontery."
It's a great term that I've just learned and that sadly way too many
Jews are guilty of. Holy effrontery is a
badge of honor, identifying those who, as Time magazine puts it, ``are so
convinced of the rightness of their cause
that they can't even conceive that they might be wrong.'' And because they
are so convinced, they feel they can use
any means to promote it.
I believe lots of the Bushies, starting with Dubya himself, are holy
effronters. Which means they know best
how people should live their lives, which means any means to make that
are not only acceptable but noble.
It's gonna be a long four years.
Made all the more long because of Jews, like that rabbi for whom the
Jesus talk is cool, who don't see how
this blurring of the line between church and state is dangerous to all
Americans and especially hazardous for Jewish
I must admit I am totally amazed that so many right-wing Jews support
Bush. To me, it is as inconceivable
for there to be such a thing as a Jewish Republican as it is for there to be
a Jew for Jesus.
You just can't be both. Being one makes being the other a contradiction
But while Jews for Jesus advocates are tiny in number, Jewish
Republicans, sad to report, are growing in
number, are happy that Dubya is president.
They are that because they think his conservative views match theirs in
his opposition to a woman's right to
choose, to gay rights and so forth. What they somehow don't see is that
that may true, their opposition and his
come from very different places. His comes from a place that, at its core,
also has no room for them, not in heaven,
or even in the Cabinet.
What they will learn over the next four years is what they should
already know now. Namely, that things
like public funding for religious groups and activities, at the heart of the
Bush agenda, is a threat to the separation of
church and state, which is a threat to us.
And that saying Jesus is not akin to saying God.
© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced
without written permission.