The Texas Disease

The Texas Disease

Alas, to paraphrase Marcellus in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” “something is rotten in the state of Texas,” and we Jews need to be very wary of it. Very wary.

Horatio, seeking to provide some comfort, suggests to Marcellus that “heaven will direct it.” But there is no succor here for us and we are the suckers if we fail to grasp that fact. In Texas, “heaven” is part of the problem. To many Texans, including many high up in the state’s governing pecking order, heaven is an exclusively Christian domain and, by heaven’s direction, so too should the United States be.

Keeping the faith: One religious perspectIve on issues of the day Many of you may have heard of Gov. Rick Perry’s outrageous proposal. He has invited the governors of the other 49 states to come together at Reliant Stadium in Houston on Aug. 6 to pray to Jesus to save America. Writing on a radical Christian website, the governor of all Texans who would be president of all Americans, makes no bones about the fact that this is a flat-out Christian prayer meeting.

“Right now, America is in crisis,” he wrote. “We have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us to unprecedented struggles, and thank him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy…. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.”

Rick Perry, however, is not the “something rotten” in Texas. He is but a symptom of the problem. Another such symptom is making a mockery of the state’s education system.

Not too long ago, the state’s mandated history curriculum required teaching “the impact of Enlightenment ideas from John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson on political revolutions from 1750 to the present.”

Last year, by a vote of 10-5, the Texas Board of Education changed that standard. Students now were mandated to study “the impact of the writings of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and Sir William Blackstone.”

Look closely at what is there and what is not. First, gone is any reference to “political revolutions from 1750 to the present,” which is supposed to be the point of studying these philosophers and political thinkers. Second, and more telling, Jefferson is gone. Objections were raised about including him because – seriously, you cannot make up stuff like this (or maybe you can; see below) – he introduced the phrase “separation of church and state” into American political discourse. To further emphasize that grievous act on the part of one of our most hallowed founding fathers, in Jefferson’s place on the list were added two religious figures – Thomas Aquinas and the reformist John Calvin.

The new standards also mandate that, in discussing political ideas and philosophies, reference must be made to “laws of nature and nature’s God” – God, I assume, as approved by the Texas Board of Education.

Perry and the Board of Education are both symptoms of a disease that engulfs the entire state. There is a sense in Texas that it alone knows the truth about America and such truth, enlightened Texans hope, shall set them and us free: that America was, is, and forever will be a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles, and only true believers have the right to power and freedom in this country.

So what, you say? Why should what goes on in Texas bother us in northern New Jersey?

If it stayed in Texas, it would still be a problem for us Jews because, as we have noted on many occasions (including in my most recent column), “all Israel is responsible one for the other,” and if such thinking endangers Jews living in Texas, that is our concern.

It surprises me, by the way, how so many Tea Party-loving Jews in our area are so unconcerned with the Tea Party’s campaign against the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, because not only is he not a “true Christian conservative,” he secretly is a “best friend of socialists.”

True it is that the Speaker can never be a “true Christian conservative,” but that is only because he is a true Jewish conservative. It also is true that the Speaker, Joe Straus, is a “best friend to socialists” because socialists, in right-wing speak, is a code-word for “Jews.”

That is yet another symptom, but one with national tentacles. Even more national in scope is the work of one David Barton. Most people have never heard of David Barton, but he has the ear of very powerful figures within the Republican hierarchy and is even an adviser to several would-be Republican presidential nominees, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann.

According to a recent New York Times article by Erik Eckholm, Barton’s raison d’etre “is to use America’s past to remake its future.”

People listen to Barton, who makes more than 40 speeches a year, Eckholm reports.

What does not matter a whit to any of them, it seems, is that Barton relies on what some have called “phony history” (Church & State Magazine, July-August 1996). It also does not matter that he himself admits to using made-up quotes to back up his claims that “the founding fathers were evangelical Christians” and that “church-state separation is a liberal myth.” For example, he often cites a text from James Madison in which Madison “said” that the plan all along was for America is to be governed “according to the Ten Commandments of God.” Barton admits that Madison never said that, but the quote is still a popular one in conservative political circles.

Various groups are destroying what should be a mighty Christian nation, Barton proclaims. Among the evildoers is the Supreme Court. How could that be, given the court’s heavily conservative tilt? Perhaps it is the court’s current makeup that is the problem. The court is composed of six Catholics and three Jews. Not a “true Christian” among them.

Not all people in Texas buy Barton’s bunkum. At Waco’s Baptist Baylor University, the director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, Dr. Derek H. Davis (he is also the editor of The Journal of Church and State), refers to Barton’s history as “distortions, half-truths, and twisted history.”

To former Gov. Mike Huckabee, however, Barton is “maybe the greatest living historian on the spiritual nature of America’s early days,” according to Eckholm’s article.

Be afraid, be very afraid, of the Texas Disease.

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