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Jewish World Review August 31, 2000 /30 Menachem-Av, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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Joe Lieberman's G-d problem -- UH OH. Joe Lieberman is in trouble with the Anti-Defamation League. No, they haven't discovered that he's an anti-Semite despite his clever disguise. On the contrary, it's because he's too Jewish. He keeps talking about G-d. It's a habit that, at least since the Prophets, has been annoying people who'd just as soon leave Him out of politics, thank you.

The Jewish organization doesn't like Senator Lieberman's saying things like this: "Our nation is chosen by G-d and commissioned by history to be a model to the world of justice and inclusion and diversity without division.''

Oops, my mistake. That wasn't Joe Lieberman, but George W. Bush. Sometimes it's hard to tell their sermons apart.

What Joe Lieberman said that roused the ADL's ire was: "As a people, we need to reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to G-d and G-d's purposes.'' As if that weren't bad enough, he also asserted that there is "a place for faith in America's public life.''

Hey, what a country. Statements that might once have passed as platitudes now draw criticism. The ADL contends that such language "risks alienating the American people.''

You might not have noticed Americans' alienation from such talk amid all the applause Senator Lieberman's repeated professions of faith have drawn --- from Jew and gentile, black and white, Democrat and Republican. It's enough to make one wonder if anybody is alienated besides the ADL.

These bipartisan expressions of faith in a living G-d would seem a lot more unifying than the divisive debate over the Religious Right that marked the last couple of presidential campaigns. You don't hear as much about the dreaded Religious Right now that a Democratic candidate is talking up faith.

If the ADL really believes Joe Lieberman's invocations are alienating, and that "there is a point at which an emphasis on religion in a political campaign becomes inappropriate and even unsettling in a religiously diverse society such as ours,'' imagine what it would think of this blatant piece of political rhetoric:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.''

Wow. Talk about a bald-faced invocation of the Deity, a succinct theory of natural law, and what comes perilously close to a pro-life proclamation all rolled into one inflammatory statement. ... Yes, the Declaration of Independence is hard to beat. You might even call it revolutionary.

Its author, a Mr. Jefferson, was bad about that kind of thing. Arguing against slavery, he once asked: "And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of G-d? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that G-d is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever. ...''

Abe Lincoln was particularly fond of quoting that passage, often in the course of committing some further reference to the Almighty in the course of a political campaign. See the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

I note all this not only with the greatest respect for any of my countrymen who may not share such a belief, but with a conscious dedication to protecting their G-d-given right not to believe. Nevertheless, the historical record shouldn't be expurgated to remove all traces of G-d from American political philosophy. It would be like slipping the foundation out from under a great edifice.

A kind of spiritual amnesia has overtaken Americans if we really believe, to quote the ADL's letter of caution to Joe Lieberman, that "appealing along religious lines, or belief in G-d, is contrary to the American ideal.''

Contrary to the American ideal? What a strange, bowdlerized view of American history. From the Declaration of Independence to Lincoln's Second Inaugural, from Washington and Jefferson in their time to George W. Bush and Joe Lieberman this year, appealing to a belief in G-d would seem closer to being the American ideal.

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©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate