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January 23, 2009

Obama's Missing Bible

Anyone who watched Barack Obama's swearing-in on Tuesday noticed that Chief Justice John Roberts fumbled the oath. Which led the White House, out of an "abundance of caution," to summon Roberts to the White House Wednesday night for a second try.

Much was made over the fact that Obama didn't use a Bible (or any book, it appears) on round two, unlike his use of Lincoln's Bible on round one. As WaPo reports, it's not the first time a do-over has taken place, and it's also not the first time a Bible wasn't used. The highlights:

-- Theodore Roosevelt didn't use one in 1901

-- Calvin Coolidge didn't use one in 1923

-- Lyndon Johnson used a Catholic missal on that dark day in 1963 when an aide found it next to JFK's bed onboard Air Force One.

(Originally published at Religion News Blog.)


It's odd to me that no one is asking *why* anyone swears on a Bible. The Explainer at Slate covered the history of the usage of Bibles at swearings-in extensively, and there's been no shortage of like coverage in the press (see GetReligion). I remember that when Keith Ellison was sworn in on a Quran in 2007 there was much ado among the Christian right wing, but no one asked then why one should add weight to their oath with a symbolic gesture towards scripture, either. Is this Biblical? I read from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (ESV)

Does anyone know if this has ever been anything but a display of civil religion theatrics, in opposition to the commands of Christ?

Or, in another context, why did we swear on a Bible in the witness stand for so long?

Almost all women have a choice The choice is to not have unprotected sex outside of marriage

Um, hey, Alice, I'm not disagreeing with you, but what does this have to do with swearing in on Bibles??

Alice, What about unprotected sex within marriage?? You're making quite an assumption about the type of woman who seeks an abortion.

Heather, do you suppose a statistical significant percentage of abortions derive from married, unprotected sex? Alice may be making an assumption but not "quite" an assumption. Let's assume her assumption is generally false... does the husband (father of the unborn child) have any right to decide the pregnancy's outcome? How would you characterize the typical woman that seeks an abortion?

Sorry Tyler/Michael for sabatoging the topic. I couldn't help responding. The topic at hand is thought-provoking. I've never considered it even though I've read the passage you quoted more than once. I think you bring up an interesting perspective and in a way that moves me from a static, "right wing" position to one much less certain. Perhaps this time I will study the subject instead of just read it... Thanks!

on the subject of swearing in. if you claim to lead the greatest country founded by our for-fathers by their Creator, then i guess you should enlist His help.

on the subject of abortion, statistics say that most women seeking abortions in america today are of middle class and purely for convenience sake. Much to Margaret Sanger's (founder of Planned Parenthood) chagrin, she would have loved for her original plan to wipe out the un-sitely mud races, like our most recently elected President Barack Obama, to have been wiped out! Google her name read her story, become informed, learn the truth and change the world! Then call Barack. I did.

Tyler, with all due respect, I have to ask you how many times you yourself have read the sermon on the mount? since it was intended to show the people that to follow the letter of the law wasn't good enough, a person by Christ's teaching here is expected to go beyond the law of the day and follow the spirit of laws, (ie) the law do not kill By his standards encompasses not letting hate take root in our hearts or harboring a grudge against someone else which to
god is just as spiritually harmful as murdering someone, or the law do not commit adultery by his standards grows to encompass among other things, do not look at someone with lustful thoughts if you or they are promised to or married to another, which come into play long before the actual adultery. To God the condition of man's heart is the real reason for the giving of the law. The verses you quote by his standards would therefore grow to encompass not having to swear by anything that you are telling the truth just tell it! In other words we shouldn't have to try to convince others that we are speaking in honesty and truth.... our lifelong walk should tell them that on it's own.