So Help Me, Who?

When Sonia Sotomayor was sworn in as a Justice on the US Supreme Court, she uncritically took part in the same ritual all top government officials undergo. With her left hand on the Bible, the Puerto Rican American promised to "administer justice without respect to persons and do equal right to the poor and to the help me God."

I applaud Barack Obama’s nomination and the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court justice. We could use a few more wise Latinas in government. She is well qualified, bright, and far more street smart than the other Justices.

That’s not what troubles me.

Sotomayor’s oath of office ceremony reminds us again how deeply ingrained religion is in culture and how wrong that is. Seems ironic, doesn’t it, given that the Justices are supposed to avoid being swayed in their adjudicating and writing from subjective influences like ethnicity. Isn’t religion a huge part of ethnicity?

Obvious problems like the phrase “In God we Trust” on our money, “...under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and religious holidays engrave religion deep into the consciousness of Americans even before they can think for themselves.

The more subtle forms of religion’s presence in daily life are troubling too. And not just in the United States.

How many Mexican boys carry the name “Jesus?” Isn’t every other Mexican girl named Maria? (Maria, Mary, Marie and other derivates penetrate all Western cultures and languages). The majority of traditional American (and other Western) names come from the Bible, including my own. I’m named after Jesus’ brother! We live in cities that are named after saints (San Francisco, San Jose, São Paulo, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Saint Paul, St. Louis, etc.) and among the angels (Los Angeles) and the devil (Mount Diablo, Devil’s Slide, etc.). Torah/Old Testament names flood Jewish culture and reinforce its misplaced self-righteousness. Some Muslims carry the name of the “Prophet” twice, as in Muhammad Muhammad, and many Muslim girls are named after one of the Prophet’s eleven wives (especially Khadijah and Aisha).

If this kind of stuff bothers you—especially religion’s influence on government—you may want to join the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Check out the website of this excellent organization:

© James Lull