Dashiki Dialogues: What is the Bible doing at the inauguration?

2014-06-02 14:00

Why do we require our presidents and MPs to swear on the Bible when we inaugurate them into office? In fact, come to think of it, the holy book is used to validate oaths in our courts too.

Now I know this might be a touchy subject since most of us are Christian. But to think clearly here, we need to leave personal attachments out. Believe me, it works.

The idea is that we are a constitutional democracy, not a Christian one. For that matter, we are not even a Hindu, Buddhist or an Islamic state. This is to say, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the supreme law of our land, not the religious scripture of the majority.

You see, I watched the official rituals of President Jacob Zuma’s inauguration with whetted curiosity last weekend. After helping Zuma recite his oath of office, Constitutional Court Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng asked him to sign his certificate of office with his right hand on the Bible.

This happened just moments after we had a series of interfaith prayers offered by leaders of different religions. The Hindu priest, a Muslim maulana, a military chaplain and a Christian pastor had offered their prayers to validate the ceremony.

I found these details of the proceedings interesting for a number of reasons.

The main one is that the Bible is contradictory to the spirit of the Constitution. Equality is not biblical, one pastor likes to say.

For instance the holy book says in Ephesians 6:5: “Slaves, be obedient to your earthly masters, with respect and eager anxiety to please and with simplicity of motive as if you were obeying Christ.” Further, Leviticus 20:13 says: “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death...”

Now contrast these two teachings with section 9(3) of our Constitution, which states the following: “The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, religion...”

My simple reading finds a fundamental contradiction of purpose between scripture and the Constitution. Hence I’m confused when public servants validate their oaths by invoking a book that contradicts the law they promise to defend and live by.

It’s like wearing a pigskin dashiki to a dialogue with Allah.

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