It is a topic as old as civilization itself. The civic and the religious have been intertwined to varying degrees from the time of the city-states of the ancient Near East to the political landscape of the day. Here in the United States, we are particularly obsessive about either keeping God out or keeping God in government. For me peherersonally, I am of two minds regarding the subject. On the one hand, it is an important subject that I am deeply interested in, given my academic connection to the field of Religion and specifically, the Bible. On the other hand, the topic is so overplayed in the media with seemingly no progress made in the conversation on the subject, that a large part of me is just sick of hearing about it. Of course, with an election year looming over us Americans next year, I am sure the number of exchanges on the subject will increase.
So why do I bring this up now? If you have been following my blog, you have likely noticed that I do not discuss the political aspect of religion too often. I did post a quick note regarding the creationism debate from a year or so ago, noting how neither the founder of Answers in Genesis or Bill Nye are Biblical scholars, yet they insist on making a very public spectacle of the subject.
Indeed, nearly every time I hear of the Bible’s use within the public forum, I immediately want to take to Word and respond with a blog post; not out of some sense of pompousness, but because it is a subject of which I feel very deeply and have dedicated a significant portion of my adult life to in study.
We can all, hopefully, agree that the subject of religion and politics/government is very broad with more facets than is humanly possible to cover in even a full series of blog posts. However, one in particular remains my go-to: The use of the Old Testament, particularly the legal material, by Christians.
Honestly, I find it difficult to determine whether the use of the Old Testament by a Christian political figure is either laughable at its absurdity and complete lack of cohesion and understanding, or absolutely disgusting in its perversion of the text and groan inducing embarrassment at the lack of original thought and low-level comprehension of religion, history, and ancient languages.
Allow me extinguish at least one small political fire here. Reading my comments thus far would lead, I would think, the average person to assume that I am about to launch into a tirade against conservatives. Let me be clear: Politically speaking, Conservatives and Liberals both demonstrate plenty of ignorance on the Bible. Comments on the Bible from Mike Huckabee are just as asinine as comments from Bill Maher. Even on a personal level, I have engaged in conversation with people on all sides of the political spectrum that has caused me to exercise patience. Generally, fundamentalists and atheists (in my experience at least) approach the text in the same narrow, strict reading sense. The only difference is that the fundamentalist accepts the text outright, and the atheist rejects it outright, both with little to no understanding of historical context or development.
But yes, once again a politician has decided to use the Bible as the basis for his political agenda and world view. Is this problematic just as a prima facie case? No. Every human being has influences that guide his or her opinions and it just so happens that religious convictions fall into that category.
The most recent voice in this debate was that of former Governor Mike Huckabee. The article to which I am referring can be found here.
The article itself and the overall issue is one that honestly feels exhausting just thinking about all the issues and problems. I would like to (and may still) write a multi-part series on my position of gay marriage, focusing primarily on the theological side. For my purposes here, let me point out a few problems with Huckabee’s position.
First another quick note. One aspect of this debate that I will avoid completely is who is a Christian and who is not. Honestly, the debate is absurd. There is not and never has been through history, a settled list of criteria for what constitutes a Christian. Conservative, liberal, progressive, evangelical, etc…whatever label one wishes to ascribe to a person who claims to be a Christian is irrelevant, as anyone can claim to be a Christian. The more proper argument is “This person does X, Y, and Z, and that does not conform to my view of Christianity. Therefore, that person is not of my Christianity.”
Getting back to the topic at hand, here is the fundamental problem with Huckabee and others: He equates the protection of one group, activity, etc. as an attack on his own beliefs. Never mind his horrendous and narrow view of the Bible, his overall inconsistency and the fact that he misses it, completely baffles me. If he wants to associate a “gay lifestyle” with smoking and drinking, thus from his perspective being gay is a sin, then why does he not argue for bans on alcohol and smoking? If every state recognizes gay marriage, how does that infringe on his personal beliefs?
Huckabee also uses a method that is one of the worst appropriated by Christians (and mentioned before on this blog). Any time a Christian wants to back up his or her argument with something that he or she deems credible and authoritative, they seek out a provision from the biblical legal material. I find it both sad and infuriating that many Christians are quick to say that they are exempt from the commandments of Torah because Jesus “freed them from the law” or “fulfilled the Law,” but perfectly willing to cite from the Holiness code to ban or condemn some action. One final point: I will not point out the glaring problems with his analogy regarding the bacon-wrapped shrimp for Jewish deli owners or Muslims owning dogs, as plenty of other articles and commentators have done so.
Finally, one last word from the article. Huckabee stated, and I have heard this from others, that unless he gets a new version of scripture, he will not evolve on the matter. This is just poor theology. First, he must construct his own interpretation of Scripture for his position on gay marriage because there is nothing explicit throughout the Bible regarding the subject. Secondly, and again this is my opinion, one’s interpretation and view of Scripture should be an evolving thing, because we as human beings evolve intellectually, emotionally, and God willing, spiritually. Finally, to fit in my one snarky comment, perhaps the former Governor should become more familiar with the historical development, interpretation, and language of his current scriptures before declaring he would need a new version to change his mind.
I will end my discussion here. I hope that my position has been clear. As I mentioned at the beginning, writing on such a subject is difficult because of the complexities and magnitude of the subject. It is akin to digging for buried treasure, but without a map. Where does one even start?
As always, I welcome comments and feedback, either in the section below or directly through e-mail. Thank you again for reading. Let me leave off with a quote from the Jewish philosopher Maimonides:
“An ignorant man believes that the whole universe only exists for him: as if nothing else required any consideration. If, therefore, anything happens to him contrary to his expectation, he at once concludes that the whole universe is evil. If, however, he would take into consideration the whole universe, form an idea of it, and comprehend what a small portion he is of the Universe, he will find the truth. There are many… passages in the books of the prophets expressing the same idea.”