[Continuing our series on deception in politics and public policy.]
“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” That’s from Shakespeare, not, as some people think, the Bible. The underlying idea is certainly true. Even the most evil ideas are justified with Biblical citations. Henry Brinton, a pastor in Fairfax, Virginia, noted that supporters of American slavery found verses that, they claimed, supported their position.
They asked who could question the Word of God when it said, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5), or “tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect” (Titus 2:9).
Abolitionists grounded their arguments in the Bible, too. The concept of “separation of church and state” (which is quite different from the concept of religious liberty) was first invoked to get preachers to shut up their complaining about slavery.
During the Jim Crow era, segregationists pointed to the Curse of Ham as justification for keeping the so-called “races” separate. At the same time, the Good Guys, including key leaders of the civil rights movement, found support in the Bible for their cause. (Of course, that includes the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom we honored yesterday.)
Recently, Labor secretary Thomas Perez, speaking at an AFL-CIO summit, invoked the Bible to support so-called minimum wage laws, which prohibit unskilled workers from getting jobs. Perez, who wants to make the laws even more harsh, said, “This is really about biblical teachings. This is about what is taught in the Koran and what is in the Torah and what we learn about making sure we ‘do unto others.’”
President Obama recently cited the Bible in support of amnesty for illegal aliens. “The Good Book says, don’t throw stones in glass houses,” he said, “or, make sure we’re looking at the log in our eye before we are pointing out the mote in other folks’ eyes.” OK, that part about glass houses isn’t in the Bible (most cite Chaucer as the source), but at least that part about logs and motes does refer, more or less, to the Sermon on the Mount. He also likened the illegals to Mary and Joseph, who were never illegals, and he suggested that they were turned away at the inn because they were “of modest means” (rather than the actual Biblical story, that the inn was full; some scholars say that the “inn” was probably a guest room in the family home of relatives, that it was occupied by elders who had arrived earlier, and that the manger/stable area in which they stayed was in the same house, in a lower-floor area in which animals were kept).
The President’s argument on illegal aliens and the Bible—which seems to be “Don’t be judgmental”—is confusing because, of course, opponents of amnesty for illegal aliens aren’t being judgmental. (Rather, they believe correctly that a country cannot survive if it has both open borders and a strong welfare system.)
As for his confused references to the Bible—well, no one has ever credibly accused the President of being a scholar, Biblical or otherwise. Indeed, he appears to lack even the most basic knowledge of the Bible, the kind of knowledge that any educated person in our society, regardless of their religious views, should have.
…which raises an interesting question: Is the President a Christian?
One of the signs of decline in journalistic professionalism is when journalists’ assumptions are presented as fact. In this 2012 story from the Gallup organization (http://www.gallup.com/poll/155315/many-americans-cant-name-obamas-religion.aspx), the only answer accepted as correct was that the President is a Christian. Now, that’s true by one standard—that anyone who calls himself a Christian is a Christian—but, over my years as a journalist, I have known lots of pols who lie about their religion… too many for me to accept anyone’s word on the matter.
In the President’s case, he was the son and stepson of Muslims, although his father was probably Marxist/atheist in his theological views. According to the New York Times, young Barack received a good deal of Muslim religious training. [In the eyes of some Muslims, his background makes him a Muslim whether he wants to be one or not.] His mother and her parents were apparently a mix of Marxist/atheist and Unitarian. He went years without religious affiliation, although he suggests in his autobiographical novel Dreams From My Father that he attended some services at Abyssinian Baptist Church, famed for its support of Fidel Castro. Then, when he got to Chicago, he joined a church that is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, but which practiced a brand of theology that grew out of radical-left Catholicism and the teachings of James Hal Cone (African Methodist Episcopalianism mixed with the perception of the U.S. as a racist Antichrist). Then, when people learned of his church’s views on the U.S. (that America is “Ameri-KKK,” as Obama’s pastor declared) and his church’s views on AIDS (that it was created by the U.S. government to kill African-Americans), he quit that church, and said he would join another, but he has not done so.
Subsequently, when he was asked about his faith and tried to explain his turn to Christianity, his comments made no sense.
(1) He said he was attracted to Christianity because of the Golden Rule—which is, in fact, common to many religions, and which, in any event, he misstated as “Do unto others as they do unto you.” [For a laugh, Google “as they do unto you” + “Anton LaVey” to see who else phrases it that way.]
(2) He said he was attracted to Christianity because of the story of Cain and Abel—which is, in fact, common to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
(3) He said that he became a Christian because of the supposedly-but-not-really Christian concept of “being your brother’s keeper and your sister’s keeper.” Indeed, he campaigned across the country giving speeches in which he declared that he wanted to be people’s “keeper.” The problem is that the term “keeper” in the Bible means boss, owner, overseer, or master—not caregiver, as he seemed to suggest—which makes his desire to be people’s keeper a little disturbing. (In the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, Cain notes sarcastically that he is not his brother’s keeper, shmr in Hebrew, which, in context, means shepherd; Abel was the keeper/shepherd of his flock.)
I know, I know, the business about “keeper” is a common misunderstanding, but, months after his initial comments on this score, the President continued to repeat his claim of wanting to be our keeper. Doesn’t anyone around him correct him when he gets the Bible wrong? Or was he being honest, admitting that he wants to be the nation’s boss?
Don’t get me wrong. If the President didn’t make a big point of his religion, and if his supporters didn’t stigmatize (and attack as “racists”) those who are reasonably skeptical about his sincerity on religion, I wouldn’t care what religious beliefs the President professes or holds.
My lack of concern about a politician’s religious views stems in part from the fact that, in matters political, I care about public policy views and ideological principles rather than theological beliefs. It stems in part from the fact that, as I mentioned above, I’ve known too many politicians who lie about religion. What’s the line about the gods spoken by a Roman politician in Dalton Trumbo’s Spartacus? “Privately, I believe in none of them. . . . Publicly, I believe in them all.” And there’s the remark attributed to Henry IV of France, who renounced Protestantism and supposedly declared that “Paris is worth a mass.”
This isn’t a conservative-vs.-liberal thing, either: It was my liberal friends who argued to me in 2008 that then-Senator Obama shouldn’t be held responsible for the anti-American views of his church, on the ground that Obama was really an agnostic who didn’t believe any of that stuff anyway.
(It’s like his views on same-sex marriage. My left-wing friends consider anyone a bigot who opposes same-sex marriage, and, a while back, a Washington Post writer suggested that having no SSM opponents among Post writers was not a problem because, after all, no one would expect the Post to hire a bigot. A terrorist attack at the Washington headquarters of the Family Research Council, a leading anti-SSM group, was downplayed in the media as not really terrorism; the IRS leak of confidential information on SSM opponents was likewise downplayed, as was the effort by politicians to keep Chick-fil-A restaurants out of places like Washington and Chicago because a top company executive expressed anti-SSM views. Who cares about bad things happening to bigots, right? Yet the President, the Vice President, and Hillary Clinton all opposed SSM until midway through the 2012 campaign. That’s OK, my left-wing friends say, because, they say, everybody knew the President and his allies were lying, and all’s fair when it comes to putting one over on the rubes.)
If I were a reporter writing about the President, I would say, regarding his religion, that he “is a former member of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and, since becoming president, has attended Christian churches in the Washington area.” Similarly, if I had been covering Mitt Romney in 2012, I would have written something like “Romney is a bishop [or whatever his current status is] in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (known as the Mormons).” As a reporter, I would never take a position on the personal beliefs of either man.
I, of course, cannot read the President’s mind, and have no idea what he really thinks, so I would have answered “I don’t know” to the Gallup question. I suppose that the MSNBC crowd would make fun of me for that, because they know, they reallyreallyreally know, that he’s a 100% true-believing Christian, and anybody who has the slightest doubt about that is a Tea Party-backing Palin-loving bumpkin. Then, when the cameras are turned off, they would talk among themselves about how Obama is too smart to believe in religion so he must say he’s a Christian to get the support of those idiot theists out there in Flyover America.
’Cause lying’s OK, as long as it’s for The Cause.