So Ralph Reed of the misnamed Faith and Freedom Coalition, took exception to my findings yesterday, that the Bible is irrelevant as a determinant of United States immigration policy reform. He thinks he’s pretty clever and like any good conservative these days, goes right to invoking MLK: “So MLK was wrong to invoke the BIble & nature’s God in campaigning for civil rights? Really?”
— Ralph Reed (@ralphreed) February 14, 2013
Here’s the thing about the Bible though. The Bible is composed of the Old and New Testaments. Neither of these books, the Christian New Testament nor the Jewish Bible, not “closed” their canon until roughly the same time – the early Christian centuries. Both books, which are really collections of individual books that were never written to belong to a collection, are the products of their times. These times date from the Bronze Age, inspired by Pagan texts from Ugarit and from other, older Babylonian and Sumerian stories, all the way to several centuries after the execution of Jesus of Nazareth.
None of them were written during or after the European Enlightenment. None of them were written after the writing of the United States Constitution. None of them were written by authors entertaining the idea of a secular state, let alone a modern liberal democracy like the United States. You might see the problem.
These books inform Jewish and Christian religion. They do not inform anyone else’s religion and contrary to the Religious Right’s claims, morality has existed and will continue to exist outside of either Jewish or Christian praxis. These books are not political treatises, and to the extent they talk about politics they talk about the politics of their time, when kings were ordained by God and priests ruled in God’s name. Democracy did not exist in the Old Testament. Israel was not ruled in a democratic fashion until its modern incarnation came about after the Second World War. Again, you might see the problem.
But Ralph Reed does not.
Quite a few people have invoked the Bible in the past 1500 years, since its canon was closed in the fifth century CE. They have invoked it for a variety of reasons and in the name of a number of causes, including the perpetuation of and justification of slavery. Including combating the Civil Rights movement, and including combating the granting of the voting franchise to women. The Bible is quite often used today to combat the granting of equal rights to the LGBT community and it is still used to keep women “in their place.” It is even used to combat our first black president, who, apparently, because he happens to be black, cannot possibly be a Christian.
Ralph Reed doesn’t mind invoking MLK but Ralph Reed has also failed to speak out against the suppression of black voters. Ralph Reed represents a political party of white folks, white Evangelicals to be exact, and mostly older ones at that. Cranky old white guys who resent the loss of white Christian privilege. These are the same folks who, in their time, treated even freed blacks like slaves and would like to continue to do so today.
You might see the problem with Reed’s use of MLK’s memory and the cause for which he died – at the hands of an angry, white, Christian male, no less.
Ralph Reed does not see the problem. Morality is a very flexible thing to members of the Religious Right, which is one of the things so terribly wrong with the right. We already know it’s perfectly permissible to lie in the name of the Capital-T Truth, as they think of it (namely that only their God exists and that they’re right and we’re all wrong – and damned for being so). The old cry of the Egyptian monk Shenoute reverberates today: there is no crime for those who have Christ.
And they literally believe this to be true. Just like you could once go on a crusade and murder Jews and Muslims and even other Christians just because their mode of worship was different from yours, and receive a free ticket to heaven, so to can you stomp on the rights of Muslims today, or Pagans, or gays, or lesbians, or blacks, or Mexicans, or pretty much everyone else who fails to qualify for the white franchise (and that’s most of us). As Rick Santorum pointed out, even mainline Protestants don’t really count as Christians anymore, which sort of renders them not really American and not really white.
And here’s the thing about Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK was invoking the Bible in championing rights, not only for blacks, but for the downtrodden everywhere, of every race. He wasn’t using the Bible to put people down or to deprive them of rights. The right wing’s invoking of MLK today is repulsive, because the right wing stands against everything MLK stood for. I would suggest that Ralph Reed should be ashamed of himself, but really, that would be to expect too much of Ralph Reed, namely that he was not snake oil salesman preying on the fears and bigotry of his flock. We can’t expect actual morals out of such a man and we certainly cannot expect any better out of him.
Reed can try to wriggle out of the main objections to his use of the Bible as a guide to American immigration reform, but facts ignored are not facts made irrelevant. In the end, no matter what the Ralph Reeds and David Bartons of the world say, the Bible is not the law of the land. It did not inspire the United States Constitution, which fails to acknowledge the Bible’s very existence. We live in a land where, blessedly, if I may use that adverb, all religions are equal before the law, in direct contradiction of Christian doctrine, and in a land where the state is forbidden to establish any state religion, including Ralph Reed’s, which has done so much harm throughout its two millennia of history.