The Hypocrisy of Religious-Based Attacks on Obama

The absurdity of seeing President Obama accused of having “perverted the word of God”, while perhaps a valid charge before the European Enlightenment broke the power of religious tyranny in the West, is meaningless in terms of the holder of the highest office in the land. This is the 21st century, after all, not the 16th. Those days are, or should be, well behind us. The Founding Fathers thought they were burying that nonsense in 1787. Napoleon thought he flushed the Middle Ages down the toilet at the turn of that century. Have we been fooling ourselves for two hundred years?

Another charge made against Obama, because it comes from the Christian Right in America is – besides being irrelevant – laughable. That is that President Obama is guilty of abusing scripture. The practice of Cherry Picking passages to make the Bible say what you want it to say is nothing new; these people specialize in misquoting scripture and have plenty of practice – some 2000 years. This is the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.  I discussed Rick Santorum’s tortured interpretation of Christian marriage yesterday; that, sadly, is but the tip of the iceberg.

It’s not that they’re the only ones. It happens all the time and in all walks of life. As John Black wrote on CNN’s BeliefBlog in a piece entitled “Actually, that’s not in the Bible”,

The Bible may be the most revered book in America, but it’s also one of the most misquoted. Politicians, motivational speakers, coaches – all types of people  – quote passages that actually have no place in the Bible, religious scholars say.

It’s a shame he didn’t add “preachers” because we’ve seen that they’re among the biggest offenders. But this is CNN, remember, and the mainstream media treats our would-be theocrats with kid gloves.

Dr. Michael Youssef, who once compared Newt Gingrich to King David, and says America is going the way of Sodom and Gomorrah (last year he also called on people to leave the Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches  “to deliver these institutions to Satan by walking out as fast as they can”),  is one of those fundamentalists who wants to pretend that Jesus had no social agenda, that he did not care about the plight of Israel’s poor, despite being one of them himself, having grown up in hardscrabble Galilee. So this is what he accuses our president of:

The president quoted the Bible to justify punishing those who have worked hard, and most of whom are very generous givers, in order to take their money and give it to many of his constituencies who are always standing outside the doors of the White House with out-stretched hands.

His claim is that President Obama took Luke 12:48 out of context when he said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Youssef is outraged, telling us, “No, you do not have to have a seminary degree to know that Jesus is talking about individual stewardship in an individual’s relationship with God… In Luke 12:48, Jesus, God the Son, is exhorting individuals to be faithful and give generously without regret.”

But what has Youssef himself done? In his call to abandon the Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches, he cited 1 Corinthians 5:4-5, where Paul addresses his Corinthian church – this is a very specific address, not meant to include any other of his churches – “for a man living with his father’s wife.” Paul calls upon the congregation to “hand this man over to Satan” for destruction of the flesh. You don’t need, to use Youssef’s words, a seminary degree, to know that Paul is only talking about one specific man in one specific congregation.

How has he done anything he is not accusing President Obama of doing?

What is more ironic is that according Geza Vermes, who has been called the greatest Jesus scholar of his time, says of this parable, “which is without narrative setting or application” and “confused in its formulation”, that the “repeated drunkenness in the churches of St. Paul may highlight the social background of this parable (1 Cor. 5:11; 11:20-21; 1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Tit. 1:7).”

Moreover, Vermes suggests that the “supplement amended to this parable by the editor of Luke about severe and light punishment represents further speculation on the theme within the church. “ In other words, Jesus is not talking, as Youssef claims, about “individual stewardship in an individual’s relationship with God” at all, but about (again) Paul’s congregation issues, a very specific context both temporally and spatially!

So here is Youssef, misapplying it while accusing President Obama of misapplying it. If what Paul said to a specific group of Greeks in Corinth 2000 years ago can be applied to people who are Episcopalians and Presbyterians today then why can’t words Jesus allegedly said to a group of Jews in Palestine 2000 years ago be find application today? Where, exactly, is the problem? The entire fundamentalist “movement” revolves around taking things YHWH said to Israel 3,000 years ago and applying them to America and you can’t get much more out of context than that.

It’s easy to see why  Youssef (and others like him, including Santorum) do these things. CNN’s Blake writes that as a Bible professor says, “people prefer knowing biblical passages that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs.”

“Most people who profess a deep love of the Bible have never actually read the book,” says Rabbi Rami Shapiro.

Surely that deserves an “Amen!”

“They have memorized parts of texts that they can string together to prove the biblical basis for whatever it is they believe in,” he says, “but they ignore the vast majority of the text.”

Youssef, of course, doesn’t want us to look the way of fundamentalist preachers. The fault is all that of politicians:

Misquoting the Scripture is a common practice by some politicians to advance their cause, but this abuse of the Scripture and viewing one’s administration as the judge and executioner — not for crimes, but for personal stewardship — has reached a new low in egotism.

Mr. Obama needs to issue an immediate and urgent apology for his misuse and mangling of the Scripture.

After you, Dr. Youssef.

So when Youssef claims that “Many of us who are biblical scholars have watched Mr. Obama’s use, or should I say abuse, of the Bible with dismay,” we should say the same, and fundamentalists, claiming as they do to treat the Bible as the inerrant word of God, have much less right to make a mistake and no excuse at all to lie in the name of truth.

Update: A petition has been created for CNN to fire Erick Erickson that you can sign here.

11 Replies to “The Hypocrisy of Religious-Based Attacks on Obama”

  1. I can honestly say that I am so sick of religion in our politics and in the way people abuse it that I could just throw up. From someone watching from the sidelines religion no longer has anything to do with the salvation of souls but is being used to denigrate others beliefs or opinions. Of course this will never happen because so many people need the crutch but I wish religion would be banned from ever being mentioned in a political context. In my opinion it’s insane enough that people believe in it let alone quote it. Gingrich, Romney and Santorum all sound like six-year-old kids whining that Obama is picking on me. And there isn’t enough religion between the three of them to spit on

    Any religion that provides you with a hell for not bowing down isn’t much of a religion.

  2. President Obama could recite The Lord’s Prayer and religious nutjobs would accuse him of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Yes, they’ve actually gone that far off the rails.

    I recall reading somewhere that when a belief system is in danger of collapsing, it becomes increasingly more erratic and unstable, much like the wobbling of a spinning top losing momentum. As the system’s “wobble” increases, believers’ corrective measures grow more extreme and begin to deviate widely from traditional norms (which are perceived as inadequate to do the job). In the end, of course, these extreme measures usually help hasten the collapse of the system.

    If this is true–and I suspect it may well be–then one of the greatest threats to Christianity would come from those extremist factions and sects within the religion itself.

  3. That is the sad part. Religion has penetrated politics to a dangerous degree when even the President feels the need to quote from the Christian Bible.

  4. I think what he said was right in the Spirit of Jesus’ own teachings. The Republicans like to rant at the poor about Responsibility (quote: “You’re responsible for everything that happens to you!”), but ignore responsibility for the harm they cause others (and that we are all responsible for those around us as well as for ourselves).

    We’re fighting the idea of “Position = Privilege”, which is a foreign “invasive weed”. It’s been carried over to “Wealth = Privilege”, when people need to consider that wealth and privilege are actually responsibilities.

  5. Like everything else the Party of No does, they like to project their abuse of religion onto others. The question is: When DON’T they project?

  6. Fundamentalist Christianity (which by the way is a total oxymoron) is doing an awesome job at destroying Christianity. Satan must be ROFLMAO.

  7. I would really like to know what constitutes “people who work hard.” Don’t teachers, fire fighters, police, and other civil servants work hard? So I guess it’s okay to punish them by making them pay more taxes – especially since they were the ones that educated and kept the population safe; so that others would have the chance to make it big. Makes total sense.

  8. Interestingly enough, the only thing God actually said about human government is to respect whoever is the leader of your country. Doesn’t mean you have to like him, but you do have to respect him. God also said that pure religion undefiled is to keep His commandments and take care of the fatherless and the widowed. That includes, in the modern day, healthcare, housing, education, food. So I would encourage any politician or party that sees Family values and religion as more than a political strategy to seriously rethink how you choose to drag God into your conversations and sound bytes.

  9. The problem I have with that is the idea that “Position” = “privilege”, and that position is inherently honorable and assigns honor to the person in the position.

    That idea is culturally derived, but it doesn’t match all cultures. The Bible is a culturally-based book. It’s not a rulebook for all existence.

    In the view I have held for most of my life, you bring your honor or lack thereof into whatever position you take. If someone is a scumbag before they took the presidency, than they will bring dishonor to their “position”. If they are honorable, then they make that position one of honor.

    Thus, someone like President Obama deserves respect because he has generally shown personal honor throughout his life. Someone like Bush dishonored the Presidency because they were dishonorable before and used the office to further their dishonor. It became quite obvious what sort of person was elected, and I’m ashamed that I voted for him the first time he ran. I was fooled by the lies.

    I highly respect President Obama and everything he does has increased that respect, although I have disagreed with some of his decisions. I couldn’t use words harsh enough to describe Bush’s term in office and what he did to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.