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.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.