At Wednesday night’s Republican CNN/YouTube Debate Joseph from Dallas pulled off the complex feat of simultaneously creeping out a good part of the nation all the while provoking three GOP presidential candidates to bear their scriptural souls. His question, asked with more than a smidgen of menace, was phrased as follows:
I am Joseph. I am from Dallas, Texas, and how you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book [he places the cover that reads “Holy Bible” in front of the camera]? And I mean specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand [turning the spine of the text to the camera indicating that it is the King James Version]. Do you believe this book?
But I have some questions for Joseph: Who is “we”? And why did he steadfastly refuse to use the word “Bible,” opting instead to call the object he was holding “this book”? Was he setting someone up for a “gotcha” moment?
Anyhow, just as Rudy Giuliani started taxiing down the runway of his well-rehearsed response, Mike Huckabee intercepted him with a somewhat un-Christian aside: “Do I need to help you out, Mayor, on this one?” Yet as we shall see, it was Huckabee who may have needed help as he aired profoundly unEvangelicalministerlike responses to Joseph’s prompt.
Mitt Romney, initially, needed no help: “Iem> believe the Bible is the word of God, absolutely. And I try. (Applause), I try to live by it as well as I can, but I miss in a lot of ways. But it’s a guide for my life and for hundreds of millions, billions of people around the world. I believe in the Bible.”
Good answer. Delivered with that Romney swagger. Those statesmanlike good looks. Yet for some reason Anderson Cooper detected a false note in that confident hymn and pressed on with a follow-up: “Does that mean you believe every word?”
Cooper’s perseverance paid off as the former governor of Massachusetts inexplicably lost focus:
“[Pause] You know [pause] yeah, I believe it’s the word of God, the Bible is the word of God [pause]. I mean, I ,I ,I, I might interpret the word differently than you interpret the word, but I read the Bible and I believe the Bible is the word of God. I don’t disagree with the Bible. I try to live by it”
Cooper had asked Romney if he believes every biblical word. But the former governor of Massachusetts riposted–interestingly, and inadvertently I think–that every biblical word can be read differently by different believers.
If Romney truly subscribes to this view then a lot more follow-up will be necessary in the coming weeks. For what is to be done when decent God-fearing people who don’t disagree with the Bible, do disagree with one another as to how to live by it? How can a Democratic polity predicated on the American Constitution possibly adjudicate between all of those scriptural disagreements?
As for Giuliani, he never mentioned that the King James Version Joseph was waving in front of the camera is not the translation of Scripture that Catholics consult (was this the intended gotcha ambush?). Well-prepared and calm, America’s Mayor opined:
The reality is, I believe it, but I don’t believe it’s necessarily literally true in every single respect. I think there are parts of the Bible that are interpretive. I think there are parts of the Bible that are allegorical. I think there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be interpreted in a modern context. So, yes, I believe it. I think it’s the greatest book ever written. I read it frequently. I read it very frequently when I’ve gone through the bigger crises in my life, and I find great wisdom in it, and it does define to a very large extent my faith. But I don’t believe every single thing in the literal sense of Jonah being in the belly of the whale, or, you know, there are some things in it that I think were put there as allegorical.
Aside from cleverly casting the Good Book in the role of therapist who helps him work through his character issues (e.g., “the bigger crises in my life”), Giuliani situated himself squarely in the Catholic mainstream. Catholics are not biblical literalists. Catholics can legitimately claim a nearly two-thousand year tradition of reading the Bible allegorically. Catholics are not averse to acknowledging that they are in fact interpreting Scripture. (And Catholics do not live by the Bible alone, but that’s a different story).
This left Huckabee who noted that he was the only one on the stage with a degree in theology. Yet on this evening the coursework at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary did not pay dividends. For some reason, this Evangelical Christian repeatedly veered into Catholic hermeneutical air space:
Sure. I believe the Bible is exactly what it is. It’s the word of revelation to us from God himself. (Applause). And the fact is that when people ask do we believe all of it, you either believe it or you don’t believe it. But in the greater sense, I think what the question tried to make us feel like was that, well, if you believe the part that says “Go and pluck out your eye,” [Mark 9:47] well, none of us believe that we ought to go pluck out our eye. That obviously is allegorical.
Did that conservative Baptist minister just say “allegorical”? The allegorical approach to Scripure, incidentally, has made Protestants uneasy, to varying degrees, since the time of Luther. This is not to say that all Evangelicals are biblical literalists, but so-called literal readings have come to define the public proclamations of those “Christian Leaders” who Huckabee aspires to emulate. He continues:
And as the only person here on the stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don’t fully comprehend and understand, because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite god, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small.
Love that humility, but once again, the idea of the text as a divine mystery seems more congenial to the Catholic interpretive tradition. Evangelical demagogues (as opposed to the better educated theologians tucked away in the seminaries) have aroused the wrath of secular America precisely because they act as if they fully comprehend and understand God’s message. Put differently, when the Dobsons and Falwells and Robertsons of the world attempt to influence public policy on the basis of Scripture, they sure don’t seem to act as if the text is mysterious. Huckabee plows on:
But the Bible has some messages that nobody really can confuse and really not left up to interpretation. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” [Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39, etc.] And “as much as you’ve done it to the least of these brethren, you’ve done it unto me”.[Matthew 25:40] Until we get those simple, real easy things right, I’m not sure we ought to spend a whole lot of time fighting over the other parts that are a little bit complicated.
Here too Huckabee is making unorthodox claims. Can a conservative Protestant simply demote certain, “complicated” sections of the Bible, in favor of the simple ones? Is not every jot and tittle of the Good Book God’s word in Evangelical theology? By what authority can a politician prioritize the easy bits over the hard to understand ones?
Huckabee’s heresies might be attributed to a lack of preparedness or mere stage fright. Less likely, but more intriguing, is the possibility that the governor of Arkansas is a new and different type of Evangelical, one whose scriptural reading practices (and politics) differ markedly from those of the old guard.
By Jacques Berlinerblau |
November 30, 2007; 7:06 AM ET
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