September 27, 2007

Bible verses the candidates didn't cite.

Last night at the big debate, Tim Russert asked each of the Democratic candidates to recite their favorite Bible verse. They all made a stab at the assigned task. No one rebelled against the assignment. Who would dare to use the occasion to do a little lecture on the importance of the separation of church and state? It worked for Bush, back in 2000, to sidetrack a question about philosophy into religion and say that Jesus was his favorite philosopher, so who will be bold enough to veer away from an invitation to display religiosity?

Joe Biden came the closest, when he said "Christ's warning of the Pharisees." If you understand the reference, it actually is a subtle way to imply that religion should not be used publicly for the purpose of achieving worldly goals. It's good to remind religious people -- especially religious people who crave more religion in their politics -- that Jesus set his religion apart from politics and gives Christians a religious basis for the separation of church and state.

In last night's debate thread here on the blog, there was some talk about how no one recited John 3:16. Religion for the purpose of politics must be drained of the intensely religious material. And so the candidates cited "the Golden Rule" (Hillary Clinton) or, generically, "The Sermon on the Mount" (Obama and, following Obama, Richardson). This is religion as ethics, and to answer this way speaks of the theory that religion gives rise to values that infuse political opinions and actions that are not themselves religious. There's little doubt that this is the safest position for an American presidential candidate to take.

John Edwards did the best here, reciting "What you do unto the least of those, you do unto me." What's so good about this is that it's specific. He gives a particular Biblical verse, which shows deeper familiarity with the Bible, and he has a verse that expresses special concern for the poor, which is his campaign theme.

Edwards doesn't get the line exactly right (even considering the many translations). It's from Matthew 25. Here it is -- boldfaced -- in context:
(31) "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. (32) All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (33) He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

(34) "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. (35) For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, (36) I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

(37) "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? (38) When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? (39) When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

(40) "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Now, I must say that it would be disastrous to have political leaders who took that absolutely seriously. This is a description of who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell, and the standard would appear to require all out devotion to the needs of the poor, the sick, and the immigrants. ("...I was a stranger and you invited me in.") Try to picture America, run by that standard. Utterly unrecognizable! But I'm not saying Edwards goes that far. He only cited that last line, which gently says that whatever you do for the dispossessed counts as something that you did for Christ.

But I got to thinking this morning about all the rest of the Bible. All the things they might have cited, both apt and horribly inapt. I made myself laugh, here, alone at the breakfast table, picturing one of the candidates doing his Bible-quoting like this:

Surely, the Bible is full of lines that would be utterly bizarre for a presidential candidate to say. Help me think of some. I was going to start us off with "Vengeance is mine!" Can't you just picture Gravel summoning up all his strength and waving a clenched fist and going "Vengeance is mine!" But "Vengeance is mine" in context is actually about human beings refraining from taking vengeance: "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'" (Romans 12:19-21.)

And yet, we wouldn't want a President who said that either, would we?


EnigmatiCore said...

It is very strange. When the campaign started, I was very strongly considering voting for Hillary. That inclination lasted for the period of time where Edwards and Obama seemed to be viable threats to her candidacy.

But since she has pulled away from them, she's seemed to find all of the little ways of highlighting the things I had pushed out of my mind about the former Clinton administration when thinking about a revival.

The fundraising oddities.

Bringing in Sandy Berger.

And last night, the absolutely needless and completely unbelievable bald-faced lie. "I am a Yankees fan and have been for a long, long time."

No. She became a Yankee fan when she moved to New York.

There was no reason to throw that lie out there. Yet, she did, without hesitation. She obviously knows she'll pay no penalty for lying, and as such it is second nature for her.

Bill was a good liar, famously. The same people who have beaten down our throats their belief that Bush lies want to turn back to the family that does so as easily as they breathe. The partisans will claim that the magnitude and gravity of their lies are inconsequential, but given that no one calls them on it or holds them accountable for them, we don't really know how deep they run.

After all, Bill Clinton was saying in the late 90s that Iraq had programs for the development of weapons of mass destruction. Isn't that supposed to be Bush's lie?

bill said...

"Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother."

bill said...

Question: please explain your healthcare policy.

Answer: When you perform the duty of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birth stool; if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.

amba said...

Marvelous post. Just thought someone should say that.

AllenS said...

I don't think you'll hear any Biblical references from any of them about Sodom and Gomorrah.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Jesus wept.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

To Hillary: Most blessed are you among women...

Luke 1:42

Peter Hoh said...

One of my favorites is Job 39:26
Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south?

Not surprised that none of them chose to go with the "turn the other cheek" passage.

How about Matthew 10:34?
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

Anonymous said...

Of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. (Luke 6:44)

Ron said...

How about It is better to marry than to burn in support of gay marriage?

Anonymous said...

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. (Eccl. 9:11)

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Proverbs 31:10-31.

"When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize.She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life...."

and so on.

Peter Hoh said...

Ruth Anne, does Proverbs go on to discuss cell phone etiquette?

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Oh, great! Now the Dems have to kowtow to the drooling Christianist Red Staters who, like, believe in God and stuff.

But I guess a little pandering is OK if only to spare the nation from the fate of being ruled by another Bible-quoting Republican President!!!

Darkbloom said...

You write, "It's good to remind religious people -- especially religious people who crave more religion in their politics -- that Jesus set his religion apart from politics."

I agree. It's worth remembering that back in 2000 Bush answered Christ when asked to name a "political philosopher or thinker". When he positioned Jesus as a political philosopher, he was doing the exact opposite of the thing that it's good to remind people of.

Anonymous said...

On criminal justice:
Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, "Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today." Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger.
Joshua 7:24-26

Brent said...

Psalm 14:1

The fool has said in his heart "There is no God"


Brent said...

Proverbs 21:9

Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop,
Than in a house shared with a contentious woman.


Ruth Anne Adams said...

Peter Hoh: It doesn't discuss cell phones, per se, but it does praise the woman who's so industrious and successful that it allows her husbands to sit with the elders at the city gates. I'm seeing hard-working Hillary and all-night-BS-sessioning Bill here.

halojones-fan said...

"Where wert thou when I raised the pillars of the Earth? If thou hast understanding, then declare!"

(God supports the PATRIOT act!)

Or there's Luke 12:49, which is a fun one: "I have come to bring fire to the world, and how I wish it were already kindled!"

P_J said...

I would love for a candidate to throw this back at the questioner:

"Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself." Proverbs 26:4

Or some good old-fashioned fiery denunciations from Jesus:

"You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." Matthew 23:37-38

On a more serious note:

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." Proverbs 1:7

Douglas Hoffer said...

For what it's worth, Edwards' quote is actually pretty close to the King James translation:

"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

Ann Althouse said...

Doug H, I think all the translation have something like brothers or brethren, so he did leave that out. Possibly out of consideration for women, which shows how sharp he is. He is really smart.

jeff said...

"He is really smart."
Shouldn't he have a better grasp of economics then?

Did Hillary really site the golden rule? Is the Onion running her campaign?

Henry said...

Numbers 22:16

Balaam answered the donkey, "You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now."

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JackOfClubs said...

Pastor Jeff: Prov 26:4 That's the one I first thought of, as well!

Would any of the candidates have the courage to quote Ex 23:3 "You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute"?

Dr. Caligari said...

"When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 19:33-34 [NIV]).

Dr. Caligari said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

does Proverbs go on to discuss cell phone etiquette?

No, but it does contain a strict injunction against men wearing shorts.

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

In response to Dr. Caligari above, I would suggest that Christ's urgings to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" would kind of suggest that one should not only know how to divide the political from the spirtual, but also, to appropriately follow the laws of the land.

Assuming the "alien" is legal, the scripture cited is entirely irrelevant on the wider issue of accepting illegal aliens into the country without restraint.

But I could see some politician of a certain bent using that verse, and from the Old Testament no less, as if aliens and illegals were the same, and as if Othrodox Jews and Christians followed the same scripture structure.

Joe said...

Few things beat II Kings 2:23,24. From New International Version:

"From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!"

He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths."

Eli Blake said...

I'm very anti-war.

Isaiah 2:4

mythusmage said...

Isaiah 45:07

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

To say that a being who is all powerful and all knowing cannot be cruel when cruelty is called for, is like saying that a good man cannot murder when the lives of the weak and helpless are threatened.

saintrussell said...

Deuteronomy 23:1

"He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD."

Our nation's health-care crisis is not just physical; it has a spiritual dimension. Every American has a right to regular physical checkups, which for men should include palpation of the scrotum and its contents.

ron st.amant said...

I didn't see the debate so I ask of those who did...

Did any of the candidates offer a scripture other than New Testament verses?

hdhouse said...

that Russert asked is a waste of time. That anyone answered is equally silly.

What difference? What purpose?

Hezakiah 4:4 And though shall go piss in the lake.