I received an email this morning referencing a two-year-old speech by Barach Obama in which he challenges us to be careful when using the Bible as our moral guide. Referencing the Bible’s sanctioning of slavery and its condemnation of eating shellfish, he warns us about the impracticality of governing the country by biblical principles.
In response, James Dobson, head of the evangelical Focus on the Family, attacked Obama on his radio show for citing antiquated dietary codes and passages from the Old Testament (sic) that are no longer relevant to the teachings of the New Testament.
“I think he's deliberately distorting the tradition (sic) understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology,” Dobson said.
Dobson is right. Obama was making the Bible fit his worldview. But so what? Everyone who cites the Bible does that. That’s why it is a poor tool for governance.
The fact is the Bible is filled with inane ideas and moral evils. And while both the rabbis and Jesus (who was himself a rabbi) do their best to reinterpret the Bible according to their more enlightened worldviews, neither does away with slavery or the prohibition against shellfish. It is Peter, not Jesus, who hears God tell him he can have a cup of lobster bisque (Acts 10:9-16). And millions of Jews (myself included) reject Peter and eschew (which may be Latin for “not chewing”) foods forbidden in the Torah.
But here’s the part that really annoys me: Joshua DuBois, Obama’s National Director of Religious Affairs, responded to Dobson saying that Senator Obama is “committed to reaching out to people of faith and standing up for American families.” What kind of response is this? It says nothing at all. Where is Jeremiah Wright when you need him? Where is the prophetic fire that would challenge the insanity of fundamentalisms of all stripes? Where is the passion for truth and reason that America so desperately needs?
To take refuge behind wimpy talk of “reaching out to people of faith and standing up for American families” is embarrassing. Clearly Obama wants to win the presidency more than he wants to be presidential. The same is true for McCain, of course, and anyone else running for office in this country. We have to pander to everyone and offend no one, and so we elect artful dodgers rather than bold leaders.
If I were Barack Obama’s National Director of Religious Affairs I would have responded this way, “Dr. Dobson’s understanding of the Bible reflects Dr. Dobson’s understanding of the world. This is why he believes God is anti-women, anti-gay, anti-liberal, anti-Moslem, anti-Jew, and anti anything else to which Dr. Dobson himself is opposed. Because the Bible is a Rorschach blot validating our prejudices rather than challenging them, Senator Obama rightly warns us against its misuse. Senator Obama will stand up for the rights and freedoms of all Americans, taking on Fundamentalism wherever it seeks to undermine democratic values.”
This is, of course, why I will never be anyone’s National Director of Religious Affairs.