Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Bible Blasting: The Rhetoric of Rebuttal

Last week, Gordon Brown blasted Tory party leader with only a flick of the Bible. During his first speech to the Labour Party conference , Brown responded to claims that Labour was anti-marriage and anti-family for removing tax benefits for married couples. "We all remember the biblical saying, 'suffer the little children to come unto me.' No Bible I ever read says 'bring just some of the children." And he reminded Britain of its obligation to act as a "moral compass."

Touchez. With one allusion to the Bible, Brown put the debate to rest. Yet there are still those, like Simon Barrow, co-director for the British-based Christian think-tank Ekklesia, who argue that the Bible is benign. Barrow distinguishes between civic-use of biblical language and the Church's use of biblical language:
I don't think a PM can ever do proper justice to biblical language, however,
because its alternative power - which looks very like powerlessness in a worldly
context - resides in sources other than the kind of authority he (in this case)
is properly mandated, able and willing to deploy in a democratic arena. By
contrast, the vision of the kin-dom of God as an invitation to the politics of radical forgiveness, peacemaking and common life is what church needs to be about, in action not just rhetoric.

The Bible, Barrow argues, is as much a cultural tool for talking about morality as our other sacred Western writings. But when was the last time Brown or Cameron used Winnie the Pooh to remind us of our obligation to our neighbors? Barrow's argument that civic leaders employ biblical language because it is useful but the Church wields it into action because the have to does not make sense. To suppose that biblical language only has authority in a Church context is to negate how nations come to see themselves and their duty to the world which is through every decision they make, from buying produce to electing their leaders.

And Britons, whom Stuart Jeffies argues are becoming increasingly more judgemental about the beliefs of others , are looking for talk of plain old God in their everyday lives. "Indeed, in Britain's ethically repellent consumerist society, even some atheists might consider it would be good to hear from the old man [God] again, if only to provide a moral framework beyond shopping."

Brown knew what he was doing. By invoking the Bible he not only squashed debate but he signaled his willingness and ability to shape how Britons see themselves and others.

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