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.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Christians: "This Land is your Land"

One of the great things about America is we really hate secrets. That is why we do things like wear spandex, hack into each other's computers, expose the ritual of bathroom foot-tapping to the world, and bang down all the doors of Iraq because we are dying to see if there are any weapons of mass destruction hiding. But for all the media gasping that followed, when Sen. John McCain threw caution to the wind and told that the Constitution establishes America as a Christian nation, was this really a shocking revelation to anyone?

First, with conservative Christians getting jumpy and strategizing to bail on Guilliani, it was a wise move for McCain to start singing "This Land is Your Land" to Christians.

Second, if you will allow me to sweep our history of insisting we are not a Christian nation aside (Treaty of Tripoli, anyone?), can anyone truly deny that America has at least been digging through the Christian wardrobe and trying a few things on for size? Are sexual abstinence programs mandatory because Congress persons do not read? If we believe that the nation of Israel is more than sixty years old, where do we think we get the extra three thousand years of history? And when Dr. Ravi Zacharias leads the nation during this year's National Day of Prayer under the theme "Prayer! America's Strength and Shield" (which is based on the verse from Psalm 28:7) how many people will be acknowledging the Salah that contributes to our strength?

But our secret, which we are drawing out more and more each year of President George Bush's presidency, is we really have no idea what it means to be a Christian nation. As Stephen Prothero has pointed out, we have cozied up to the burning fuse of our religious illiteracy as though it were camp fire. Christianity will continue to shape our nation, but into what remains a secret.

UPDATE I: McCain gets slammed by the American Jewish Committee. On Tuesday McCain clarified that he meant "Judeo-Christian" values.

UPDATE II: McCain is not the only one wielding religion as a political weapon.

UPDATE III: Neil Steinburg of the Chicago Sun-Times convincingly argues that we are not a Christian nation but a nation of Christians who are mostly pulling the levers.

UPDATE IV: Ha'aretz newspaper in Israel agrees with McCain. In response to the media response that refute America's Christian-ness, Bradley Burston writes:
"Hogwash! Every Jewish kid in America who has ever worn a kippah, every Muslim who has worn external evidence of his or her devotion to Islam, knows very well that Senator McCain was right. Every public school child who was raised in a home where Jesus was not believed to be God, and who was made to sing "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!" with devotion and feeling, know just how right McCain was. Every high school football player who began every game hearing invocation to the Lord Jesus Christ cannot help but wonder what all the fuss is about. "

UPDATE V: A South Carolina news source uncovered at 1989 article in which McCain said,
"The Christian nation issue is one which I think is stupid and unfortunate, and one which has alienated a lot of voters."

UPDATE VI: McCain opens up some more: taking his comments a step further, McCain tells South Carolina voters:
"Well, if you agree that the greatest threat we face is this evil, radical Islamic extremism, then I'd like for you to look at my qualifications and see if I'm the one that you need to lead so we can prevail," added Senator McCain.