Print More

Hat tip to Premil Cindy for calling my attention to this video, which has so far been viewed over half a million times. It was created by Ph For America, an outfit that says it’s “hoping to become the “Swiftboat” 527 organization of 2008.” After clipping the sentences on the Bible from Obama’s 2006 Call to Renewal speech, it has a voice-over assert that Obama “arrogantly mocked and ridiculed the Bible” and charge him with taking those passages “so painfully out of context.” Here’s what Obama said, in its context:

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.
And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their bibles.
This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Of course, there’s nothing out of context about quoting specific legal provisions in Leviticus and Deuteronomy–in which regard it’s interesting to note that the clip leaves out the reference to eating shellfish. Yep, there are some heirs of the Judeo-Christian tradition who to this day take that deal seriously. As for the Sermon on the Mount, there’s no question that some Christians have taken the following passage as a mandate for pacifism (i.e. “turning the other cheek to terrorists,” as the narrator puts it):

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

To be sure, most Christians have not done so, and that’s exactly the point Obama is making. Even if there were nobody but Christians in America, using the Bible as a white paper for public policy would be impossible. He might also have made the point that central to the whole Christian enterprise was doing away with a lot of the religious laws of the “Old Testament.”
The narrator takes Obama to task for “condescendingly” suggesting that Americans aren’t reading their Bible, “as if the American people don’t know what’s in there.” That Americans don’t know what’s in the Bible has been amply demonstrated in survey after survey (see, for example, here and here). If some of those half-million viewers are inspired to crack open Scripture, maybe Ph For America will have done some good. In the meantime, I’d like to know a little something about whose those would-be Swiftboaters are.