Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Obama Versus Dobson

N.B.: This story originally appeared on an AP website by an AP religion reporter. I am linking to the FiPL blurb, but will not quote either that blurb or link or quote to and from the original. There is a link at FiPL if you wish to see the whole thing. That is why this is a summary and paraphrase. I don't do AP until they remove the threat to take me to court for increasing their traffic.

Faith in Public Life.org has a link to a story that says James Dobson will attempt to put the smackdown on Barack Obama's interpretation of the Bible. I find this hysterically funny, because in so doing, Dobson proves he is a really bad Biblical exegete, and demonstrates Obama's felicity at this task (which is peripheral to his c.v. for President).

One of the ways Dobson does this is to mention that Obama raises the issue of Biblical ignorance among Christians, and the wide range of material in the Bible, from the reactionary violence of some of the Old Testament to the more radical passages of the New Testament. Dobson counters that those passages cited by Obama have no relevance to Christians, thus revealing that he has no idea that it is the whole Bible with which Christians must wrestle and come to terms, not just some passages we like and some we don't.

All of this, of course, begs the question of relevance. Obama, it seems to me, was attempting to remind listeners that Christians have a wide array of interpretive tools and positions. There is no single "true" Biblical interpretive guide. If there were, we would all be Roman Catholic. Or perhaps Greek Orthodox (whose doctrine is both older and rooted much more in the pre-Constantinian traditions than is the Roman rite Church). He wants to distance himself from the ugly fights between various religious groups, and remind listeners and voters that these differences, while certainly important for believers and a source of conflict among denominations and religious groups, are not nor should be a litmus test for public service in America. Since there is no test for the "correct" interpretive tool, or for deciding between and among various religious traditions, the best policy is to acknowledge the differences and move on to other things.

This is rank heresy among conservative Christians who believe (despite all the evidence to the contrary) that theirs is the only true Christian way. They further believe that it is necessary to announce to all the world that one acknowledges adherence to this truth in order to serve as an elected official in America. That this violates the religious test clause of the Constitution doesn't bother them because they are as ignorant of the Constitution as they are of Biblical interpretation.

This is a fight, I believe, that Dobson will have only with himself. I believe that Obama has said what needs to be said, and will not respond to Dobson. I hope so, at any rate. I am quite tired of our public discourse polluted by debates about religious interpretation that are irrelevant. On the other hand, as a Christian, it is nice to have these discussions out there; I just wish some wouldn't pretend they were important to our politics.

Virtual Tin Cup

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