The Republicans on Biblical Literalism

The subject of biblical literalism came up at last week’s Republican / You Tube debate:

Joseph: I am Joseph. I am from Dallas, Texas, and how you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?

In case you were wondering, the book in question was the Bible. Here’s what happened next:

Cooper: I think we’ve got a question. Mayor Giuliani?

Huckabee: Do I need to help you out, Mayor, on this one?

(Laughter) (Applause)

Giuliani: Wait a second, you’re the minister. You’re going to help me out on this one.

Huckabee: I’m trying to help you out.

Giuliani: OK. The reality is, I believe it, but I don’t believe it’s necessarily literally true in every single respect. I think there are parts of the Bible that are interpretive. I think there are parts of the Bible that are allegorical. I think there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be interpreted in a modern context.

So, yes, I believe it. I think it’s the great book ever written. I read it frequently. I read it very frequently when I’ve gone through the bigger crises in my life, and I find great wisdom in it, and it does define to a very large extent my faith. But I don’t believe every single thing in the literal sense of Jonah being in the belly of the whale, or, you know, there are some things in it that I think were put there as allegorical.

Cooper: Governor Romney?

Romney: I believe the Bible is the word of God, absolutely. And I try…

(Applause)

… I try to live by it as well as I can, but I miss in a lot of ways. But it’s a guide for my life and for hundreds of millions, billions of people around the world. I believe in the Bible.

Cooper: Does that mean you believe every word?

Romney: You know — yes, I believe it’s the word of God, the Bible is the word of God.

The Bible is the word of God. I mean, I might interpret the word differently than you interpret the word, but I read the Bible and I believe the Bible is the word of God. I don’t disagree with the Bible. I try to live by it.

Cooper: Governor Huckabee?

Huckabee: Sure. I believe the Bible is exactly what it is. It’s the word of revelation to us from God himself.

(Applause)

And the fact is that when people ask do we believe all of it, you either believe it or you don’t believe it. But in the greater sense, I think what the question tried to make us feel like was that, well, if you believe the part that says “Go and pluck out your eye,” well, none of us believe that we ought to go pluck out our eye. That obviously is allegorical.

But the Bible has some messages that nobody really can confuse and really not left up to interpretation. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And as much as you’ve done it to the least of these brethren, you’ve done it unto me. Until we get those simple, real easy things right, I’m not sure we ought to spend a whole lot of time fighting over the other parts that are a little bit complicated.

And as the only person here on the stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don’t fully comprehend and understand, because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite god, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small.

No comment, beyond the observation that I find it hard to believe that Giulliani spends even one solitary second reading the Bible.

Comments

  1. #1 Tyler DiPietro
    December 3, 2007

    “No comment, beyond the observation that I find it hard to believe that Giulliani spends even one solitary second reading the Bible.”

    Yep, too busy bangin’ his various mistresses on the public dollar. It was fun to watch his tortured response though. More rational politicians really are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to not being loony tunes but also fulfilling the unwritten requirement of holding a certain set of essentially loony tunes beliefs.

  2. #2 slpage
    December 3, 2007

    Romney was on NPR earlier and he was asked if he is a literalist and Romney put on this phony ‘I’m not going to dignify that with an answer’ routine, claiming that such religious issues are not really relevant. And what made me chuckle a bit was that he then listed some things that should be more important, like the “world-wide Jihad”…

    But religion is not an issue, no sir….

  3. #3 Brando
    December 3, 2007

    The zealous applause almost worries me more than their responses. We know they’re pandering to certain degree, especially Rudy, but the audience…

  4. #4 Ex Patriot
    December 4, 2007

    If one these dipshits is put into the whitehouse the country will be in deeper trouble than it already is under the bush

  5. #5 Reynold
    December 4, 2007

    Something to remember whenever those religious right people claim that they’re being persecuted or even just looked down upon in the States.

    Joseph: I am Joseph. I am from Dallas, Texas, and how you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?

    At the very least, according to that guy, and probably a whole lot more people, since no one booed him down when he got to the bolded part of his question, all that matters to those people is how fundy the candidates are.

    What about their stances on important things, like the environment, science education, healthcare, not starting wars for no damned reason, etc?

    Dammnnn….I assume I’m not the only one who’s worried by that part of the question?

  6. #6 itsjustanalias
    December 4, 2007

    Being an ignorant UKian (where we have bishops in the house of Lords for cryin’ out loud) I had a question: isn’t this getting towards a religious test for public office?

  7. #7 Reynold Hall
    December 4, 2007

    It sure sounds like a religious test to me, especially when you remember how the guy phrased his question:

    Joseph: I am Joseph. I am from Dallas, Texas, and how you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?

    I guess their constitution doesn’t actually prohibit private citizens from asking that kind of stuff? I don’t know…but if any federal or state official were to ask that of a candidate, there’d be a legal smackdown (I’d hope). Either way, this doesn’t bode well.

  8. #8 Another UKian
    December 4, 2007

    I haven’t followed the link (life’s too short…), but what would have been the perfect ending would be for Joseph to say: “Thank you, gentlemen. That’s it, we’re fucked.”

  9. #9 g
    December 4, 2007

    I thought it was funny the way Joseph From Texas was so keen to emphasize that it was *this* *particular* *book* *right* *here*. Perhaps it was really a copy of the Origin of Species (or Aleisteir Crowley’s “Magick”, or something) in a leather cover saying “Holy Bible”.

    itsjustanalias, I don’t think so; what’s unconstitutional in the US is having an *official* religious test. Having a political party much of whose support base is made up of deranged fundamentalists and shameless exploiters of deranged fundamentalists isn’t forbidden — in fact, forbidding it would presumably fall foul of the Constitution’s insistence on freedom of religion.

  10. #10 Fastlane
    December 4, 2007

    The perfect answer:

    “The office of the president is about upholding the Constitution of the United States. The effects of the first amendment are, and should be, that the government remains nuetral, and neither promotes nor hinders individuals in their personal belief.

    Article 6(?) of the Constitution also states that there shall be no religious test for public office in the United States.”

    If they wanted to elaborate, a simple “as such, I think that question is personal and innappropriate” would be the perfect ending.

    They all failed.

  11. #11 Jason Failes
    December 4, 2007

    I’m buying Romney and Huckabee some bleach and two shot glasses.

    It’s how Jesus would want us to tell the True Christains apart from people more interested in what’s in the collection plate (or in the election results) than what’s in the Word of God (Mark 16:17-18):

    {17} “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; {18} they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

    How Christianity ever got bigger than a hundred-member suicide cult is beoynd me.

  12. #12 Dunc
    December 4, 2007

    In case you were wondering, the book in question was the Bible.

    Yeah, but which version? I mean, if you’re going to be specific (“Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand”) then you should at least specify which edition you’re talking about. And from the exact wording of the question, the questioner might even be asking whether they believe every word of his hand-written marginalia…

    I really believe this is an approach that rationalists should take – whenever someone starts banging on about “The Bible”, make them specify exactly which edition they’re talking about. Then start looking for places to get in with the wedges. Don’t allow them to paper over their (often significant) differences and present a united front. They’re splitters by nature – exploit that.

  13. #13 J. J. Ramsey
    December 4, 2007

    What’s interesting is that they tried to avoid giving a straight “Yes” answer to “Do you believe every word of this book?”

    BTW, Jason Failes, the obvious answer to your question would be to point out that Mark 16:17-18 is a spurious ending not in the earliest manuscripts. The NIV, a common translation among evangelicals, notes that this ending is not in all the manuscripts. Huckabee, if he had any half-decent training, could probably point that out in a heartbeat.

  14. #14 ctw
    December 4, 2007

    “if he had any half-decent training”

    As it turns out, it doesn’t require even half-decent training, only a minimum of intellectual curiosity. I am not at all religious and have only the most casual familiarity with the Bible, but am reading “Misquoting Jesus” which addresses this issue.

    This is more evidence in confirmation of my impression, based on a recent interview on TV, that a Huckabee administration would be a continuation of the intellectual vacuum we have been gasping through for seven years.

    - Charles

  15. #15 Leni
    December 4, 2007

    slpage wrote:

    Romney was on NPR earlier and he was asked if he is a literalist and Romney put on this phony ‘I’m not going to dignify that with an answer’ routine, claiming that such religious issues are not really relevant.

    That’s exactly what I was going to comment on. I’d only clarify that Romney was asked specifically about a literal interpretation of the Book of Genenis.

    Here’s a transcript:

    Romney: You know, I find it hard to believe that NPR is going to inquire on people’s beliefs about various parts of the Bible in evaluating presidential candidates, and actually, I don’t know that that’s where America has come to ? that you want to have us describing our particular beliefs with regards to Genesis and the Book of Revelations, so ?

    Siegel: I raise Genesis only because creationism is a national issue in a variety of ways, and ?

    Romney:Well, but then you could ask me a question and say, “Do you believe that we should teach creationism in our schools, in our science classes and so forth?” and I’m happy to give you an answer to that. But I don’t know that going through books of the Bible and asking, “Well, do you believe this book? And do you believe these words?”, that that’s terribly productive. Particularly when we face global jihad, when we have 47 million people without health insurance, when we have runaway costs in our entitlements, to be asking presidential candidates about their specific beliefs of books of the Bible is, in my view, something which really isn’t part of the process which we should be using to select presidents.

    My point is the Bible is the word of God, and I try and live by it.

    Except, apparently, for the part about not lying.

    After the interview, the announcer said they pressed him to answer the question about teaching creationism in science class and he said no, he did not support it. Which is good, if it can be believed. He’s still a simpering fool though.

  16. #16 Ginger Yellow
    December 4, 2007

    “The reality is, I believe it, but I don’t believe it’s necessarily literally true in every single respect. I think there are parts of the Bible that are interpretive. I think there are parts of the Bible that are allegorical”

    I’m guessing the seventh commandment fits into the “not literally true” category.

  17. #17 scienceteacherinexile
    December 4, 2007

    You mean Giuliani talked about the bigger crises in his life but did not manage to mention 9/11? Shocking.
    Dunc:
    Is it coincidence, or do you allude to Monty Python’s “splitters”?

  18. #18 realpc
    December 4, 2007

    “the Bible is a revelation of an infinite god, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small.”

    Very wise.

    All the answers were pretty good. No one fell for it and pretended to believe literally (whatever that could possibly mean). You can find wisdom in the bible and you can find stuff that’s outrageous and stuff that the modern mind just can’t penetrate.

    If you have not read the bible you have deprived yourself of one important source of western civilization. So don’t feel proud of your ignorance.

    If Giulliani says he reads the bible I believe him. Do you realize how easily someone could catch him if he’s lying?

  19. #19 Pierce R. Butler
    December 4, 2007

    realpc: Do you realize how easily someone could catch him if he’s lying?

    That doesn’t seem to have slowed Giuliani down regarding health stats, the NYC budget, his own sex life, or anything else.

  20. #20 tomh
    December 4, 2007

    realpc wrote: …stuff that the modern mind just can’t penetrate.

    Even dumber than usual.

  21. #21 Nathaniel
    December 5, 2007

    It’s crazy that they’re asking such questions. On top of that, of course these guys said what they did. Even if they where atheists they couldn’t shoot themselves in the political foot by saying “No, I think it’s the most destructive book of lies every written.” That’s political suicide. The question itself is absurd.

    Personally, I’m a spiritual person… but certainly not a religious person. Even when I was a hardcore Christian, I would have been appalled by this question. Church and state are to remain separate. We really are on our way to a theocracy if this keeps up.

  22. #22 skeptic griggsy
    December 5, 2007

    Just how do they rationalize the errors, contradictions and false history of that exercrable book?

  23. #23 KeithB
    December 5, 2007

    The question for Romney is
    “Do you believe that the Bible is the *only* book that contains the Word of God?”

  24. #24 Mac
    December 5, 2007

    I think Giuliani gave the only sensible, non-ducking answer: He said, emphatically, the Bible is not meant to be interpreted literally — which answered exactly the question being asked. I was impressed.

    The others tried to imply that, for the nonliterals in the audience, without getting caught saying “not literally” by the literalists. That shows their fear of being caught out by either side.

    As to the religious “test,” imagine the reaction, and electability, of a responder who said, “No, I don’t; I’m not a religious person,” or “No, I’m an atheist.”

    The ‘religious test’ boils down to the unofficial reality that a very large percentage of believers (and some dishonest secularists) would not vote for someone whose atheism was emphasized. It’s a religious test for public life in the U.S. And maybe elsewhere in the Western world, for all I know. It’s annoying.

    The person above who suggested they should have pushed back because this is an inappropriate question for this office and this Constitution was absolutely excellent. And might even have worked. Notice that the quotes about Romney’s followup comments move in that direction — smart of him!

    I notice lots of questions about issues irrelevant to the office of President, or to the federal government. It only came up again when they were ducking the issue of abortion — pushing the issue down to the states is, actually, the only realistic answer for a federal officeholder, regardless of his beliefs about the subject.

  25. #25 Chris Bell
    December 5, 2007

    Being an ignorant UKian (where we have bishops in the house of Lords for cryin’ out loud) I had a question: isn’t this getting towards a religious test for public office?

    Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that large amounts of people will not vote for you if you aren’t Christian. No, in the sense that the prohibited “test for public office” is a prohibition on government.

    So imagine that an atheist was elected to the Senate, and then the Senate refused to seat him or her because of his/her atheism. The Religious Test Clause is meant to prohibit only that – even though voter discrimination may have much the same effect.

    I’m an atheist and a lawyer, so I discuss some things like this at my blog. (See the link in my name.)

  26. #26 Dennis McGinlay
    January 7, 2008

    The comments on this blog show the depth of human nature at it’s ugliest. Full of unlovely inelectual vanity, vast misunderstanding of history, spitefull arrogance, unpercieved stupidity, and closed dark minds.

  27. #27 sat?l?k konut
    January 17, 2008

    Business case? This is obviously a real corporate bureaucrat talking here. This is just the kind of corporate rigid nonsense ?

  28. #28 Blue Cruise
    April 19, 2008

    Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that large amounts of people will not vote for you if you aren’t Christian.

  29. #29 Oyun
    April 24, 2008

    very thanks

  30. #30 Tavla
    April 24, 2008

    very thansk harika bir paylasim tesekkur ederiz gayet net aciklamali olmus Oyun emeginize cok ama cok sa?ol ayr?nt?l? olmu? gayet iyi….

  31. #31 Dennis McGinlay
    May 18, 2009

    Hi
    Reading some the comments from ‘Non-Believers’ I’d like to ask a simple question of them. Explain metamorphosis, not only how the genes and ‘information’ to produce this miracle works, and came from, but also and most imortantly WHY? If you can, you have a brain like no other and are a master of the universe. If you can’t do that simple thing then shut the hell up because you don’t know what you are talking about!

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