The Bible: Literal Interpretation & Modern Politics Part. II

In the first part of this series I presented a simple question, do you believe in the literal interpretation of the bible? That question generated several responses but the general theme of every comment was that each individual had come to his or her own understanding and made the Bible relevant to that understanding.

If religious philosophies existed only in the realm of personal beliefs and in individual actions, then there would be no need to debate this issue any further. But since those personal philosophies eventually make their way into the public realm via political discourse or legislations, then we must delve into those philosophical interpretations and how the literal interpretation of the Bible impact said legislation.

Like in Part I, I would like to defuse some basic debatable items whenever the discussion of the role of religion in politics is brought up.

1. America was founded on biblical principle. Although it has yet to live up to those principles, the fact that the founding fathers acknowledge those guiding principles provided a means for different movements to force America to evolve and live up to those stated principles.

2. The separation of church and state does not mean the exclusion of religious symbols and religious traditions in the public square. Only that the state is not to create any laws that establishes a particular religion or restrict the exercise of any religion.

Often times the role of religion in our society is symbolic in nature and their arguments don’t affect our everyday lives. The fight over the posting of the Ten Commandments in courtrooms or display of a cross on the Seal of towns really doesn’t mean much to the average Joe. Then there debates that affect our lives in the most profound manner: The fight to include Intelligent Design in science curriculum, the debate over prayer in school, the use of public funds to finance religious education stem cell research and the battle to allow political discourse from the pulpit without the fear of the church losing its tax-exempt status.

The reason that these debates are on the rise is because the Evangelical Christians changed their philosophy about not mixing itself into politics and declaring a cultural war. They pursue this war under the guise of freedom of religion. As though the exclusion of Intelligent Design in public schools is a restriction of their right to practice their faith. This is not the case but it makes for a compelling debate.

An argument can be made that our Christian foundation sets the standards for many of our rights so it is appropriate to reference them when facing new issues. But the reference of principle is different than the reference of biblical interpretations.

Lets take gay marriage as an example. This debate is strait out of the Bible as there are several passages on the subject. But is it right to use Biblical references to establish or restrict the rights of a certain segment of our population? The Declaration of Independence states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

When something is self-evident, it means that it is comprehensible outside of religious doctrine or philosophical bent. Therefore, it is not necessary for a moral code to be derived from the Bible to make it applicable to our moral standards. So through an interpretation of the Bible some conclude that gay marriage is an abomination, it is fair to apply that private interpretation to society at large? Is it especially fair when the government recognizes marriage not as a religious union but as a legal union as it pertains to property, taxes and other civil procedures?

Prayer In School: I’m not sure why this is a controversial issue. It seems rather obvious to me that children have the right to pray, read the bible or have bible study groups as long as it is student led. The argument for a moment of silence is ridiculous. I remember high school very well. There were never any moments of silence except with remembering the passing of a classmate. Should a student be allowed to lead a prayer at a graduation ceremony? Sure, if a Muslim, Jew or Hindu is allowed to lead a prayer. But the issue is deeper than this but I will have to save that for another post.

There are a host of issues like these and it seems as though religious groups are making an effort to place Biblical passages on the same plain as the words written in the declaration of Independence. As we tailor more laws to accommodate those Biblical passages, are we not wandering down the path to creating a quasi theocracy?

In Part III, I’ll look at the “movers and shakers” behind the cultural war and how religion became such a part of the political landscape.

Discussion Starters:

1. What is the proper role of religion in creating laws on a religiously diverse society?
2. Would a greater role of religion in the political arena result in more or less liberty for Americans?
3. Does religion even afford us the freedoms that we now enjoy?


18 Responses to The Bible: Literal Interpretation & Modern Politics Part. II

  1. Cynthia Says:
    First, I would like to say that the founders of this country were deists. They didn't believe in the Christian principles. They thought they were deficient like all of the other major superstitions of the known world. If you need proof, I will dig it up when I have more time.

    1. What is the proper role of religion in creating laws on a religiously diverse society?

    Religion should be personal. It shouldn't be imposed on anyone else.

    2. Would a greater role of religion in the political arena result in more or less liberty for Americans?

    History has shown that religion is repressive and infringes upon peoples God given rights to the pursuit of hapiness, yada da da..

    3. Does religion even afford us the freedoms that we now enjoy?

    No. Religion has always been used as a tool to subjugate those who believe. It convinces the believers that everyone else is doomed to hell because we are right.
  2. Dell Gines Says:
    Cynthia, first of all I would like to say you are incorrect. A large portion of the founders were deist, true, but don't forget, the majority of the constituency was puritanical christian, which in fact was the reason many came to the nation in the first place, to escape the tyranny of the church of england (hence seperation of church and state in the first place).

    Secondly, there is no such thing as a 'personal religion' no more than there is a such thing as a personal philosphy.

    You would not be here but for religion, EVERY single individual black and white who fought for abolition of slavery used religion as a fundamental premise.

    The premise of unalienable rights, is based upon the religious philosophy of deism, which ceded supremecy to God and therefore equality to man.

    Now let us consider another thing, and this is specifically targeting a comment made by Cynthia...the most repressive barbaric and murderous institution IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD wasn't based upon religion, it was communism. Stalin under the rubric of atheism and populace control murderer upwards of 30 million of his own people.

    It is project that communist China has equalled or exceed that amount under atheistic communism.

    These are totals unequalled by any religious war ever.


    To answer directly your questions

    1. Religion is philosophy, in a democratic system, we express our philosophy through votes, so religion will always have a role in creating laws.

    2. Liberty has to be defined first James. That is a hard one to answer.

    3. Religion is the genesis of the freedoms we enjoy now.
  3. James Manning Says:
    Ah, we are off to a good start:) Thanks for posting guys.

    To the point, I understand what Cynthia is talking about and it is why I posed the question. Religion in of itself is not bad but many cultures has used it as a tool to oppress people. Given that many seek to have religion play a more prominant role in politics, will that result in fewer liberties?

    For the sake of this argument lets use this definition for liberty: The right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing.

    I'm not saying that we are going back to the 1500's but are we walking down a dangerous path.
  4. stuffle Says:
    I agree fully with what Dell said, at least in response to Cynthia and to question #1 & #3 in the original post.

    #2 (and restated: Given that many seek to have religion play a more prominant role in politics, will that result in fewer liberties?)

    I think this depends less on religion and more on the motives of the people behind the push.

    I think that the push you see now started as Christians pushing back against people who believe that religion needs to be totally removed from the public square. Obviously, that is false. The public has different religions to differing degrees, and in a healthy and free society, those religious voices are expressed, not stifled.

    That said, I think there are those who have gotten a bit off track, and would like to essentially force their view of religion into schools, government, whatever. On the flip side of that, you have people who want to force religion out of the public square completely.

    At those extremes, where one particular religion is forced into the public square, or where all religious expression is forced out of the public square is where you start to lose liberties, IHMO.
  5. James Manning Says:
    Stuffle, I agree. There are people on both sides that have gotten out of hand with the entire religion thing.
  6. Cynthia Says:

    Here is a Truthout article giving evidence that the U.S. was not founded upon Christian principles. It is quite interesting. In line with the evidence that the U.S. was not founded upon Christian principles, Tony Browder also talked about in some of his books, how the U.S. was founded upon ancient Egyptian mythology. If you take a look at the dollar bill you will see that influence. He also gives tours to show that the Nations capital is steeped in those principles. If you don’t believe, just look up the information. It is not enough to say this is not true when you have never read the information.

    Dell, religion is personal otherwise people wouldn’t need to personally confess their belief for instance in Jesus to be saved. Didn’t Jesus say that no man can come to the father but through me? This shows the personal aspect of religion.

    You must have forgotten about those holy wars, or how the Christians gave the Native Americans blankets with smallpox in it totally decimating them. You must have forgotten about all the Africans who were enslaved and brutalized by those good Christians, I guess you must have forgotten about the good ship Sweet Jesus that were used to bring blacks in this country. I guess you must have forgotten about the nuking of the Marshall Islands and Japan by these good Christians. You must have forgotten about the Tuskegee experiments, the experiments that were done on young black children in Jackson Mississippi putting electrodes on their brains. What about the bible saying thou shall not kill and then this alleged good God gives an order for Israel to kill the Philistines or the Palestinians. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.

    The combined evil that was done by the Christians to others is astounding. The number of Africans that died alone some scholars says it ranged in the hundreds of millions.

    The question becomes when in history has the goodness of Christianity been displayed collectively by those who practice it to others not in the faith? What Christian values are we trying to get back to?
  7. Dell Gines Says:
    Cynthia, sis, you are confusing the issue between what is done in the NAME of religion and what is done by people who CLAIM a religion.

    There is a difference between me smacking you because I think God tells me to do it...


    Me smacking you because you piss me off and I happen to be a Christian.

    So much of your analogy about small pox etc. wasn't done in the name of God (albeit the Holy Wars & Jihad is) but it is done by individuals acting on behalf of individuals who claim a particular faith and that is a HUGE difference but a distinction you are not making in your counter argument.

    Secondly, there is no way of getting around the fact that the majority of individuals in colonial America claimed Christianity, and anyone attempting to counter that has not studied history. Deism (and Egyptology) are also both religion based, so regarldess of where you stand the nation was derived from religious principles.

    Finally, yes, religion is personal in terms of conversion, but the expression of religion is public. James says faith without works is dead, meaning that faith without the public expression of faith in some form is irrelevent. If religion at its core is a philosophy and philosophy determines voting patterns in a democratic republic, then religion ultimately becomes and expression in government because of that.
  8. Dell Gines Says:
    One point I forgot to address in terms of the middle passage deaths. The majority of Africans were sold by Africans who were of what religion?
  9. Robert Neddo Says:
    In response to Dell:

    1. I understand how to you there is a difference but, to those of us who are not Christians, there is very little, if any, difference between "in the NAME of" and "CLAIM". Is it not reasonable to assume that since a Christian "chooses" his religion, that he also takes responsibility for his actions in the NAME of his religion? Your God will judge you for slapping that fool from a Christian standpoint, and so will I since you claim to be one.

    The blankets with smallpox is another example. They didn't give them in the NAME of their God, but when the injuns died they did claim that it was a sign that their God favored them.

    2. The Founding Fathers were not all Deists (or Atheists) but most of the important ones were. I will differ a bit with Cynthia concerning the Christian principles. They encouraged Christian principles since the vast majority were Christians in some way, and Christians principles are a good thing if properly applied. Too bad it didn't work out. (I'll have my own post on this sometime soon.)
  10. Dave Miller Says:
    Cynthia, at the end of one of your posts, you posed this question:

    The question becomes when in history has the goodness of Christianity been displayed collectively by those who practice it to others not in the faith?

    More than just posting another response to the questions on the floor, since I am more or less in agreement with Dell, I think this is a great question to consider.

    Let me take a few stabs at it. Apart from the founding on Christian principles argument, I trust you will accept the overwhelming evidence that the US is composed of primarily Christian people. That said, here are a few instances where we as a country have acted to support people of "other faiths."
    1. While arguably slow to get in, the US played a major role in WW II, which was certainly a benefit to people of Jewish faith. Yes, 6 million died, but how many more if we Christians had not acted.
    2. For as long as I can remember, there has been a strategic political alliance here in the US between Jews and people of African American descent. Certainly you will not argue that black people that have been involved in this alliance are Jewish. Jewish people have acted on behalf of black America, and black America has acted on behalf of the Jewish community.
    3. What country delivered the most financial aid to the victims of the Tsunami in Asia? Those people are not Christians.
    4. What country sent aid to Pakistan after the earthquake?
    5. What country intervened in Bosnia to stop ethnic cleansing?

    Now I understand you might argue that those responses were from our government so they somehow do not count. But to set the record straight, what religion is primary in helping rebuild housing, serve the poor, bring water supplies, food, clothing, medicine, blankets, etc. anywhere around the world when there is need? Christianity.

    Your question infers that Christians have not acted in the world for good. Certainly you can argue that sometimes we are slow, not completely organized, and sometimes inefficient, as I will, but you cannot deny that the US people, primarily Christian people, with or without our government are frequently on the front lines helping in disasters regardless of peoples faith.

    I wish we could do more. I wish we had done more, but the block of people known as Christianity has done much for the world, with no regard for peoples faith.

    A better question might be when have the other major world religions acted on behalf of other faiths on as large a scale as those of Christian faith?
  11. James Manning Says:
    I'd like to interject a Bible lesson. It is from the book of Corinthians.

    1 Corinthian: 9-13 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

    It is talking about eating meat but there is a larger lesson here and it is pointed out in RWNeddo and Cynthia's response to Dell. When you profess Christ you become a witness and you life and every action taken becomes a testimony to the faith. There is nothing in the bible that says a Christian shouldn't drink a beer - but it may confuse nonbelievers so until their knowledge is increased, a Christian would be wise to not drink in front of that individual.

    The same is true when Christians have taken part in acts that are obviously against the teaching of Christ. If I call myself a Christian while enslaving a man, he is going to wonder what it is about my faith that allows me do act in such a manner. Although my actions are against the teachings of my faith, I have now become a stumbling block for the non-believer and have discouraged him in accepting my faith – hence accepting Jesus as his savior. And this is the lesson that many Christians have yet to learn.
  12. Dell Gines Says:
    James it is a matter of perspective, and defining what exactly a Christian is, which goes back to my core point on bible relativity.

    When you subjectify the bible, you allow for the gross misinterpretation that you have seen throughout history, whereby individuals make themselve non-beholden to aspects of scripture they dislike, and embrace the aspects that they do.

    And the argument can be made for any religion.

    For example, we argue that it was people who 'professed' Christian faith that enslaved individuals, but yet the abolishionist who freed the slaves, and the free slaves and the majority of slaves themselves were Christian as well.

    So how do you quantify the rightness or wrongness of faith, and dissect the professors, from the true practicioners --

    A) If there is not a literal interpretation of the bible so one can with reasonable (note reasonable) objectivity say this is what a Christian is and this is what a Christian is not


    B)If those who are professing a faith (Christianity, Islam, etc) are on opposite sides of the issue.

    There is a difference between cultural acceptance and spiritual and personal acceptance (which Cynthia taught).

    But overall I return back to the subjectivity of the bible. How can we say a white slave owner was wrong in taking a black slave if we consider the bible relative and personal to the individual?
  13. James Manning Says:
    Dell, I have question. We have concluded that the bible is open to many different interpretations - one being the literal interpretation. But now we are finding that even the literal interpretation is subjective. So doesn’t that mean that any application of a biblical standard on society is not dependent on the righteousness of the standard itself but the consensus of those applying the standard?

    This entire debate is on the premise that religion does play a role in the public square but the degree of that role is left to how one interprets the bible. But if everything is interpretation and subjective, doesn’t that make biblical standards fluid and left to the whims of whomever can control the political agenda? That, I believe, is happening now.
  14. Dell Gines Says:
    Let me get back on point, although I do have an answer to the literal interpretation piece.

    I guess my argument boils down to this, every decision is made based upon a world view, world views are colored by beliefs. Religion fundamentall is a belief, so the expression of religion in the political process is natural and normal when the citizenry have the right to make laws based upon belief.
  15. Cynthia Says:

    1. I am not denying that the majority of the people in this country are Christians. You have no argument there. For this reason, people automatically thought that this country was founded on Christian principles.

    2. I am not denying that the U.S. helps in World War II, to stop white people from killing other white people. The U.S. does not offer this type of help to others. Just take a look at Rwanda, Darfur, The Sudan, etc., etc.

    3. I believe the Jews have their own agenda and if that means going with or against us they will do it. This has been done with Cynthia McKinney (told from her own mouth). This has been done to Farrakhan where the Jews are trying to tell black people who they can associate with. In addition, the Jews in my opinion, tries to drum up support to keep people from discovering their true agenda. How can bible say that God said “thou shall not kill” and this same God sanction the killing by the Jews of the Palestinians? I frankly think the so-called alliance between blacks and Jews is a farce. It works because black people believe in the literal interpretation of the bible and the Jews are using our naivety against us. If you take away the bible, I believe black people will be able to see the truth and the truth nature of the black/Jewish alliance.

    4. From my understanding, the U.S. has a history of pledging but they rarely follow through with the pledge. This can also be seen in the Katrina fiasco.

    5. You are right, I do believe the Christians have acted to the detriment of others. I’m reading this book called “The Economic Hit Man”. There is a reference to how the U.S. goes in and gives tainted food AID to developing countries. At the bottom of the package they have a transmitter so that they can know when the food has been eaten up. At that point, they send in their missionaries with simple medicines to cure their diarrhea, etc. The people then believe that these people have some type of powerful magic because they knew exactly what to bring to heal us of our ailments. This is what I think is the real nature of the U.S. and its missionary help. It is about control. It is not a benevolent act that the U.S. is helping anyone. This is what I think is the true nature of the West and its warped values.

    Maybe, individuals have good intentions, but the overall Christian institutions have been used to manipulate the masses of the people.
  16. Dave Miller Says:
    First of all, thanks James for your efforts here. You have put some good topics on the table and for that I am grateful. Whether it be humor, satire, politics, or God, I am usually challenged and rewarded by you thoughts and choice of material. Onward.

    Cynthia, at least you could have given me the courtesy of a response to my question. I will assume you are still doing your research and will be getting back to me. That being said, let’s move on to your points.

    1. Somewhat agreed. And here’s one reason why I too struggle with this viewpoint. If the US was founded on Christian principles, why were women and minorities not given full citizenship rights? (voting and property) The bible clearly states that we are all one in Christ, equal heirs of the promise. If that is true today, it was then. That means that either the founders chose to not follow those little tidbits of theological truth or they were unaware of them. I am offended that people who say the US was founded on Christian principles, and we all know the phrase “We find these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal”, somehow miss the fact that the framers of the constitution either did not believe what they wrote, or chose to disregard it. Either way, it is hard to defend the “Christian” beliefs of the founders on at least this point, which I see as central to Christianity.
    2. You make a great point here and in fact this was one of my questions as to why war in Iraq. If it was a humanitarian issue, as some claim, how come we didn’t feel a need to address that in Rwanda and Darfur? It actually pissed me off. I do believe there is a color issue here. Our government has a history of this. In WWII we were at war with Japan, Italy, and Germany. Anyone want to take a guess at why only Japanese people were rounded up and taken to concentration camps here in the US? What about Germans? Italians? Maybe they looked too much like us primarily white folks. We have done a horrible job on the African continent. However, how much pain has been visited on the peoples of that continent by their own governments? None of this negates the help we have provided around the globe to people of other faiths, which was the focus of your question. Interestingly enough, Africa is a pretty Christianized place.
    3. This stuff becomes about interpretations. Just as two people seeing the same auto accident can see it differently, so it is with Scripture. I am not saying they are both right, just that they can see it and interpret it differently.
    4. You are right, sometimes. The jury is still out on Katrina although it does not look good. But again, how does this relate to whether Christians help people of other faiths or just their own? As an aside, every week there are Christian groups in that area working to help clean up, rebuild and help. They are not being paid, in fact many are giving their own money away so they can help.
    5. This one I struggle with. Personally. As my friends will tell you, I am pretty skeptical of our government. But your charge is pretty strong involving not only the gov’t, but the church too. I am a missionary. I founded a non profit to help build churches, feed hungry people, offer medical aid, and help in whatever way we could in Mexico. My life revolves around this. I can put you in a room with some of biggest leaders in the missions movement. I can assure you that if what you are saying is true, we don’t know about it. If somehow you believe that by mine and other organizations helping educate people in other countries with no access to schools, along with whatever else we do to help is a warped value, I don’t know what to say.

    Finally, the church frequently does not do enough. But we try. Yes we contributed to some of the problems here and abroad. And we still are. But across America people have been educated in schools, colleges, and universities, healed at clinics, hospitals, and offices, and set free from untold personal struggles because of the work of the Church and its historic Christian witness. Sorry, just a little preaching for ya!
  17. Cynthia Says:

    I apologize for not answering your last question. I don't know how I missed it. My answer is simple; all of the religions are inadequate. I'm not a fan of organized religion. I didn't mention them because we were talking about Christianity. Believe it or not, I'm more of a fan of Christianity than Islam or Judaism. The things that are done to women in the name of Allah are reprehensible.

    Finally, I would like to say, I’ve been on Islamic website and the arguments I’ve heard here are the same arguments put forth by Muslims, theirs is the true religion and you have un-Islamic acts committed by people who profess to be true believers. The other two major world reilgions maybe more brutal than Christianity in my opinion and does a lot more harm than good.

    Look at all the Bible Atrocities and you will begin to see why I don't trust or like Christianity.

    Don't get me wrong, I do believe there are good people in all religions, it is just when people believe in them, bad things are dismissed.
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