Democratic Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has recently come under fire from a leading Evangelical leader because of his stance on Biblical texts and the role that he believes these texts should play in public affairs. As reported by the Associated Press, James Dobson (Evangelical Leader and founder of the Christian conservative organization Focus on the Family) has publicly decried Obama’s understanding of the Christian Bible as “confused theology” and a “fruitcake interpretation”, implying that the Harvard Educated Lawyer and otherwise highly intelligent man we know as Barack Obama has somehow failed to truly understand the content of this ancient book. What could Barack Obama possibly have so wrong that Mr. Dobson seemingly has so right? More importantly, how does a Harvard Educated politician who was raised in a purely secular and some would say borderline Atheist home, pander to the skewed views of the religious community in order to win over their much needed Evangelical vote?
In 2006 Obama gave a speech to the liberal Christian group “Call to Renewal” where he explained that it would be foolish to solely delegate morality to a book that continuously promoted the institution of slavery, yet condemned the eating of shellfish. For these presumably logical statements and others like them, Dobson has attacked Obama’s faith and has taken a stand against what he sees as a liberal interpretation of the bible. For Dobson the bible is the infallible word of god and should be read and understood accordingly. If the bible (or god) says jump, Dobson asks nothing more but how high? Transversely if god were to say something like jump into owning other human beings and then gives you instructions on how and when to beat them, Dobson would again say….well what exactly would he say?
Well, if you are James Dobson and you are confronted with a question about any number of biblical inadequacies found between Genesis and Revelation you simply blame it on the Old Testament (a common low blow to the Jewish text that has been dealt endlessly for the last 1500 years or so). This is the basic deflection tactic employed by most if not all religious extremists and biblical literalists when confronted with damning evidence on the subjects of not just slavery but also scientific discovery, morality, intolerance and countless other issues that seem to contradict our post-enlightenment sensibilities. So, is this an adequate explanation as to why god could be so horribly flawed on his views toward so many vitally important subjects of humanity?
If we were to only look at the subject of slavery and then were confined to James Dobson’s reasoning behind gods views on this subject, we would have to make some considerable assumptions. First, when “god” says things like Leviticus 25: “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves, it is important to understand that god only meant for this to ring true for the 198,000 years of modern human existence that predated the point where he changed his mind some 2,000 years ago.
After recognizing this much needed change of heart that god encountered (somewhat late in the game I might add), we must also assume that gods new book of morality and justice contains no passages that promote or even allow the institution of slavery. So when versus like Luke 12: ….that servant, which knew his lord’s (masters) will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes, startpopping up in the teachings of Jesus and the writings of his followers, teachings that obviously recognize the act of slavery and then fail to condemn it as morally deficient, we are forced to make yet another assumption. Either god doesn’t mind if one human being owns another human being, or (on a somewhat lighter note) Abraham Lincoln was actually the second coming of Christ (for Americans only). This would allow god to change his infallible mind once again and finally put him on the correct side of this important issue. I added the second assumption only as a joke, but it would be somewhat ironic considering the Southern Baptists pro-slavery and eventual pro-segregation stance that was held throughout the civil rights movement. Imagine, Southern Baptists so adamantly defying the will of Savior 2.0, unknowingly citing the manual from Savior 1.0 all the while. Sadly, when you really think about it, this scenario wouldn’t be all that far fetched compared to some of the other things these people already believe. So, either god told us in his divine book of morality that slavery has been and will always be an acceptable practice or possibly, just possibly, modern societies have overlooked the short comings of “gods laws” and have taken morality into their own hands essentially overwriting thousands of years of Bronze Age cruelty and human injustice.
This brings us to the final question. If people of faith are going to attack Barack Obama because he reads the Bible as he would any other book, objectively and reasonably, how could he possibly convince these same people (roughly half of the voting populace in the U.S.) to look beyond this slight discrepancy and still vote for him despite the fact that he reads their moral textbook liberally?
In his most recent book the Audacity of Hope, Mr. Obama explains how he was raised in a secular home. His mother, an anthropologist and avid humanist and to a lesser extent his father an outspoken atheist, had both played a role in his upbringing. He remained secular throughout childhood and into college, not officially “finding god” until he took a job with a Chicago Church after graduating from Law School. Straight out of Harvard Law and ready to make a difference, he took this job because it was the best opportunity to help the struggling black community that he was likely to find. He eventually placed his faith in this church, not because it was leading him to everlasting life, but because it afforded him the opportunity to make a difference in his community. To most this would seem like a noble cause. To most, fulfilling a lifelong dream and helping out those who are less fortunate would be viewed as anything but a fault, after all isn’t this exactly what Christianity is supposed to be about? But, for some this is not the case. In fact, many Conservative Christians will fault Obama for this fact alone (well, at least the ones who aren’t already leading the “Obama is a Muslim” campaign of fear and intolerance) either of which seems to be a little contradictory to the whole followers of Jesus scenario, but I digress.
In the end Barack Obama is a progressive, liberal Christian who sees merit in many philosophies, not just in those espoused by a highly Western and Christian ideology. This biblical and religious liberalism flies in the face of many of the religious extremists who make up the Evangelical Right and threatens to diminish the political stronghold that they have held on Washington for the last 25 years. If men like James Dobson can attack a highly intelligent and prominent figure in American culture for being too logical or too reasonable on a subject that when taken literally is anything but reasonable, what do we as American citizens have left? We have nothing but the same dogmatic fervor, religious intolerance and enforced ignorance that has been upheld by the current administration for nearly a decade and will presumably be extended into another eight year period of war mongering and diplomatic ineptness, unless the minds and voices of the American public can be changed.