Friday, November 30, 2007

Reflections on the Debate (St. Petersburg)- No. 4

In what appeared to be a unanimous decision, former Governor Mike Huckabee of Hope, Arkansas was declared the "winner" of the Repub Presidential debate presented by CNN/YouTube on November 18, 2007. In making this judgement, analysts most often pointed to Huckabee's response to this question:

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?

Huckabee's response was the most brilliant I've heard to any question in any of either the Repub or Democratic Presidential debates this season:

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.

It was, strategically at least, so extraordinary that I need to break it down point-by-point:

1) Sure, I believe the Bible is exactly what it is. (This can't offend anyone- everything is exactly what it is- yet, it is comes off as classic Republican certitude.)
2) It's the word of revelation to us from God himself. (Believers are confident, perhaps above all, that the Bible is the revealed word of God.... and this generally doesn't offend non-believers, who are more concerned that the Bible is not taken to be the literal word of God.)
3) 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. (In implying that the Bible is not always to be interpreted literally, Huckabee has avoided being stigmatized, as have some skeptics of Darwinian evolution, as an air-headed rube. Still, believers can't be offended- it suggests that God has used an effective literary device to get his message across.)
4) But the Bible has some messages that nobody really can confuse and really not left up to interpretation. "Love your neighbor as yourself." (a.Here he takes a stand in favor of Scriptures- nobody really can confuse and really not left up to interpretation- and again expresses Repub certitude. b.And non-believers? It's perhaps the favorite line from Scripture of non-believers- as in, you guys ought to love me, too, even though I don't agree with you- and love the poor, the sickly, and minorities while you're at it.)
5) And as much as we've done it to the least of these brethren, you've done it unto me. (See 4b.)
6) 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. (To the Christian right: This is simple and easy- not like all the detailed, complex stuff you hear out of those pointy-headed intellectuals and scientists. To non-believers: "Let's not spend a whole lot of time fighting"- I'm not going to knock you over the head with this God-stuff, and you're free to believe what you want.)
7) And as the only person here on the stage with a theology degree.... (I know what I'm talking about- the rest of you guys don't. And by the way, don't think that just because I'm a Christian that I'm not educated.)
8) There are parts of it I don't fully comprehend and understand. (But I'm humble- in the manner of Jesus Christ, my Lord.)
9) No finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small. (And our God, the Judaeo-Christian god, is not small- as for the god of the Muslims, well....)

Commentators have remarked that Huckabee, as a Baptist (specifically, Southern Baptist Convention) minister, should have scored big with this question. But it was an answer of substance as well as, politically, far more than effective than a potential primary (or caucus) voter could have expected from anyone.

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