When Presidential Politicians Quote Scripture
Two politicians made news this week when they quoted scripture. President Obama quoted Psalm 46 and got the interwebz all a buzz and then Wanna Be President Rick Perry tried his hand at theology with similar results.
Here’s a youtube of Obama quoting Psalms:
As these things go, it was a good reading. It was a safe choice because all of the Abrahamitic religions (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) acknowledge the importance of Psalms. The God of Jacob is acknowledged by all three though some Muslims might prefer to say the “God of Ishmael” since they think that Ishmael was the important son of Abraham but still over all a relatively safe but bold move. If nothing else Obama is certainly causing interest in Psalm 46 as this chart shows. Over at Huffington Post , there was the usual dialogue and chatter. But what I find interesting is how the Atheists and let’s just say the “Not friendly to Religion” dismiss half the Psalm and give Obama points for his endearing qualities.
As one very critical of religion and the Bible, and most certainly against any form of religion having an influence in law or education . . . I was able to find no offense in his decision to read this particular scripture, and I did mention them somewhat in a reply below. It was the intent he had that makes it…well... not really a big deal. It seems pretty clear that he was really saying that American is not going to fear those who would prefer we do otherwise, no matter how extreme the actions.
Now the President may or may not have meant what this charitable post says he meant. After all, given what the Psalm itself said, he could have just as easily “meant” other things. For instance here’s part of that passage:
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the [d]sea;
3 Though its waters roar and foam,
Maybe he meant this as a commentary on climate change. This section might be a commentary on Ancient (or if we are being “metaphorical” modern warfare):
Come, behold the works of the LORD,
[i]Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
9 He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire.
Which might be appropriate if America were carrying on two wars with tribes in New Guinea.The point of all this eisegesis is that to say that the President “obviously” meant anything is to to do more speculation that 30 year old day traders in their slippers after the Hong Kong exchange opens. One commenter gets this point:
It may not be important in this context (9/11), but the core, the value of Psalm 46 lies not so much in the introduction, but rather in sentence 10 “Be still, and know that I am God” This passage is probably the second most important sentence in the Old Testament.It is not be immediately evident what it means, as the connotation is somewhat watered down in the English translation. Its meaning, however, becomes clearer in the original Hebrew (הַרְפּ֣וּ Seize!), and more so in the Latin translation of the Sacra Vulgata: cessate et cognoscite quoniam ego sum Deus. STOP [all mental activities] and come to realize that I AM GOD! I am is the significance of God, and being still is the way of recognizing it. Know that I am God it says, not think that I am God. That is where Bible meets Bhagavad Gita.
Now that is as close to exegesis as the Huffpo commentators get and that sentiment can’t sit well if you are an atheist. I’ll ignore the comment about the Bhagavad Gita on “Be Still and Know” since unlike the Huffpo exegetes I won’t speculate as to what he/she meant by that. In fact if all Obama wanted to say was “We will persevere” did he really have to read that whole passage? He could have stopped with:
1 God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
3 Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.
On the offendo meter, verses 1-3 register pretty low. Sure God is mentioned but as we saw, that can be overcome if we are willing to wax metaphorical. So all in all I give kudos where kudos are due. Whether it was a campaign move, the recommendation of a staffer or something that Barak just decided to do, it was a bold move. I wonder if any other presidential candidates decide to quote scripture if they will be extended the same charity. I’m archiving this quote from Huffpo for when someone else on the other side decides to quote some scripture:
it was his right to do so and I am not offended by his decision. I can’t prove that he himself chose it and that it wasn’t a recommendation of a speech writer or his media adviser, and I don’t want to blatantly accuse him of doing it simply as a campaign move, just worth the hypothesis. None of that matters though. What matters is the verse he chose and read was not meant to convert anyone, not meant to condemn anyone, but for the positive attitude it evokes. And I will take it as a metaphor like I do much of the Bible. So, no issue at all. But people can still be offended by it and give their reasons as well…
Actually I don’t have to wait too long as Rick Perry has already tried his hand at a little theology but I’ll have to save that bit of commentary for next time.