The Roots of the Political Use and Abuse of the Bible | Dr. Leroy Huizenga | CWR
Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker's book, Politicizing the Bible, examines how the development of biblical scholarship has severed Scripture from the heart of the Church.
The Bible continues to play a large role in American public life, as politicians, candidates, and activists advert to it directly and employ its cadences in support of a variety of positions, programs, and policies. In recent decades, Barack Obama has been quite willing to employ the Bible in service of progressive purposes, while Bill Clinton went so far as to offer voters a “new covenant.” On the Republican side, George W. Bush called America “the Light of the World”, while Ronald Reagan appropriated biblical language and even declared 1983 "The Year of the Bible". This political use of the Bible in American discourse is not new, of course. The speeches, writings, and sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were well woven with the fine natural threads of biblical inflection and images. Decades earlier in 1896, William Jennings Bryan warned that advocates of the gold standard would “crucify mankind on a cross of gold.” And of course well before that the Puritan settlers envisioned America as a new promised land and the ultimate city on a hill, the latter a dominical phrase employed later by both John F. Kennedy and Reagan.
One does not find this political use of the Bible very much across the ocean in Europe, except among fringe Christian parties. Even politicians affiliated with historic parties with “Christian” in their very name—such as the Christian Democratic Union in Germany—generally don’t employ anything like “Gott segne Deutschland”in the way American politicians toss out the tagline “God bless America.” The reason, I suppose, is that the Bible holds little real cultural authority in secular, post-Christian societies, and if America is indeed heading that way, it’s not there yet. Enough American citizens regard themselves as Christians for politicians to keep using the Bible politically, often in ways that can only be deemed idolatrous in that they mistake America for God, or Jesus, or biblical Israel, and blasphemous in that they may violate the Second Commandment’s violation of taking the name of the LORD for vain purposes.
Modern Scholarship, Secular Ends
The rule, then: Where Christian faith matters to a substantial number of the electorate, there politicians, candidates, and activists will employ the Bible. But this is neither a new nor a uniquely American phenomenon. For the Bible has played a role in a number of empires, societies, tribes, and nations, and where it has, those who would wield power have tried to wield biblical interpretation to serve their purposes.
Such is the subtle line taken in Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker’s recent book, Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture 1300-1700 (Crossroad, 2013).