My new book friend Ingrid sent me a copy of Thumpin’ It by Jaques Berlinerblau (copyright 2008, WJKpress), and it’s been a literary breath of fresh air into my political re-emergence this electoral season. Subtitled "The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today’s Politics", it’s actually a pretty good primer on the Bible’s use throughout American history. He does a bang-up job at describing the details without taking a partisan side, explaining credibly that both sides "use and abuse" the Bible.
"… no empire, no society, and rarely even one denomination has ever been able to agree on what the Bible says. Put differently, even if there were one ‘right’ reading of the Bible, we have yet to find a social body that has achieved agreement as to what it might be." (p. 32)
His first pass is into such divisive hot button topics as the environment, stem-cell research and foreign policy – all areas of current event interest that are not really addressed in 2,000-year-old texts. But each "side" has its own loose prooftexts to cite, its own spin and perspective on the issues and problems at hand, and the Bible serves to give some weight and authority to those opposing views. Both sides paradoxically use the same Bible to point to diametrically opposed viewpoints. He also leads into dialog on the campaigns and the party dynamic, where Democrats are waking up to the spiritual side of the electorate that the Republicans have had a stranglehold on for decades. In most cases, the pointed use of vague and victorious-sounding scriptural rhetoric is a plus for a candidate, while relying too heavily on the Bible, or appearing to take it too seriously, is also almost always a pitfall.
I want to recommend this one to everyone – but it’s mostly for those who see something spiritual on the political scope that "just smells funny". It’s like everyone is spiritual, but not everyone’s exactly truthful. The scriptures are as helpful as they can be when prooftexted to back up a point, but there’s not any real political reliance on the Bible for much more than "a personal faith". Whether that’s a plus or a minus is left to the reader. I appreciate that Berlinerblau’s work goes beyond the current soundbites to a place that wrestles with truth beyond the pithy truths of the speeches and negative ads.