March 6, 2011

This alone might explain conservative Christians and poverty

From this review of a book about the Bible, recognition that those who say it holds all the answers don't actually know it very well:
"he notes simultaneously that Americans are surprisingly ignorant of what is actually in it. “More than 80 percent of born-again or evangelical Christians believe that ‘God helps those who help themselves’ is a Bible verse,” he writes."

Add to that an ignorance about how tax money actually goes to help the poor in ways other than handouts, and you have a recipe for conservative polices that actually see the poor as responsible for their own poverty.

The book sounds interesting, however, beyond this particular issue. According to this review, it not only speaks to American ignorance about the text they claim to revere (same could be said about the Declaration and Constitution, btw), but it also speaks to something I have experienced first hand: struggling with being told that the Bible had all the answers when it often seemed confusing.
To Beal, the problem lies with the notion that the Bible is “a divine guidebook, a map for getting through the terra incognita of life.” For as soon as you open it and start reading, it becomes troublingly apparent that the Bible is no such thing. It does not offer answers to problems, especially not to twenty-first-century problems. Only in a few places does it even offer straightforward moral counsel. Depending on where you read in it, the Bible might give the impression that it is mainly composed of genealogies and agricultural regulations.

The gulf between what readers expect to find in the Bible and what they are actually given produces a kind of paralysis, Beal explains. “For many Christians, this experience of feeling flummoxed by the Bible … [produces] not only frustration but also guilt for doubting the Bible’s integrity.” The Bible-publishing industry feeds on this anxiety, he argues, by endlessly repackaging the Biblical text in ever more watered-down and over-explained forms.
All of this, according to the author, is an attempt to make the Bible do what it doesn't do well--speak with one clear voice. I have found that frustration when reading discussions about the Bible's take on everything from slavery to poverty and wealth.

Anyway. Back to grading.


Natalie said...

I seriously want to check out this book. This ties in with something I've noticed recently. The dismissiveness by Reformed Christians of the mere suggestion that their interpretation of what the bible says about hell might not be the correct one. Their defenses of their interpretation were worded so that it appeared they weren't defending God or even Christianity, but rather the bible - It's bibliolatry. I just find it funny that conservative christians elevate the bible so much but don't really know that much about it...

Streak said...

Yeah, good point, Natalie.

steves said...

I think it just depends on the group. I have participated in Bible studies with some fairly conservative folks that were also well educated and well read. They were very quick to admit that their interpretations were not always right and that the Bible can be very complex.

The comparison with the Constitution is good. I have run into plenty of people of varying political beliefs that were quick to point out their interpretation of the Constitution was just "common sense" or "obvious". My all time favorites are those who point out how a policy from their political nemesis is making the founding fathers "turn over in their graves."

Streak said...

Steve, speaking of the Constitution, do you know how Scalia's original intent interpretation deals with slavery, women's suffrage, etc.?

Monk-in-Training said...

As I keep noticing, the Scriptures that my Conservative friends intend to support, often contradict their very actions and intentions.

In their defense, however, they generally don't read the whole Bible, just a few favorite parts. Also, when I get a serious one, and they see the actual Word saying something, they often go into severe mental conflict, wrestling with it.

steves said...

Scalia's originalism, as far as I can tell, on slavery would be what was intended at the time the Constitution or the applicable amendment was ratified. Slavery was clearly banned in the 13th amendment and the 19th extended the right to vote to women.

Scalia has generally not been supportive of racial affirmative action laws and believes that gender discrimination laws should be subject to intermediate scrutiny, as opposed to strict scrutiny.

Bob said...

"Their defenses of their interpretation were worded so that it appeared they weren't defending God or even Christianity, but rather the bible - It's bibliolatry."

This is like defending the symbols of patriotism instead of the county itself. Or maybe what they THINK is in the constitution instead of defending the country:

-Defense of the pledge of allegiance: allegianceolatry.
-Defense of the flag: flagolatry.
-Defense of the constitution: constitutionolatry.

Streak said...

Steve, you offered some alternative to originalism a year or so ago. What was that called? I don't understand the idea of originalism, obviously, and mostly because as I teach this stuff, I am struck by how many different voices and opinions and intents there are in the Constitution. Hard for me to see one thing.

Natalie said...

Bob that is so true. The ideas/symbols that derive from either the bible or the constitution end up overshadowing.

If I can chime in, as a law student, about Scalia's (and Thomas') originalism. It's very selective. Somehow it conveniently ends up favoring those in power. And Scalia himself thinks that gender discrimination is not the court's problem, but rather should be addressed legislatively. This selective originalism often sounds very similar to the way religious conservatives interpret their text...

steves said...

I am trying to remember what I said. There is a form of originalism called textualism that focuses on what the Constitution says. People that follow this school of thought are skeptical of being able to figure out the intent of the framers or the authors. Personally, I can see the benefits and disadvantages of either viewpoint and can find decisions that I like from both.

I consider myself more of a pragmatist. I found a good definition of a judicial pragmatist that says it is, a non-originalist who gives substantial weight to judicial precedent or the consequences of alternative interpretations, so as to sometimes favor a decision "wrong" on originalist terms because it promotes stability or in some other way promotes the public good.

This is a viewpoint that is certainly not unique and has been championed by a variety of judges and scholars over the years. Richard Posner, a well known judge from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, is a big champion of this kind of interpretation that takes a kind of middle ground. Basically, it says that any theory of constitutional theory that completely ignores consequences and focuses exclusively on text or original intentions is wrong. In addition, any theory of constitutional interpretation that completely ignores either text or original intentions and focuses primarily on consequences is wrong.

A court that is tasked with hearing appeals and setting precedent should include justices from varying backgrounds and theories and shouldn't be heavily skewed in any direction.

steves said...

Oops, I didn't really answer all your questions. Originalism essentially says that the provisions of the Constitution are to be interpreted as they were understood at that time. For instance, an originalist wouldn't say the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment, as it was permitted at the time of the ratification of the BOR.

I wouldn't say that Scalia is selective in his originalism. Love him or hate him, he is fairly consistent in how he votes.