Thumpin’ It: The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today’s Presidential Politics

Yesterday during our conversation about Matthew’s intriguing proposals on how to live in a world where the values of your faith community conflict with the values of the dominant social power, Judy asked a great question. “That’s the first century. What about now?”

This led to a brief but provocative conversation about how politicians of every era have tried to co-opt religion for political purposes. When this is done effectively, people can scarcely tell the difference between their faith and their nationality, between national patriotism and loyalty to the reign of God.

If you want to see a striking biblical example of this tactic, take a look at 1 Kings 12:26-29. This happens after the civil war that split Israel and Juda. In this passage King Jereboam builds a temple in Israel because he’s afraid that if people go to Jerusalem, which was in the southern kingdom of Judah, their religious loyalties would turn into political loyalties. For the next chapter in that story, take a look at Amos, chapter 7, and see what happens when a religious figure lodges a complaint in that temple about a political leader. Talk about a confusion of religion and politics!

Okay, but that was the 8th-century BCE, what about now? Yesterday, I mentioned Jacques Berlinerblau’s book Thumpin’ It: The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today’s Presidential Politics. Berlinerblau thoroughly and hilariously dissects the way politicians make use of the Bible. After investigating how both parties make use of the Bible on issues as diverse as climate change and stem-cell research, he offers the following advice for politicians who want to make effective use of the Bible (note: this is different from *good* use of the Bible).

1. “Citations must be sparse and measured.”

2. “Be positive!”

3. “Vagueness is a virtue.”

4. “Avoid intellectual and theological depth.”

5. “Conceal your references.”

Clever…and discouraging! It makes me wonder how we’ll “go the second mile” here and now?

If you’d like to check out the book for yourself, here’s a link to the Amazon page:

If you have suggestions for other books the class might find of interest, please leave a comment below. 


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