In his book, Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non Religious World, Bishop John Shelby Spong breaks open the Torah and exposes it as the Word of Man rather than the Word of God. I discussed that in the past several posts. I’d like to discuss a fascinating parallel that I discovered between the culture of the Israelites of 400 BCE and the right-wing, fundamental Christian citizens of the United States in the 21st century. A few weeks ago a naive right-wing blogger stated that he was ‘more of an Old Testament Christian.’ Gulp.
As I read farther and farther into Spong’s expose’ of the foundation of the Jewish faith and its effect on the lives of the 4th century BCE Semites of the Middle East, I am struck with parallels between these ancient people and the fundamentalist Christians of the 21st century in our country. Spong does not make that connection, but I do. As I read the story of the people behind the layers of Biblical mythology, I note characteristics of modern-day fundamentalists- especially the political characteristics of the people at the far right end of the political spectrum.
The question arises: does the exposure to Bible stories in Sunday school and the subsequent reading of these stories in adulthood alter the mind-set of modern-day Americans and make them more susceptible to right-wing political ideology? It is already clear to me that Bible literalists are ripe targets of propagandists simply because they are literalists and believers who obey the instructions of their religious leaders. Our friend, Microdot, calls them victims of a ‘manipulative mind control cult.’ Yet, I think it is important to ask: What ideas and ideals do modern-day Americans absorb from the pages of the Bible? And further: How do these ideals affect their political agenda?
During the NBC GOP debate on Monday night in Florida, only Ron Paul disavowed military aggressiveness by our country. In fact, he chastised the others for promoting such a militarist agenda. In South Carolina he was booed for that statement. Yet, what do the pages of the Bible reveal about the Israelites? They were forever sending their armies out to ‘smite their enemies.’ War-heroes became the leaders and the kings. The more foreign wars, the higher the stature of the king. Do the many stories of Israeli war-making in the pages of the Bible justify similar military aggression for our nation? For the Bible says…
Then there is the other nonsense hyped by the right-wing of the GOP- the anti-science factor. The global climate change ‘myth’ is raw meat for the brethren. ‘Cap and Trade’ drips with blood. Of course, the GOP is in bed with Big Oil, but the right-wing sheep are easy targets for propaganda because of the anti-science myths scattered throughout the pages of the Bible. Recall the most famous anti-science tale of all: Joshua asking God to answer his prayers by stopping the sun in the sky to allow him more time to slaughter his enemies. Remember that Galileo was condemned for the “heresy” of suggesting that the earth was not the center of a three-tiered universe. The Bible was assumed to be accurate and the “Word of God,” was used to seal Galileo’s fate- to be burned at the stake as a heretic!
DISTRUST OF FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
Yet there is even more similarity between the mind-set of the Israelites of that era and today’s right-wing of the GOP. Spong relates that after the many battles that the heroes fought, ‘the Bible suggests that the Jewish people settled down into a series of closely related regions under the leadership of local judges.’ Spong goes on, “This period in Jewish history is not unlike what’s going on in the modern-day nation of Afghanistan, where real leadership resides in the tribal chiefs, who rule various parts of the nation with an iron hand. These local Jewish judges were in fact the political rulers at that time. The Israelites at this time had searing memories of their oppression at the hands of the Egyptians. Having found freedom, they were now not eager to be submissive to a distant authority again.”
Although this idea of ‘local control’ and ‘disdain of distant authority’ is quite subtle in the passages of the Bible, it nonetheless is obvious to me. Is it a stretch on my part to see a connection between the cautious Israelites who loved local control and the States’ Rights philosophy of today’s right-wing? Spong notes America’s Civil War 73 years after its founding and the ‘civil war’ that broke out with the Jews 80 years after the reign of King David. In 930 BCE the country split into two kingdoms: Israel ( Samaria) in the north and Judah (Jerusalem) in the south. Both we and they had a group of ‘dissidents’ who balked at a central government, taking up arms against centralized power.
The purity laws and kosher dietary laws set by the priestly class during the Babylonian captivity were specifically formulated to set the Jews apart from the non-Jews. Their subsequent ‘cleansing’ upon their release from Babylonia of anyone not of pure Jewish lineage made the Jews an even more exclusive ‘race’ of people. They were especially intolerant of their distant ‘cousins’ the Samarians who they viewed as unpure. Even 400 years later, the famous tale from the New Testament portrays Jesus as nearly a heretic as he talks with the Samarian woman at the well. Of course, she must be portrayed as a whore [‘she had 5 husbands’] yet she lays out the differences between the north and south kingdoms when she states, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Exclusivity by the dominant race.
The so-called ‘Cannanites’ were also looked down upon and in constant ‘war’ with the Jews. Interestingly, modern archaeological studies and modern scholars consider the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to be a subset of Canaanite culture. Yet, the Jews kept their lineage pure by excluding [and warring with] the Cannanites who were, hold your breath, polytheistic! Oh, the shame of it all.
Today the Catholicity of Gingrich and Santorum and the Mormonism of Romney are anathema to many fundamentalist Protestants as they decide on which GOP candidate to support. The purity of Protestantism, that is, fundamentalist Protestantism must be maintained. Do I dare mention Muslims?
Those, then are the parallels that I see between today’s right-wing fundamentalist Republicans and the stories in the Bible of the purification of the Jews. Outsiders need not apply.