It’s hard to think of a bigger fiasco. If the questions aired are the best that the American public can come up with in a presidential election, then perhaps the world is correct in thinking that we are a bunch of shallow, self-absorbed idiots. About the only inane thing they didn’t ask was the candidates positions on Brittany Spears.
From the guy waving the Bible and asking the candidates if they believed every word exactly as written, to the inane question concerning which baseball team Rudy rooted for, it seemed to me that the good folks at CNN went out of their way to try and reinforce liberal stereotypes of conservative candidates. To me, this is highlighted not only by the questions themselves, but by the people CNN selected to answer the questions.
By way of example, let’s take the Bible question:
“Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?” – Joseph Dearing, 24, Dallas Texas.
There are those out there who believe that every single word in the Bible is to be taken literally. I understand part of their reasoning. If you believe that some of the Bible is to be taken literally, while other parts are allegory, who decides which parts are which? It really leaves the entire Bible open to interpretation. The only “safe” way to approach it is to take a “zero tolerance” approach and regard the whole thing as absolutely literal. This may be a “safe” approach, but is it the correct approach?
What we in this country refer to as “the Bible” is just one of many different versions of “the Bible” in use by Christendom around the world. I am not talking about different languages or translations; I am talking about the very canon of scripture itself. Then there is the issue of thousands of years of transcription, and translation from one language to another.
Leaving aside canonical differences, let’s just take the issue of translation and transcription. “The Bible”, as most of us know it, wasn’t engraved in stone by the very finger of God in King James English. It was written in several different ancient languages which themselves have changed over the past thousands of years. Think for a moment what that means. They didn’t have Xerox machines back then. Or word processors. Or typewriters or printing presses for that matter. Gutenberg invented the first printing press with movable wooden or metal typefaces in 1436. One of the first books he printed was a copy of the Bible. The Gutenberg Bible was published on 30 September, 1452 and was the first book published in volume. (It is said that printing was done in China well before this, and it may be true; however it is pretty certain they weren’t printing Bibles there, which is the topic of discussion here.)
Before the printing press, copies of books were made the “old-fashioned” way. They were copied laboriously by hand, typically in script. Despite the care that I am sure was exercised in copying Holy Scripture, transcription errors are inevitable, even assuming deliberate changes were not made by unscrupulous rulers and prelates along the way. Over hundreds of years, errors creep in, and are passed along, even with the most deliberate care. Sort of a slow motion version of the old game of “gossip” we used to play as kids. The more kids in the loop, the greater the variance between what was said at the start of the line and what ended up at the finish.
The invention of the printing press made it possible to turn out consistent, identical copies, eliminating copying errors. This did not prevent other types of errors, such as typos (which occurred and still occur today despite best efforts to prevent them), but it did at least ensure consistency from one run of Bibles to the next.
The other problem is that of translation. We don’t have the original manuscripts our scriptures are based on; those became dust ages ago. So we can’t go back to the original to make sure that we got it right. The best we can do is to go back to the earliest versions we have (which are not necessarily word for word exact) and run our translations from there. That’s fine, except that the languages have changed also. To get an example of this, just look at the King James Version of the Bible, written in the English of the time and compare it to the English of today. Word meanings change; sentence construction changes. Phrases once understood a certain way are understood differently now, or sometimes not at all. Any implied cultural understandings are, over time, distorted or even lost.
And then there is the fact that some things don’t translate exactly from one language to another. The Eskimo’s are reported to have over twenty distinct words to describe different kinds of snow. Snow is very important to Eskimos; not so much to us. So many of these words don’t have exact English translations, and it is necessary to use phrases to describe what is meant by them. Different translators may use different English phrases to translate the same Eskimo word, with different shades of meaning. And the result still may not be exactly what the Eskimo meant. And this is just about snow, which is a fairly concrete substance that you can see, taste and smell. Imagine the difficulty when attempting to translate abstract concepts of a spiritual nature.
Even today, scholars can’t agree on consistent, exact translations from the texts we do have. This is one reason why we have so many different translations of the Bible, even in English.
So when the man on the YouTube video brandishes his scriptures and insists that every word there needs to be followed literally and exactly word for word, which version is he holding? Which translation? Are other translations valid? Who decides? Him? What about other people, also insisting that every word needs to be followed literally and exactly, who are using a different translation?
Our founders very wisely put religion off limits as a litmus test for political office. It is things like this that very glaringly explain why that is and should be so.
Of course, just because the government can’t impose a religious litmus test to determine if someone can hold public office or not, that doesn’t mean the voter can’t impose such a litmus test. Hence the question.
So who does CNN pick to answer the question? Why, the preacher (Huckabee), the Mormon (Romney), and the serial polygamist (Giuliani), of course.
Huckabee’s response: “Sure. I believe the Bible is exactly what it is. It's the word of revelation to us from God himself. And the fact is that when people ask do we believe all of it, you either believe it or you don't believe it. But in the greater sense, I think what the question tried to make us feel like was that, well, if you believe the part that says "Go and pluck out your eye," well, none of us believe that we ought to go pluck out our eye. That obviously is allegorical…Until we get [the] simple, real easy things right, I'm not sure we ought to spend a whole lot of time fighting over the other parts that are a little bit complicated.” Romney’s response: “You know – yes, I believe it's the word of God, the Bible is the word of God. I mean, I might interpret the word differently than you interpret the word, but I read the Bible and I believe the Bible is the word of God. I don't disagree with the Bible. I try to live by it.”
Giuliani’s response: “OK. The reality is, I believe it, but I don't believe it's necessarily literally true in every single respect. I think there are parts of the Bible that are interpretive. I think there are parts of the Bible that are allegorical. I think there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be interpreted in a modern context.”
Needless to say, “Mr. Jot and Tittle” was not satisfied with the responses he received from any of the three. The only acceptable response for him to the question would have been “yes of course, I believe every word, literally, exactly as written.” And I would submit that even then he would not have been satisfied, as he would not have believed the response.
At the very least, he would have had some very pointed responses I am sure.
I am also pretty sure that the majority of Christians out there are not quite so literal minded when it comes to the Bible. The answers given by the three candidates likely reflect, by large majorities, the way most Christians look at the Bible. For some, it is hugely important that the world was created in six days (of presumably 24-hour duration), literally as it states in Genesis. For others, it is only important that it was created; the exact mechanism and amount of time taken is immaterial.
For me, I believe it was done in six creationary “periods”, as described in the scriptures. Whether He did it using natural laws and evolutionary means (which He created) over millions of years, or whether He waved a magic wand and “poof” it all came into existence instantaneously makes no difference whatsoever to my belief and testimony. Being God, he did it as he chose, and that is good enough for me.
It should be easy enough to look at the plethora of different Christian faiths and sects out there, each with differing doctrines and interpretations of the scriptures, and be able to tell that Christians are not a monolithic block when it comes to their beliefs concerning what is written in the Bible. That being the case, literal interpretation of the scriptures as written, cannot be a mainstream Christian concept; or perhaps many Christians do believe in literal interpretation, but simply can’t agree on the same interpretation; even when using the exact same translation. What exactly was CNN trying to illustrate by selecting that particular question and those particular candidates to answer it?
I also fail to see exactly what bearing the question had on any of the candidate’s fitness for the Presidency, which is what the “debate” was supposed to be about. That CNN thought the question important enough to include it in the debate speaks volumes to me about what the producers think of Christians in general, and Republican voters in particular.
Did they really think the question was in the Christian mainstream? Do they really think this a serious issue among Republican voters? Or is this simply an example of a secularly liberal media bias attempting to illustrate for those out there in the great unwashed, that these are the kind of religious “nuts” to which the Republican Party panders, and that you elect such to the office at your peril.
Then again, perhaps it was just an inane attempt by CNN to generate “controversy” and improve its ratings. Perhaps CNN thought this was the religious equivalent of sex and violence to those strange “moral majority” Christian folk they don’t quite understand; sort of like throwing fresh meat to a pack of starving wolves. (Not to be confused with throwing Christians to a pride of starving lions.)
Did they really think the question was germane to the fitness of a candidate for the office of President of the United States?
What do you think?