Were I a praying man, I’d utter the following: "Lord, save us from the likes of Rick Santorum." But who would listen to such a prayer? Certainly not the legions of Bible-thumpers themselves hoping and praying that he is elected President. A Santorum presidency, you see, will be based on the Bible. Not since the the days of William Jennings Bryan has this species of fundamentalism sold quite so well.
It has a nice ring to it: If something is based on the Bible, it is good, true and righteous. Who can oppose these values?
Biblical fundamentalism is a distinctively American product, now scarcely more than a century old. In its most extreme form, it regards the Bible as literal truth, dictated by God to human scriveners serving as little more than transcription machines. There is no need to verify or authenticate the truths the Bible proclaims, they come directly from God. The Bible can explain everything and anything to those in a faithful frame of mind.
The trouble is, a doctrine that has the potential to explain everything also explains nothing. In the words of William James, there is little "cash value" in a theology that confidently proclaims that God created the heavens and Earth. This awe-inspiring declaration is the stuff of poets; the cure for polio was not found in Genesis. Making articles of faith into political doctrine inspires a politics of orthodoxy. Hence the Santorum problem.
Just what does the Bible say about rising gas prices? Or how to eliminate poverty? Or the mortgage crisis? Or the payroll tax? Or, well, any of the particular and discrete policy issues that face policymakers? Not much, witness the great diversity of faiths all claiming allegiance to the Bible. If the believers can’t agree among themselves, then who are those of us without faith to regard these claims?
The fact is that the Bible is one of the most influential works every written. I love the Psalms in times of trouble. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is weighty and difficult reading: the first four verses of Chapter 13 alone reflect great controversy about the role of government in our lives. The Song of Solomon is wonderful, and erotic, poetry. Genesis gives me a majestic vision of human origins. The Bible responds to my longing for meaning, but it does not speak. It is an interpretive pool into which we are each invited to jump. I do not return to it often enough; indeed, out culture and society is impoverished to the extent we do not steep ourselves in its cadences and rhythms.
But when I see Rick Santorum pound a podium demanding Bible-based politics, I smell a heretic. Why, I want to crown him with thorns, see him crucified and cast into outter darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Bible in a politician’s hands becomes less a gospel of love than a thug’s weapon: I think Girolamo Savonarola and his reign of righteous terror in fifteenth century Florence. God save us from God-intoxicated politicians. I am not looking for righteousness in my politicians: righteousness doesn’t pay the bills.
Details about the historical Jesus are sparse and hard to come by. But we know this much: He didn’t write a gospel of his own; he was put to death by the Romans at an early age for something akin to heresy or sedition; and, to the degree we know anything of his teaching it seems to be but this: love transforms. Jesus never held power, ran for office, or sought to govern. What the gospels relay of the twelve apostles reflects more the ethos of a rock band than a political party. I like this Jesus, the man of many sorrows acquainted with grief.
Jesus the politician sickens.
All three times Bryan ran for president, he appealed to Biblical fundamentalists. When his political career ended, he was pressed into the Scopes trial about the teaching of evolution in the Tennessee schools. Scopes was convicted for teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee statute, but Bryan never seemed to recover from the cross-examination he endured by Clarence Darrow. When pressed to explain just how the Bible could be taken literally, it was Bryan who looked like a monkey. He died shortly after the trial, perhaps of shame.
But the fundamentalists are back now, arrayed behind Santorum. If we but believed, there would be no global warming – oops, I forgot, God wouldn’t do that to us. There would be no unemployment. There would be no financial meltdown or economic crisis. If we but believed, the world would be, well, what, exactly? Even the Christians can’t agree. Would we still struggle with the legacy of sin in Augustine’s fallen world? Or would grace redeem us all, leading to peace and prosperity? Or is it all out of our hands, requiring us simply to await the rapture and the end of time? Read the Bible folks, and find out – only it won’t tell you. The Bible is great literature; it is a mirror reflecting whatever concerns we bring to it.
Rick Santorum’s brand of religion is the automobile saleman’s brand of retailing: It is a tool to get what he wants. It is not an expression of the agape sort of love expressed by a wandering peasant preacher . It is the swagger of a thug, the clarion call of a bigot, the imperial stomp of Pontius Pilate calling for another crucifixion.
Rick Santorum would crucify Jesus and call it justice. Or maybe he would call it part of God’s plan, which, of course, it apparently was. The Bible, I tell you, is a deep well; centuries later, we still find everything and nothing in its pages. It is a book best kept out of the hands of politicians. Just as Jesus drove money changers from the Temple in Jerusalem, so we, too should shun those who want to profit by turning the sacred into yet another profane hoax.