Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Poor Analogy

Ronald Reagan likened the U.S. to a “city set on a hill.” Borrowing from a sermon delivered by Puritan Pastor John Winthrop, who had actually borrowed it from the Sermon on the Mount, the phrase became inextricably associated with the Great Communicator. By the time he died, it seemed that more than a few believed it was a thought that had originated with him.

George W. Bush invoked another Biblical metaphor following Sept. 11, 2001, passionately describing the response of the U.S. to the attacks on our own soil. “The light shines in the darkness,” he said. “And the darkness will not overcome it.”

Reagan and Bush are certainly not the only political figures who have cited biblical language. It’s a fairly common practice. I appreciate it when our leaders go to the Scriptures for guidance; believe me, I'm all for it.

It would make me feel better, though, if they were a little more careful about the passages they cite, or at least more circumspect in their use of those passages

The “city set on a hill” was a phrase coined by Jesus himself. He was referring to his followers and their distinction as such. The imagery has since been used to mean the entire body of Christ, a reasonable progression. But is the entire United States a fair equivalent?

The “light” that “shines in the darkness” refers to Christ himself. I don’t see a likely comparison with any country, state or municipality. Bush caught some flack for that one -- and rightfully so, in my opinion.

I assure you that use and misuse of the Scriptures has been just as common among our Democratic brethren.

The latest example came just this week from none other than President Barack Obama. In a rather obscure speech on Tuesday that got very little press, Obama again reminded us that all that this economic mess had nothing to do with him (just in case we missed each and every other time he has told us this). He cited the parable of two men, one who built his house upon sand, only to have it wash away when the storms inevitably came; and the other who built his on a foundation of rock, and "when the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, it fell not.”

This story also comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said those who heard his words but did not act on them were like the unwise man who built his house on sand; those who heard his words and did act on them were like the wise man who built his house on rock.

The implication, of course, is that we’ve been building houses on sand for quite some time now, which is why we’re seeing so much being washed away. Now is the time, he said, to begin building upon “the rock.” One must surmise that this includes components of his budget and economic stimulus plan, which contain more spending than has ever been contemplated in the history of our government. There are those of us who believe it might contain a great deal of sand.

If I have learned anything over the years, it is that reasonable people, including reasonable people of faith, will have differences of opinion. The so-called Religious Right has taken a beating over the past few years for trying to tie Evangelical Christianity to the Republican Party. That criticism is well founded; conservatism, however defined or interpreted, and Christianity are not necessarily synonymous. Those who see themselves as being on “God’s side,” to the exclusion of all others, begin a descent down a slippery slope in my view.

Similarly, for Barack Obama to use the words of Christ to try and persuade me as to why I need to get on board with his economic stimulus plan causes me great problems.

While I respect the president as our nation’s leader, pray for him and support him as much as I can (and greatly appreciate his strong faith), I have sincere conscientious differences with him in many areas and strongly object to the actions his administration has taken or proposes to take to supposedly heal our ailing economy. I don’t appreciate his telling me that, if I’ll just go along with his policies, I’ll be building my house on a rock.

So, Mr. President, I would humbly offer you a small bit of advice: Be careful when using the words of the Master. In that he was the Son of God, he had one up on you when he told his stories.


quid said...

A well written and quietly passionate piece, Bob.


Kelly said...

This is very good, Bob. Very good indeed.

Redlefty said...

My favorite biblical quote is still MLK's "justice roll like a river..." from Hosea. Powerful in delivery and in connection to context, both of his own speech and the surrounding verses of Hosea.

He knew exactly what he was quoting.

Pencil Writer said...

Thanks, again, Bob for your clarity. Mr. Obama . . . well, I feel lots of sand coming from under his feet--and those who uphold his works.

I'm continually striving to establish my feet on that Rock, the One whose words were perhaps misspoken by the President of the US. I know that Rock (the Rock of Ages the one so eloquently mentioned in the words of Augustus M. Toplady in the 1700's) is the only one we can truly rely on.

I enjoy your posts and hope you continue to share your thoughts/feelings so well.

Debby said...

A very well written post.

Bob said...

Michael, You are right; MLK was in context.

Pencil Writer, thanks for reading.