Democracy Soup

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Rumsfeld’s Biblical Manipulations Demonstrate the Danger of Literal Interpretation

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Originally published on on Tue, 05/19/2009 – 10:16am

For progressives, the Jed Bartlet perspective of verses from Leviticus and Exodus is more of what we need to see.

It speaks to the true part of humanity that misinterpretation of words is so easy to do in an innocent fashion. But when words are deliberately misinterpreted, we don’t have nearly as much patience.

Donald Rumsfeld’s cover sheets for George W. Bush, quoting Biblical verses out of context, should be the last straw for those on the right who see that the precious words of the Bible — those that they consider to be written by God — can be misinterpreted by humans for less-than-ideal circumstances. But when words are misinterpreted in our favor, we are often blind to those actions.

When those on the right claim that the Bible is literally the word of God, what they never understand is that a literal interpretation can be a misinterpretation.

As Keith Olbermann noted last night on “Countdown,” “The Bible might be the most quoted, least clearly understood book of this time.”

Whatever you might think of the source of the words in the Bible or the Koran or any other religious book, they are still subject to human interpretation and misinterpretation. But hopefully, when they are used to justify an unjustifiable war, we can all agree that this is the wrong way to go.

Of course, this wouldn’t have been true hundreds of years ago — when humanity fought wars in the name of religion. Then again, Catholics fought Protestants in the 20th century. But for those who have learned that fighting in the name of religion is futile, watching Bush and his rhetoric was unsettling. To find out that Bush was further manipulated in that rhetoric is unconscionable.

But it does speak to the dangers of literal interpretation, Biblical or otherwise. Words have context, whether we quote Lincoln, FDR, or letters to Timothy.

And the more broad perspective we entertain to past words, the more likely we are not to twist them to fit some offboard purpose.

Sometimes, it’s not just words that should influence us. As Olbermann’s guest last night, Interfaith Alliance President and Baptist minister C. Welton Gaddy, put it so well, “If you want to be religious, you go not just to quoting Scripture, you act like the Scripture tells you to act.” In Iraq, we did not do that.

If we had known that Bush might be influenced by Biblical verses in such a blasphemous fashion, we could have sent President Bartlet or someone equivalent to try and set him straight. But progressives need to assume that those who appear to live by literal interpretation can eagerly manipulate words to do things they otherwise wouldn’t seem capable of doing.

We may still have not learned the lessons of having wars over religion, but we sure can work to make sure religious words aren’t misinterpreted to be part of the battle cry.

Video link to Rachel Maddow’s interview with Robert Draper of GQ, who put together this amazing story.


Written by democracysoup

May 19, 2009 at 10:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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