The Disingenuous Nature of the Christian Right Summed Up on a Texas Billboard

A billboard with a biblical scripture on it has popped up on a Victoria, TX billboard, and the Secret Service has been called in to investigate.

Pray for Obama Billboard w/ Psalm 109:8

A billboard in Victoria, TX asks people to “Pray for Obama”, and then disingenuously cites Psalm 109:8, which reads, “May his days be few; may another take his office.”

The billboard asks people to “Pray for Obama”, and then disingenuously cites “Psalms [plural sic!] 109:8″, which reads:

“May his days be few; may another take his office.”

At first glance, the “speech” is not hateful. In fact, the billboard appears to be anything but – a call for all people to pray for President Obama, complete with an image of hands gently folded in prayer, a portrait of the president, and a Bible verse.

However, it is the verse that is cited (Psalm 109:8) that is causing the stir. The single verse (8) simply calls for the removal of someone (King David in the original context) from “office”.

However, the Secret Service was probably called in because the full text of Psalm 109:8-15 reads:

(8) May his days be few; may another take his office. (9) May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow. (10) May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit. (11) May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil. (12) May there be no one to do him a kindness, nor anyone to pity his orphaned children. (13) May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation. (14) May the iniquity of his father be remembered before the LORD, and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out. (15) Let them be before the LORD continually, and may his memory be cut off from the earth.

(The Bible is pleasant, huh?)

The fact that the context of Psalm 109 is actually recounting the words of a righteous King David, who is complaining about the lies and threats his enemies are making against him is apparently lost on the individual who placed this ad.

The beginning of the Psalm (109:1-7) reads:

(1) Do not be silent, O God of my praise. (2) For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. (3) They beset me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. (4) In return for my love they accuse me, even while I make prayer for them. (5) So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love. (6) They say, “Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand on his right. (7) When he is tried, let him be found guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin. (and then Psa. 109:8) May his days be few; may another take his office…

Like most fundamentalist prooftexting and exegesis, the self-indicting context is completely ignored. The fact that the one proclaiming the words “May his days be few; may another take his office” is said to be a wicked man is completely ignored. Likewise, the fact that David is appealing to God about the lies and threats his enemies are making against him is a contextual fact completely overlooked by the one who created this disingenuous billboard.

I say the billboard is “disingenuous” because Christianity does preserve a tradition that Christians should “pray for” those in authority. It is found in 1 Timothy 2:1-3:

(1) I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people, (2) for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (3) This is good, and pleases God our Savior…

However, despite this clear Christian command to pray for (not against) those in power, the Victoria, TX billboard prays for President Obama’s demise:

“May his days be few; may another take his office” (followed by all those pleasant verses calling for the death and demise of his family).

It is not so much that the billboard is “hate speech”, unless you want to argue (as many do) that the Bible is filled with what can be described as hate speech, like the prayer at the end of Psalm 137:9 where the author begs for revenge against his enemies and proclaims:

“Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

(because celebrating the murder of innocent children always plays well in religious circles.)

Rather, for me this billboard exposes the sheer duplicity and disingenuous nature of many conservative Christians, who seek to pick and choose scriptures that serve their preconceived political desires, and who use the Bible to heap hate and wishes of demise upon their perceived political enemies. It looks bad for all people of faith, and only adds to the ever growing body of evidence supporting the claim that the deliberate infusion of religion into politics in this country is approaching the downright toxic levels that we find in Islamic republics around the world. Conservative Christians rightfully denounce the religious oppression of these fundamentalist Islamic regimes, but then call for the very same Christian version of sharia law in America. Go figure!

Of course, this isn’t the first time that conservative Christians have used Psalm 109 to deride their political opponents. Joel Watts has chronicled several instances of the abuse of this particular scripture in politics.

But given that Christians are commanded to pray for their leaders, this billboard is nothing more than disingenuous religious prooftexting.

Then again, what more should we expect from the Christian right these days?

2010 debate on the reliability of scripture between bart ehrman and craig evans

If you have an hour, you really ought to listen to the 2010 debate between Dr. Bart Ehrman and Dr. Craig Evans on the reliability of scripture. Below are the YouTube videos in 9 parts.

Dr. Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Craig A. Evans is the Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College of Acadia University, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.

The audience is the First Family Church in Kansas City and Dr. Ehrman acknowledges at the beginning that most people there will not agree with him. However, throughout the debate you will notice a growing trend: Dr. Ehrman demonstrates the discrepancies and inconsistencies and errors of the biblical text, and dismantles any possibility of an “inerrant” or “infallible” text. In response, Dr. Evans does not dispute Dr. Ehrman’s arguments, but instead dismisses these errors as “insignificant” or attempts to argue that the text is still reliable despite the textual problems.

I’ll let you decide whose argument is more compelling. However, I agree with the moderator, Pastor Jerry Johnston, who states after one of Dr. Evans’ responses (Pt. 3, @ 3:37), “Sounds like an evangelist.”

The key questions are as follows:

  1. Are the gospels reliable? (Pt. 1 @ 3:50)
  2. Do the gospels accurately preserve the teachings of Jesus Christ? (Pt. 2 @ 3:42)
  3. Do the gospels accurately preserve the activities of Jesus Christ? (Pt. 3 @ 3:42)
  4. Do the gospels contain eyewitness tradition? (Pt. 4 @ 4:25)
  5. Do archaeologists and historians use the gospels as sources? (Pt. 5 @ 4:05)
  6. Have the gospels been accurately preserved down through the centuries? (Pt. 6 @ 6:22)
  7. Do scribal errors and textual variants significantly impact any teaching of Jesus or any important Christian teaching? (Pt. 7 @ 7:33)
  8. Final Remarks (Pt. 8 @ 7:01)

Here are the videos. Enjoy!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Part 7:

Part 8:

Part 9:

UCLA Summer 2011 Course: Dead Sea Scrolls and Early Judaism with Dr. Robert R. Cargill

Course: Jewish Studies 170: Dead Sea Scrolls and Early Judaism
Instructor: Dr. Robert R. Cargill, UCLA
Date: Summer 2011, Block A (June 20 – July 29, 2011)
Time: MW – 12:00 to 2:15 pm
Room: Public Affairs 2270

Qumran Tower

The Reconstructed Tower at Qumran, facing southeast

Course Description:
This 4-unit course introduces the Dead Sea Scrolls and their relationship with early Jewish movements. The course will include extensive reading of the Scrolls in English translation (with discussion of some key Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words), an examination of the archaeology of the site of Qumran, and a survey of the broader sociopolitical context of Second Temple Judaism (586 BCE – 135 CE) out of which the scrolls emerged. The history of the discovery of the scrolls will be discussed, as will the interpretative methods used by scholars studying the scrolls over the past 60 years. The class will explore issues of Jewish sectarianism, canon and “scripture,” the role of the Temple, the place of the Torah, the re-writing of texts, interpretation of prophecy, messianic expectation(s), liturgy, and will compare and contrast the text of the scrolls with early Christian and Rabbinic texts.

The course makes extensive use of virtual reconstructions of the archaeological site of Qumran and digitized texts. Each lecture will be video cast on iTunes U and exams are taken online via CCLE/Moodle.

Please contact Prof. Robert R. Cargill at cargill@humnet.ucla.edu for more info.

Click here for a .pdf flier of the course. Click here for the registrar’s course information.

dear fox news, please stop trying to be religious scholars, because you suck at it

allow me to welcome jim west, who will set this one up for us:

I’m trying to think of a word that describes people worse than dilettantes.  Idiots?  Imbeciles? Morons?  People who should NEVER talk about or be allowed within 10 miles of the Bible or biblical interpretation?  Or, more accurately, all of the above.  Because all of the above certainly describes Fox News and their utter unfamiliarity with anything related to Scripture.

A page on Fox Nation…claims Obama “misquoted a familiar Bible verse” during his address yesterday:

President Obama misquoted a familiar Bible verse during a faith-based address at the National Prayer Breakfast.”Those who wait on the Lord will soar on wings like eagles, and they will run and not be weary, and they will walk and not faint,” the president said during a speech to several thousand people at the breakfast.

But the actual passage, from Isaiah 40:31, states: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Somewhat ironically, while Fox Nation appears to be positioning themselves as the arbiters of authentic Christianity, they seem unfamiliar with the fact that there is more than one version of the Bible.  Obama was  quoting from the New International Version while Fox Nation was pointing to the King James Version to “debunk” him.  This would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.

Really Fox, please, please, just shut up.  Just shut up and never talk about the Bible or Christianity ever again.  Every time you do (or Beck does or O’Reilly does) you all just prove to the rest of the world how thoroughly moronic you are.  You’re not just dilettantes.  You’re far worse.  You’re Fox News.

i’ve said it before, i’ll say it again: the sooner people at fox news stop trying to be theologians – i’m looking at you bill o’reilly (here) and glenn beck (here and here and here and here) – and stop trying to establish themselves as religious authorities attempting to cultivate some sort of christian version of sharia law, the better off we’ll all be.

just admit that you only want to criticize president obama, and don’t mind using some sloppy biblical exegesis misinterpretation to do so.

don’t you think that a journalist with even a shred of integrity might hear president obama’s speech and say, ‘hmm, that sounds like a verse i know. i wonder if he’s using a different translation?’ nope. instead, this ‘fox nation‘ report (note that the name of whoever wrote that ‘article’ is nowhere to be found) just assumes that obama misquoted scripture and started ranting, betraying both his/her own ignorance of the bible (and its translations) and his/her (religious?) animosity toward president obama.

dear fox news: please stop pretending to be religious scholars, because you suck at it.

via Zwinglius Redivivus

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