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With liberals and conservatives alike claiming the authority of the Bible as ballast for their arguments on a wide-range of social and moral issues, the need to understand what the Bible actually says has never been more pressing. In HOW WOULD GOD VOTE?, David Klinghoffer examines the worldview set forth in the Bible and argues that, with some exceptions, God-as well as Moses and Jesus-would support the principles, positions, and policies of the present-day Republican Party. Klinghoffer considers the ethical and moral heart of contemporary political debates-the questions of gay marriage, stem cell research, abortion, the place of religion in schools and the community, and much more. Citing specific scriptural passages, he weighs the claims of both sides and shows why the conservative point of view best encompasses the meaning and intention of the Bible. Stimulating and provocative, HOW WOULD GOD VOTE? is an important contribution to preelection debates and to setting the path the nation will follow in the future.
From How Would God Vote?
This startlingly original investigation into the controversies dividing America provides a clear and convincing affirmation of the relevance of the Bible to contemporary politics.
Praise for Shattered Tablets:
“Marvelously lucid ... It weaves theological insight with the author's reflections on living in a society (ours, alas) that has cast off the Decalogue's authority.”
—Rod Dreher, Dallas Morning News
Praise for Why the Jews Rejected Jesus:
“Few writers on religion are as fearless as [David] Klinghoffer.”
—Esther Schor, Times Literary Supplement
Praise for The Discovery of God:
“I was simply bowled over by the beauty of David Klinghoffer's prose and the lucidity of his expression. A fantastic achievement.”
—William F. Buckley Jr.
Praise for The Lord Will Gather Me In:
“An arresting spiritual autobiography … David Klinghoffer has issued a prophetic challenge.”
—Mark Silk, New York Times Book Review
DAVID KLINGHOFFER is a senior fellow in the Discovery Institute's program in Religion, Liberty, and Public Life and a columnist for the Jewish Forward. He is the author of The Lord Will Gather Me In, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, and Shattered Tablets. He and his family live on Mercer Island, Washington.
With God, or Against Him
To anyone who takes God seriously, every election poses a radical question. Will we vote with Him, or against Him? The Bible is an unapologetically political book and an extremely conservative one. Some political views offend God, and those views are mostly liberal. To misperceive Scripture's political meaning is as much an error as to misperceive its moral meaning.
Yet liberal leaders and left-wing activists have obscured these clear truths. One thinks of Senator Hillary Clinton, who in a June 2007 forum on CNN claimed that it was her Christian beliefs that underlie her stands on controversial issues. With reference to herself and her fellow Democratic candidates, Clinton forthrightly said, "I think you can sense how we are attempting to try to inject faith into policy." That line alone, spoken by a Republican, would have been trumpeted on the front page of countless newspapers and Web sites as proof that the speaker harbors a secret plot to turn America into a theocracy along the lines of Iran or Saudi Arabia. Even a forthrightly Christian candidate like Mike Huckabee feels he has to be more cautious with his rhetoric than any Democrat does.
Most Republican politicians, in their usual timid fashion, would probably endorse the sentiment expressed by Religious Left guru Rev. Jim Wallis: "God is not a Republican or a Democrat." That sentiment is, however, obviously disingenuous. In his best-selling book God's Politics, Wallis makes it plain that he thinks Jesus was a left-liberal. Since the book came out in 2004, Wallis and his message have been taken up by the 2008 Democratic presidential contenders, who disguise in religious finery positions that in fact derive from a secular worldview, the very opposite of the biblical one.
As an Orthodox Jew, I offer this book as a call to arms to America's mostly Christian conservative voters. Some of those voters may follow other Republicans in feeling intimidated by Democratic rhetoric. They might be attracted to the advice of Evangelical former Bush aide David Kuo, who in his own best-selling memoir, Tempting Faith, advocates a "fast" from politics, a temporary break or abstention from practical advocacy: "By so passionately pursuing politics Christians have alienated their 'opponents' by giving the sense that to be Christian means to embrace certain policies. But the reality, of course, is that Christians can disagree about virtually any policy matter."
No, that's not the reality. Jews and Christians are free to think anything they want, however ridiculous. An American who says he bases his outlook on the Bible may turn out to believe in the tooth fairy as well, but that doesn't mean such belief finds support in Scripture. In fact, the Bible is as clear on politics as it is on morals. Plenty of Christians and Jews fail morally-I certainly do-but we would be wrong to pretend that, in doing so, we are being true to our religious beliefs. John McCain was right when he said, in a 2000 interview on beliefnet.com, that our "nation was founded primarily on Christian principles." That fact should have practical consequences.
It has become both more important than ever to state this openly and fearlessly. For we live in an era when faith is under sustained intellectual assault, and any suggestion of biblical religion's true political relevance is greeted with accusations of "theocracy."
A succession of New Atheist tracts shooting to the top of the best-seller list lately have seemed like distress flares launched from the deck of a foundering ship at sea. What happened to all that talk, once a favorite among conservatives, about America as a Christian nation? Surely the wildly enthusiastic reception bestowed on Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great and Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion signals that something has gone wrong with our supposedly religious national culture.
Yet even as the rise of the New Atheism signaled that the country's religious identity was less secure than previously thought, atheists and other advocates of secularism made a startling charge: that conservative religionists seek to foist theocracy on us all. As Dawkins himself observed, "Absolutism is far from dead. Indeed, it rules the minds of a great number of people in the world today, most dangerously so in the Muslim world and in the incipient American theocracy."
The charge has been echoed countless times from the political Left. Iran's rulers are classic theocrats, whose regime subjects their country to religious sharia law. Can we say the same of a Christian like George W. Bush? Indeed so, according to prominent recent books, including Kevin Phillip's American Theocracy, Rabbi James Rudin's The Baptizing of America, Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, and Chris Hedges's American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. As Howard Dean, the Democratic National Committee chairman, asked after Bush sought to keep the brain-damaged Terri Schiavo from being dehydrated to death, "Are we going to live in a theocracy where the highest powers tells us what to do?" Even a GOP legislator, Connecticut's Christopher Shays, has lamented that his party is morphing into the "party of theocracy."
Is it true, as the atheists contend, that theocracy is implicit in the idea of religious conservatism? Every conservative I know denies this. A Christian leader I particularly admire, Charles Colson, calls the theocracy accusation "a false and malicious charge, and our critics know it." I believe they do know it.
In fact, the secular think tank where I'm a senior fellow, the Discovery Institute, has been tarred with the charge of theocracy because of its advocacy of allowing high school teachers to introduce mainstream scientific criticisms of Darwinian evolution in the classroom. In the discourse of the secularist Left, the word "theocracy" functions as a synonym for "Silence them!"
But I hereby cast aside the fear of such slanders. Precisely because our country is steadily losing its religious mooring, it is time to be frank about what we want, or what we should want. No, it's not the theocracy of secularist imagining. That is a canard, sheer propaganda. Instead, it is a democratic and constitutional government but of a special kind: open to looking to the Bible for political wisdom. It is a biblically correct democracy.
My hope is to help Americans, especially those on the Right, stop feeling so shy about God talk when we discuss what's best for our country, to give people courage about applying biblical wisdom, openly, in our public lives. This makes most conservatives nervous, as if someone's going to accuse them of being a would-be mullah. The conservative establishment's allergy to religious talk explains the mass sneezing fit that greeted the sudden rise of Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, as a serious presidential contender. But just for a change, let's take the offensive and fight to alter the terms of the debate, because we are not exactly winning the argument right now. Pretending to fight "theocracy," secularists are in fact attempting a radical redirection of American life that seeks to silence the authentic Judeo-Christian heritage that has sustained America since the country's inception.
Meanwhile the folks you'd expect to be defending tradition are strangely mute, unintentionally lending support to the outdated secular insistence that the Bible be kept out of politics. On issue after issue-abortion and gay marriage come readily to mind-"respectable" conservatives and Republicans feel obliged to make their case entirely without reference to the true biblical underpinnings of their beliefs. Everyone knows that scriptural teaching is the main reason most conservatives feel as they do about the leading moral-political questions, but we obey a virtual code of silence-omerta, as the Mafia would put it-about this fact. We sound defensive, weak, ashamed, and dishonest. Then we wonder why the field of 2008 Republican presidential contenders was perceived as so unexciting. We sincerely ponder the enigma of evaporating Evangelical Christian support for "conservatism." The proportion of Evangelicals who think of themselves as Republicans has sunk from 50 percent to 44 percent since 2004, reports John C. Green, a political scientist with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Finally, finally, please-let's be brave and honest in stating what a biblical politics necessarily entails. That is what I do in this book, which examines twenty hot-button political issues in light of the scriptural worldview. What does God think about immigration? About gun control? About global warming? About the threat of so-called Islamofascism? It should go without saying that my political reading of the Bible is my own, drawing on the oldest biblical interpretive tradition, claiming roots that go back three thousand years and found in the Talmud and other ancient rabbinic texts. Yet Scripture's vision of the ideal society does not belong to Jews alone. A true Jewish and a true Christian politics are, I will argue, almost identical.
Such a vision is very different from that of secularism-including one way that will probably surprise and outrage many of my fellow conservatives. I refer to Chapter 20 of this book, which I introduce by noting how the Bible casts doubt on the neoconservative preoccupation with fighting "World War IV" against "Islamofascism." The Bible has a political vision and it is not neoconservative. It emphasizes the struggle against domestic cultural decay over a fight against foreign enemies.
Up till now, it has been impossible to have this conversation because conservatives were stampeded by political opponents. Now, despite the evidence of the New Atheist phenomenon that "Christian America" is weaker than ever, let us put our cards on the table-or if you prefer, on the altar. Everyone, I think, will be relieved, not only by the very act of giving ourselves permission to be frank, but also by what we'll find at the end of an honest inquiry into the politics of the Bible.
Yet this will all seem unthinkable to anyone who associates biblical politics with Iran or Saudi Arabia. The chief objection I will have to deal with before going on, then, is the question of whether the Bible can sit comfortably alongside the Constitution.
Theocracy on Main Street?
The Bible commands a style of politics that in the American context could only be described as deeply conservative. Is, then, the politics of God theocratic?
A strong case could be made for theocracy, American-style, if the word were defined not in the conventional way but according to its root meaning. Democracy signifies the rule of the demos, the people. Strictly speaking, theocracy means the rule not of churches or priests but of theos, God. It won't do to deny that many conservatives, even while unambiguously affirming the traditional American separation of church and state, would add more theos to the democratic mix than is currently the case. I choose not to call myself a theocrat because I know how eager liberal secularists would be to twist the word against me. Dishonestly they would make it appear that I wish to impose a literal biblical theocracy, that I would dumbly imitate word for word the political structure of king, priesthood, and religious high court that existed in biblical antiquity.
Yet, in a subtler sense, are we not all theocrats now? So you might have thought when, in 2006, Barack Obama declared, "Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square." Certainly, the etiquette of the current presidential campaign has allowed Democrats free rein to invoke the Almighty, even as it denies that right to Republicans. "We have chosen to keep our politics unilluminated by divine revelation," intones Columbia University professor Mark Lilla in his recent book, The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West (2007). Hardly! Approaching the 2008 election, the Democratic candidates were "carefully marinated in Scripture," as Time magazine put it, a far cry from Howard Dean's religion-allergic presidential campaign four years earlier. Dean bluntly said, "My religion doesn't inform my public policy." Though Dean is today chairman of the Democratic National Committee, his secularist war cry has been thoroughly abandoned-by Democrats. In proposing immigration reform, Hillary Clinton quotes the New Testament for support. Today, there are many on the Left who would claim to be inspired by the question, What would Jesus do? Al Gore, for one. In their heart, religious conservatives might ask themselves the same question, but most are too fearful to face up openly to the full implications of a biblical politics or to express those implications in public. This book speaks to the shy and hesitant, urging them to take courage, in the manner of the biblical prophets. It's time to bring the Bible unapologetically into the maelstrom of American politics.
If the Bible is all that it's cracked up to be by the faithful, however, namely a reflection of God's own mind expressed in human language, then why would only a few religious weirdos contemplate enacting its legislation as it appears in the scriptural text? For one thing, the Bible almost never means what it seems to mean when read in literal fashion as if you were reading a newspaper. However, if we did try to read the Bible that way, we would right away smack up against the fact that the Bible literally addresses itself to a Jewish commonwealth where most of the citizens are farmers. America is neither a Jewish country nor a predominantly agricultural society. On those grounds alone, a simpleminded political reading of the Bible has to be rejected.
More to the point, America is a constitutional republic, and that is not going to change. No one wants it to change. America is also a pluralist society that, even though the Founders certainly envisioned a Christian country, today contentedly tolerates many religions and enforces none. No one wants that to change either. Any religiously inspired daydream to the contrary would result in political policy prescriptions that are strictly dead on arrival.
Instead, what I have in mind is to draw out the larger principles of the Bible's political vision. On the question of what those principles are, there has been much disagreement. Biblical politics is not exclusively a right-wing preoccupation. Both abolition and civil rights were essentially religious crusades. And in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, socialism was, for many (like Leo Tolstoy), explicitly derived from the egalitarian teachings of Jesus. In this country, the Social Gospel movement was frankly touted as a form of Christian socialism. So don't believe it when you hear that only the Right seeks to enshrine its religious values in practical law.
Nor is it only liberal Christians such as Gore and Mrs. Clinton who would do so. The most aggressive and intolerant theocrats are ideologues like Richard Dawkins. But isn't he an atheist? Sure, but Mitt Romney got it exactly right when he said, in 2007, that secularists seem "intent on establishing a new religion in America-the religion of secularism." For each element in the Judeo-Christian family of faiths, aggressive secularism has its counterpart: a strict ethical code, focusing on health issues ("Thou shalt not smoke," etc.); the use of shame when individuals disregard ethical rules (e.g., fat people); a related promise of eternal life through medical advances; a creation story (Darwinian evolution); a threatened apocalypse heralding the end of civilization (catastrophic climate change); and so forth. All that's missing is a deity, but not every religion has one, as the case of Zen Buddhism attests. The Secular Church is populous and dynamic, with a membership far exceeding the figure of 7.5 percent of Americans who identify themselves as "secular." Many individuals who identify nominally as Jews or Christians in fact are devout secularists.
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