October 03, 2011

What the Christian right forgets about the Bible

Sam Smith

[This appeared in the Progressive Review during the Reagan administration. Not much has changed.]

Our text for today is found in the eighth chapter of 1 Samuel. When Samuel got old he appointed his sons as judges over Israel. As so often occurs with nepotism this didn't work out: the offspring taking dishonest gain and bribes and perverting justice. So the elders of Israel paid a call on old man Samuel and suggested that he appoint a real king like other nations had. This didn't sit too well with Samuel so he took the matter to the Lord and the latter said in effect, "If you feel bad, think how I feel. Look, I brought these bums out of Egypt and what do I get for thanks? They go and serve other gods. Now they want to ditch you too.

"So Sam, here's what's going to come down. We're going to give them a real king and see how they like it." Continuing in the more literal translation, the Lord said: "However^ you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them."

Here were the ground rules the Lord laid down through Samuel: "This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.

"He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves, and give them to his servants.

"And he will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and our donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants.

"Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer your in that day."

I submit this as further evidence that the Lord is not a conservative but probably a libertarian - if not an anarchist. It is one of the tragedies of modern political debate that the Bible has been surrendered to the right, even when it is clear, as in this case, that the Almighty approves of neither authoritarian regimes, military build-ups nor the concentration of land-holdings. Consider as well the little noted fact that the Bible is far clearer on the evils of usury than of abortion and that it not only is far less prudish about human sexuality than some in office, it even suggests an alternative approach to pornography, urging that if one's eye offends thee, one eye and not the vision should be removed. Further, as some deep ecologists have noted, the Bible suggests that the earth is the Lord's and not the property of multinational corporations.

The ultimate irony of the conservatives it that they pretend to be a bastion of Christian politics when, in fact, they are comprised in no small part of despoilers, usurers, war-mongers, hypocrites, idolaters and groupies of false prophets - all of whom are frowned upon by the book it pretends to follow. And its opponents, who are more faithful to the words the conservatives only quote, are often such good Christians that they never say a mumblin' word about it all.