When he accused Presidential candidate Barack Obama of taking a “fruitcake interpretation” of the Constitution, it was clearly no compliment and neither was his accusation that Obama was “dragging biblical understanding through the gutter.” So for starters, what does Reverend Dobson have against fruitcake? I mean we all like to make fun of it, and my wife’s theory is that there are only a few of them which are re-gifted every Christmas, but still…. Next he’ll be calling such interpretation “chopped liver” and for me, them’s fightin’ words!
But more troubling is Dobson’s assessment of Senator Obama’s comments, which strike me as well reasoned and genuinely valuable to anyone who takes both the Bible and contemporary experience seriously. He did not get it totally right, but more about that later. Now to the three dangerous claims made by Dobson, with whom I often disagree but rarely find this ugly.
First, why must Reverend Dobson insist that Obama’s “mistaken” interpretations are a “deliberate distortion”? Can’t someone be wrong anymore without being accused of lying? I appreciate that Dobson thinks Obama is wrong, but there is no evidence here that he is lying, too. And confusing disagreement with disingenuousness turns ugly pretty quick and serves nobody well. Not to mention that when he suggests that Obama is “dragging biblical understanding through the gutter” because he offers an interpretation which differs from his own, he is telling all Jews, Muslims, and Christians who differ from him that we are guilty of the same dragging. If that is so, then I am proud to share that gutter with Obama and will leave the street to the ugly triumphalists who would defend Dobson’s claim.
Second, while Dobson may be correct that Obama is “worlds away in the views of evangelicals,” his claim is based on the fact that “Evangelicals…take Bible interpretation very seriously,” which he believes Obama does not. Why? Because James Dobson assumes that if you don’t share his conclusions about the Bible, you must not take it seriously. Ironically, taking the Bible seriously is the one thing that all interpreters actually share. If they didn’t, they would not bother to interpret the text, they would simply ignore it! But sadly, for a man who claims to love the Bible, I suspect that is what Dobson would prefer.
Third, the Reverend would apparently prefer a world with people who share his view of the Bible, or have so little connection to it that they have no view at all. This makes it genuinely frightening when he accuses Senator Obama of wanting everybody to agree about how to interpret the Bible. He perfectly locates the sin of spiritual arrogance, which really does get people killed, and claims that those who oppose it are most guilty of it! Well, I guess he knows that the best defense is a good offense, or in this case, the ability to be offensive.
I do hope that in the future Senator Obama will not suggest that interpretations with which he disagrees are inherently not “amenable to reason.” But that is something about which we can talk when we stand together in that “gutter” where Reverend Dobson thinks we both belong. Hey, maybe we’ll make it a picnic and I’ll bring the fruitcake.
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About Windows & DoorsAuthor, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, Brad Hirschfield is the author of You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Listed as one of the nation’s 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek, and a regular commentator on Court TV, he is the creator of the popular series, Building Bridges, airing on Bridges TV, and the co-host of the weekly radio show, Hirschfield and Kula.
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