Mike Huckabee was on The Daily Show last night
. (I have spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get the video to embed and I give up. Please follow the link.) During this segment Huckabee and Stewart discuss and debate a campaign ad that Huckabee made to bring out “values voters”. It shows hot button political issues for Fundamentalist Evangelicals such as abortion and marriage being forged in metal in a fire.The two men debated the meaning and symbolism of the commercial. (The full ad is in the clip. Keep an eye out for a woman coming out of a voting booth and opening the curtain with her arms outstretched like Christ) Stewart asked if the clip is saying that anyone who disagrees with Huckabee on social issues is going to hell. A former Baptist minister, Huckabee insists that the forge is not meant to represent hell but is a reference to 1 Corinthians 10 and that any Bible believing Christian would catch that.
I think he may have meant 1 Corinthians 3, which contains the reference to the test of fire (I looked this up, I didn’t know it off the top of my head, in case you’re wondering):
If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
It argues for building one’s life on a firm foundation of faith which shows through one’s works. (There are a lot of lines like the last one in Paul, incidentally, that suggest that everyone is saved, whether they do good works, whether they behave like saints or sinners and whether they believe or not. The thing with Paul’s dense writing is that it is hard to assimilate it all and certain lines seem to stand out as if written in neon depending on your personality, values and religious background. Liberal Christians like the universal salvation lines in Paul. Evangelicals like a lot of the guidelines for moral behavior. Both are in there. We all focus in on the parts that speak to us and make sense to us as fundamental values while barely noticing the others.)
As I listened to the two men argue over the meaning of the campaign ad symbolism, I couldn’t help but think that both of them were right. I take Mike Huckabee at his word that for him this is a reference to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and it is about having a firm foundation and voting in a way that reinforces those values, among which he includes being against abortion and gay marriage.
On the other hand, he is optimistic if he believes that most Bible-believing Christians have taken the text of the Bible to heart as much as Huckabee has. I have written about it elsewhere in this blog, but most Christians, even those who claim to follow the Bible literally have not read it and cannot cite chapter and verse.
Timothy Beal even used Huckabee as an example of an old-school Christian who is out of touch with how Biblically illiterate most of us are in his book The Rise and Fall of the Bible. Beal writes about the Biblical references that Huckabee used in his speeches when he campaigned to be president:
National Public Radio’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty did a little Jay Leno—style research on the National Mall to see how many passersby recognized the candidate’s smooth stone and widow’s mite as biblical. One conjectured that the smooth stone might have something to do with war. Or maybe peace? None seemed to recognize it as biblical. What about the widow’s mite? A mite’s a bug, right? Maybe a spider? These responses were no great surprise to American religious historian Stephen Prothero, author of Religious Literacy. If Huckabee’s intention was to give a wink and a nod to his biblically well-versed base, Prothero told Hagerty, “It’s an exceedingly small target audience, about as small as the percentage of animals climbing on Noah’s ark.”
This is why I think Stewart is also right on this point. Huckabee may have legitimately intended to refer to Corinthians, but the overall symbolism of the ad with the darkness and flame and the beatific woman emerging from the voting booth speaks to an audience who will largely not know that. They will respond to what they see on the screen and will make natural associations between flames and damnation. In fact, studies have shown that we respond more to the images in ads and news features than to the text.
An interesting side point– one that I didn’t notice until I went to look up the verse in Corinthians to quote it–is how citing chapter and verse is used to give a person authority and to stop an argument. People don’t carry Bibles around to look things up. So it is easy enough to say something like “Wearing red is a sin, it says so in Romans 4:26.” It makes you sound far more knowledgeable about the Bible than the other person. Also, even non-Fundamentalists, for some reason, tend to yield to a Bible verse. It is hard to challenge the argument that goes, “It’s not my position, it’s God’s, ask him about it.” Did Huckabee rattle off 1 Corinthians 10 instead of saying it is from First Corinthians (even though he was not that sure which verse it was from) in order to gain the authority of knowing chapter and verse, giving him the position of the Biblical expert, and thus lessening the force of anyone else’s interpretation of the text?
From here the discussion moves onto same sex marriage. Huckabee insists that he is not anti-gay marriage he is pro-traditional marriage which is a “Biblical model.” Stewart points out, quite rightly, that the Biblical model is polygamy. Huckabee insists that this is not the case, that the only true Biblical model of marriage is Adam and Eve.
I had a lot of thoughts on this. First off, the idea that supporters of “traditional marriage” are not anti-gay marriage reminded me of an excellent post I read yesterday The Distress of the Privileged
on The Weekly Sift. I recommend reading the whole thing. The article, which uses the example of the film Pleasantville to illustrate the distress of those who feel their social privilege slipping away, quotes Wayne Self on the issue of marriage.
This isn’t about mutual tolerance because there’s nothing mutual about it. If we agree to disagree on this issue, you walk away a full member of this society and I don’t.
Being “pro-traditional-marriage” is specifically saying, “we do not want you to be part of this society.”
I found the Adam and Eve argument that the Bible supports our current cultural idea of marriage interesting. First, what do we make of all of the Old Testament figures who had multiple wives. Should we read Solomon as an example of someone living in sin? He is traditionally held up as an example of wisdom. What are the consequences of not living in a traditional marriage? Is it going to hell? If so, is Solomon in hell? If he is not, what would the consequences be for expanding our definition of marriage to include same sex couples?
I have a lot of questions about Adam and Eve as the model for marriage. Adam and Eve are also the symbols of defiance of God’s will.
If you have ever wondered why Fundamentalists spend a lot of time arguing against the teaching of evolution, because it contradicts the Bible and yet do not protest the teaching of linguistics as contradicting the story of the Tower of Babel, it is because Adam and Eve are central to their understanding of the meaning of Jesus’s sacrifice as atonement for original sin.
(The Tower of Babel doesn’t have a lot of impact on this story, although one could make an argument that it mirrors Adam and Eve. God is jealous of the people for building this grand monument and he seems to be worried that they might become god-like. So he makes them all speak different languages so they won’t be able to work together. Thus the creation of different languages. This is reversed– as Adam and Eve’s sin is reversed– by the Apostles in Acts when they are given the gift of speaking in tongues, that is they can communicate with people in their own languages.)
Were Adam and Eve married in the garden? The argument that they were (as there is no wedding scene in Genesis) is based on the idea that when God created them for each other, he married them. Did they need to be married with no other people from which to chose? Could it have been being cast out of the garden that made legal marriage necessary? Marriage is an agreement with society. There is no society in the Garden of Eden. Wouldn’t living the example of Adam and Eve in paradise be to get to a state in which unions are so perfect that they operate under the laws of God not the laws of the world and human legal contracts are not necessary to bind them to one another?