Mike Huckabee, Adam and Eve and the Symbolism of Fire

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?


  1. I appreciate the way you delve into these complicated topics with full respect for religion. I believe that the Bible advocates responsible sexuality, which would account for the support of polagamy when socially and economically necessary.

  2. Very good post, though I find the claim that anyone is bibilcally literate to be silly since no Christian or Jew can agree on what is “really” meant. Everyone is sure that those “other people” aren’t TrueChristians at all.

    The bible is nothing more than a reflection of a culture that wanted deity approval of its ways. The fact that the bible is no holder of *any* magical eternal truths shows that it is nothing more than a mythology created by man (the golden rule was around long before any bible). Huckabee insists that there is some biblical definition of marriage and that it’s always good. Paul and JC himself say that marriage is less than desirable, so why isn’t Huckabee preaching that people should remain celibate? Because it’s inconvenient, that’s why.

    One interesting thing about invoking the A&E story, it has that problem with incest. Was that what God “really wanted” too? Same with David’s concubines, etc. Many Christians want to then claim “But it was the culture” which implies their god is at the whim of humans rather than the other way around.

    1. I define Biblical illiteracy as not having read the book and not knowing first-hand what words are in it and their context. The conclusions one reaches after reading a work and having read the work are separate questions. All reading, of any text, is an act of interpretation. You would say someone was illiterate in the works of Shakespeare if she had not read them. You would not expect everyone who read Shakespeare to come away with the same ideas about what the text meant. Coming to an agreement about how to interpret the text is not what I mean by literacy, nor could it really be what anyone means, because with even the simplest texts it’s an impossible measure. It will never happen.

      1. Could you tell me what you consider “context”? I’ve a english lit husband and he says one thing. Theists often say another.

        I’m also curious, if someone came to the conclusion that Shakespear “really” meant that it was good to be stubborn and not allow Romeo and Juliet to marry and Mercutio to die, would that be considered a valid interpretation? Does, or perhaps, should validity of interpretations depend on the majority? The majority of people do find commonality in their interpretations of Shakespear. Not so much with the bible.

  3. By context in this instance I simply mean reading the full passage that includes “forged by fire” rather than just one line to see whether the full passage seems to be saying what the person quoting the one line says it does. A person can delve deeper into a text by learning more about the historical period and culture in which it was created and how the text has been used by various communities, but I’m speaking more generally to just reading the whole thing.

    On the Shakespeare question, yes, that would be a “valid” interpretation. Whether it would get a lot of support from others is another question. Certainly it is the kind of thing that readers discuss. Someone could make that argument and say why they came to that conclusion and other people could argue as to why they did not and in this way a text written hundreds of years ago remains relevant and alive. If nothing about it were open to interpretation it would not be a very interesting story. Think of how many books and papers must have been written about whether Hamlet was a hero or a bad guy. That he can be seen as either is not a flaw in the play.

    My point of view is that If it got to the point where there were no questions about what the Bible meant, nothing to discuss, debate, question, meditate upon, it would be entirely dead. That is why I have a fascination with reading the Biblical text because it if full of common stories that invite reflection and discussion.

    Even when an author is living (speaking as an author) people find things in their writings that the authors did not intend or did not know were in there. The author’s intent is only one aspect of what a piece of literature “says.” The reader brings to the text a large portion of the meaning. It is worth discussing what the author was trying to convey, but if there is a surplus of meaning beyond what the author intended, all the better.

    You need a framework with which to interpret any writing. These are determined by cultural agreement, not by inherent meaning of text itself. We know not to read a cook book as poetry because we’ve learned how to read each of them. That doesn’t mean it would be impossible to read the cookbook as poetry if we thought “three cups of flower” should be taken to be a metaphor.

    The most common framework for discussing the Bible is that it is a guide for living, that (if you are a Christian) you are bound to live by what you conclude it says, that the stories are all metaphors that point to moral instruction and that it is intended just as much for the modern reader as it was for its 1st Century and earlier audience.

    In this framework, when you’re face with a text in which St. Paul says that homosexuality is God’s punishment for idol worship (this is in Romans) you constrain yourself to interpret this as moral instruction for us in the 21st Century rather than other ways you could understand this, for example, as a window into the way people understood their religion in early Christian communities.

    This is maybe more of an answer than you were looking for, but that is my framework for relating to the Biblical text. I think that the fact that it leaves lots of room for discussion and thought is not a bug, it’s a feature.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s