Huckabese

Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee often peppers his speeches with religious references — most likely to appeal to his Evangelical Christian base — but there’s a problem with that.

Most people don’t understand the references… including many Christians!

NPR’s All Things Considered spoke “Huckabese” to people in Washington, D.C. Let’s see if they caught the allusions:

For the next quiz question, we played a clip from Huckabee’s Super Tuesday victory speech:

“Sometimes,” the former Arkansas governor told his supporters, “one small smooth stone is even more effective than a whole lot of armor.”

“Maybe something to do with the war,” guessed Dan Booth, who was visiting from Alabama.

“He’s talking about peace, the resolution of peace?” ventured his friend Mike Allen.

Actually, Huckabee was comparing himself to the shepherd boy David, who slayed the giant Goliath with one smooth stone right in the forehead.

… The next clip also came from Tuesday night’s speech:

“We’ve also seen that the widow’s mite has more effectiveness than all the gold in the world.”

We asked Daria Teutonico and Richard Pettit about the widow’s mite as they walked to lunch on Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I have no clue,” was Teutonico’s answer. “I thought a mite was a bug.”

“Is it a spider?” Pettit added. They both laughed.

The widow’s mite actually refers to a poor woman Jesus observed giving a small coin to God. It was all she had.

Like every person we stopped, Teutonico and Pettit were raised in Christian households and had attended Sunday school.

Eventually, some hard-core Christians showed they knew Huckabee’s language.

But Stephen Prothero, author of Religious Literacy, says the tactic isn’t getting him very far:

“You could imagine that … this is his secret code way that he could speak to evangelicals without alienating more secular people,” Prothero says. “But the faulty part of that strategy is the evangelicals don’t even necessarily know these stories.”

And Prothero’s response when he learned we had finally found someone who could understand Huckabee?

“It’s an exceedingly small target audience, about as small as the percentage of animals climbing on Noah’s ark.”

It is sad that a few of the Biblical stories mentioned in the article went over peoples’ heads. People should know Christian mythology just as they should know basic Greek mythology.

Meanwhile, I disagree that the Bible speak doesn’t alienate secular voters. I say the obscure religious rhetoric isolates Huckabee from the rest of the country. Which is fine. Let the religious conservatives focus on Huckabee while John McCain takes the Republican nomination. The less influence the Christian conservatives have over the election process, the better.

(Thanks to Nadine for the link!)


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://www.jonstrong.net Jon Strong

    I was raised a methodist, and this stuff seems fairly basic. I’m really surprised people don’t recognize the references. Didn’t Dr. King pepper tons of speeches with religious language that everyone could understand?

  • http://jmccance.blogspot.com Joel

    Okay, I’m glad it’s not just me. My more politically inclined roommate was out of the room when ABC ran this and when he returned he asked me what was up. All I could say was “Um … I think Huckabee’s having a stroke.”

    The David/Goliath one made sense once the newscasters pointed it out, but I have never heard of “the widow’s mite”, and I was raised a pretty devout Christian. I have to believe this sort of religion-dropping is going to alienate secular and religious alike.

  • Eliza

    I got a sign today that I, a lifelong atheist, have been spending too much time reading biblical criticism and the Bible over the past 2 years…I knew which Biblical stories & parables Huckabee was referring to in the NPR story today.

    I definitely need a new hobby!

  • http://www.primordial-blog.blogspot.com/ Brian

    I got the references quite easily. It’s kind of interesting that a lot of atheists understand Huckabese more than most evangelicals.

  • http://del.icio.us/jcchurch James

    The analogy with the widow’s mite comes from the event in Mark 12 called (drum roll, please) “The Parable of the Widow’s Mite”.

    Christians…. remember that guy you always talk about…. he taught using these short stories with a moral at the end. They were decent stories straight from God himself. They weren’t long enough to extrude much character development, but they did have some good moral truths. Take a few moments and try to familiarize yourself with the teachings of Jesus (especially before you knock on my door again).

    Thanks.

  • BZ

    I’m familiar with the story about the poor woman, but I never knew it was called the widow’s mite. The only reason I recognized the stone thing as a referance to Goliath is because I was tipped off ahead of time that it was a religious reference.

  • Samuel Skinner

    I got the first one, but not the second. I can’t believe there are people who don’t know the story of David and Goliath! Maybe he was simply being too vague, but still, that would be like… Super Size Me where the kids couldn’t recognize the picture of Jesus (at least how Americans show him).

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I recognized the first reference right away. I didn’t recognize the second, but after you explained it, I did remember the bible story of the poor woman giving a small offering (which was a lot to her) and how this impressed Jesus… Maybe this ties in with Huckabee’s flat tax idea :)

    I’m curious if Huckabee and Ron Paul will get a surge in support with Romney now out of the race…. or will all the Republican primary voters now simply go vote for McCain in the upcoming primaries since he is now inevitable… This will be interesting.

    I’m also very curious if McCain will end up picking Huckabee as his running mate to get the religious conservatives “on-board” with his campaign for the general election.

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    It is sad that a few of the Biblical stories mentioned in the article went over peoples’ heads. People should know Christian mythology just as they should know basic Greek mythology.

    The stories quoted aren’t basic, and there are way too many stories in the bible to know them all. I’d say most people in the west are familiar with basic christian mythology – the creation of the world, the flood, Jesus’ birth and death, etc – and in much greater depth than they are with basic greek mythology. Why should we know more than that?

  • QrazyQat

    One of the things I’ve noticed over at Internet Infidels is that it’s very common for evangelicals, and esp. those who think the Bible is inerrant, to not be familiar with the book. Most of the atheists there are more familiar with it than the Bible-thumpers. In fact, those athesists there who used to be evangelicals often became atheist because they decided to sit down and thoroughly read the book, thinking it would strengthen their faith. It’s why so often you don’t see people reading the Bible except in classes put on by their church, where the passages can be spun… I mean explained away… darn, I mean explained to them.

    I mean otherwise they might just read about Jesus cursing a fig tree to death because it wasn’t bearing fruit out of season and thinking “this guy has serious issues”.

  • Allison

    The stories quoted aren’t basic, and there are way too many stories in the bible to know them all.

    Yes, they are. I was raised atheist, and I knew all but the last one instantly. Not only that, but a Christian relative has foisted a couple of those stories upon my children. My oldest was familiar with David and Goliath and with the loaves and the fishes before he entered Kindergarten, and my kids are being raised outside any church.

    It’s basic cultural literacy.

  • I like tea

    I knew all the stories Huckabee cited, inclduing the widow’s mite. Whoo, go me. Yes, it’s because I used to be Christian, and despite the fact that I stopped being Christian in high school, I was apparently more educated about my own religion than the average religious adult. Sad.

    But of course fundamentalists don’t know their own religion. It’s not like the Bible actually says, “Thou shalt call the poor lazy, and denieth them health care, and also beeth xenophobic and hostile towards other languages as if you even have a firm grasp of your own.”

    Maybe this ties in with Huckabee’s flat tax idea

    I love you forever.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    For better or worse, I got all of the Huckabese. I guess I figured that at least most of the evangelicals would understand what he was talking about. As someone said above, these are basic Bible stories that you’d probably learn in 3rd grade in Sunday school. I think you might need to read the King James version of the Bible to pick up on some of the esoteric terminology like “widow’s mite”. Maybe no one reads KJV these days?

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    Traci got the Biblical allusions too (because of her recent churchification)

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com Efrique

    Weird. I got both of those references right off.

    Do those guys not actually read their bible?

  • K

    Proving once again how dumb christians are. I’m an Atheist and I understood the references! SHEESH!

  • http://limadean.wordpress.com limadean

    The stories quoted aren’t basic, and there are way too many stories in the bible to know them all. I’d say most people in the west are familiar with basic christian mythology – the creation of the world, the flood, Jesus’ birth and death, etc – and in much greater depth than they are with basic greek mythology. Why should we know more than that?

    Well, the first story Huckabee cited was about Jesus feeding the crowd…and no one got that either.
    I grew up Catholic and knew these stories, but I also think that’s because I think it’s important to know about different types of mythology and stories, because they *can* teach you some values – I’ll just leave the supernatural stuff out of it.
    I have to say, though, I hadn’t heard much of Huckabee’s public speaking, and when I heard this story, at first I was pretty astounded at what he seemed to be getting away with as far as comparing himself to Jesus (remember the Beatles?). But then when they continued the story and explained that most people didn’t get the references, it calmed me down a little (and enraged me in a different way).

    I guess Huckabee would have to come out and say something like “I think we all know about our friend, JESUS, the son of GOD, who knows we are all sinners but can be redeemed” for evangelicals to get it…

  • http://bornagainblog.wordpress.com Justin McKean

    I caught each of those references immediately and that so many professed Xians didn’t demonstrates two basic truths:

    1)

    Most people don’t have much working knowledge of anything outside of what their job or their primary hobby requires.

    “Boy, it’s feels like a post-collision quark in a collider out there!”
    “Huh?
    “I mean, seven loaves of bread would just be the beginning for me right now!”
    “What?”
    “I mean, I’m hot, dizzy and hungry.”
    “Why didn’t you say so?”

    & B)
    The vast majority of Xians have no idea what they are actually supposed to believe, beyond “Jesus loves me” and “my pastor is always right.” Hence the missed references of truly basic cultural literacy from Huckabee.

  • atheos

    I was familiar with both references. Atheist partner got only the first but he was raised Jewish. I’m shocked in one way but in another it just shows that most Christians really have not read the bible.

    If they had, most wouldn’t be Christians.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I mean otherwise they might just read about Jesus cursing a fig tree to death because it wasn’t bearing fruit out of season and thinking “this guy has serious issues”.

    This isn’t the first time this particular story has been brought up here as an example of “crazy things in the Bible”, but I have to say that I’m really not sure why it gets that kind of reaction. Have you guys never heard of an object lesson? Clearly Jesus was simply using the fig tree to illustrate a point he was making. In the context (it comes in the midst of Jesus confrontations with the Temple establishment in Jerusalem) the point seems to be a warning to Israel that they are not “bearing fruit”, i.e. that they have not lived up the Abrahamic calling to be a blessing to all the nations (cf. Genesis 12:1-3).

    As a former youth minister we used to do goofy stuff like this all the time when we were trying to get kid’s attention – and odds are most of the disciples were in fact teenagers at the time. Thus it’s not surprising to me at all that Jesus might do something dramatic like this to get their attention and drive home a point.

  • Karen

    I got all the references right off the bat, no surprise. But as the full story says, most people (even Christians) can’t even name the four gospels or the 10 Commandments, so it’s not shocking they didn’t get more detailed and veiled references.

    I think it also helps to be of the generation that did Sunday school in the King James, as Donna mentioned. I doubt modern translations refer to the “widow’s mite.”

    What’s interesting is that Huckabee is following here in the footsteps of GWB, who also uses Christianese to signal to his base. His references are more obscure, however, and it took the media a long time to start catching them. Bush doesn’t directly always draw from the bible, for instance, but he will include phrases from certain verses or from popular hymns in his speeches. To untrained ears they just sound rather poetic, if a little bit “off,” but to people who know those phrases, they pick up on them immediately and they recognize that he’s “one of them.”

  • atheos

    Mike, that might be believable if the story were told in that way. Why would Jesus explain the event completely differently to his disciples if his object lesson were something else altogether? Ooops! There’s that trickster god at work again!

    Mark 11:12-14, 19-25

    The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

    When evening came, they went out of the city.

    In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

    “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    When considering the context of a passage, it’s usually a good idea to look at the entire chapter (or even several chapters), not just a few isolated verses. Here is the whole of Mark 11:

    As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ ”

    They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
    “Hosanna!”
    “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
    “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
    “Hosanna in the highest!”

    Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

    The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

    On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written:
    ” ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

    The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

    When evening came, they went out of the city.

    In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

    “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

    They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

    Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!”

    They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’….” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

    So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
    Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

    So Jesus rides into Jerusalem, is hailed as the king, and goes straight to the temple. The next day he sees the fig tree and curses it for not bearing fruit. Knowing what we do about Jewish literature and rabbinical styles we ought to automatically have our antenna up for symbolism in a story like this. Fig trees, olive trees, vineyards and orchards are common symbols in the Hebrew Scriptures for the nation of Israel itself.

    Then he goes back to the Temple and starts throwing over the tables, ranting about how this system was economically exploitative and exclusionary towards non-Jews. The Jewish leaders (symbolic representatives of the nation of Israel) are pretty threatened by this and want to kill Jesus.

    On the way back into the city the next day the disciples note that the fig tree (which likely symbolized Israel and her leaders) has whithered. They seem pretty shocked by it – presumably because they would have picked up on the symbolism of warning and judgment against Israel – so Jesus tells them not to worry, to have faith, to pray, and to forgive others so that God will in turn forgive “them” – i.e. will forgive Israel for their failure to live up to their calling and avert the judgment against them (which is one of the primary themes running through the gospels).

    The chapter is then rounded off with another confrontation between Jesus and the Temple leaders, where he asserts his authority to pass the judgments that he has been leveling against them.

    University of Massachusetts religion professor, Richard Horsley has a good book, Jesus and Empire, that shows how the overarching theme throughout the gospels and Q is that of Jesus’ populist challenge to the corruption and oppression of the Temple system and Herodian power structure that upheld it. In this total context then, it makes sense, to me at least, that the fig tree vignette – bookended as it is by assertions of Jesus’ authority in contrast to the Jewish leaders, and by challenges to the Temple system itself – is itself intended to be read as a symbolic demonstration of this total critique against the nation of Israel, and especially her leaders. It would be very odd indeed, IMHO, to try to read the story in isolation from it’s surrounding context, as if it were just about private faith and praying and Jesus being hungry, and nothing more.

    But, that’s just my take on it based on what I know about the overall themes and context of the gospels. YMMV.

  • Rebekah

    Those are fairly easy (except I never heard “widow’s mite” before).

    How do people call themselves Christians if they (obviously) don’t read the Bible?

  • julie marie

    How do people call themselves Christians if they (obviously) don’t read the Bible?

    many early Christians couldn’t read, thus the strong oral tradition and call/response preaching. Obviously, most of us in the west can read, and should read…but I know as a Catholic, I was never encouraged to read the Bible for myself. I wasn’t encouraged to read for myself until I entered an evangelical church. So I have to admit I am surprised that the evangelicals didn’t get the references; they aren’t all that obscure, imo. I hadn’t heard “widow’s mite” but I knew the story he was referencing.

  • stogoe

    When considering the context of a passage, it’s usually a good idea to look at the entire chapter (or even several chapters)

    So, you’re saying, if I understand you correctly, is that you have to have a master’s in textual criticism to be able to twist passages of the bible to mean whatever you want them to mean?

    Well, I guess it makes sense. Wringing blood from stone is at the heart of textual criticism.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    So, you’re saying, if I understand you correctly, is that you have to have a master’s in textual criticism to be able to twist passages of the bible to mean whatever you want them to mean?

    Well, yes, if a 21st century Westerner wants to properly understand the meaning of a 2000 year old Middle Eastern text, it generally is a good idea to have studied a little bit about both history and textual criticism, or to listen to those who have. Personally I don’t call that “twisting” the text. I call it good scholarship.