Editor’s Note: This is the second post from John Mark Reynolds, Provost of Houston Baptist University and frequent social commentator, who is now a contributing writer to this blog. I will continue to note his posts for a week or two, until people get the idea that it can no longer be assumed that every post is from me, Timothy Dalrymple. I am now the lead writer but no longer the sole writer at Philosophical Fragments. If you’re new to the blog, please join our new Facebook page in the sidebar!
I pray for President Obama every day and have done so for four years now, but now I do not know what to do. Evidently, my prayers offend him, even though I have only asked that God grant him long life, wisdom, and protection.
Does Mr. Obama welcome my prayers even though I believe in the sexual morality that’s taught in the Bible on which he’ll take the oath of office?
I am confused, but mostly for one simple reason: President Obama will take the oath of office on Sacred Scriptures. Why keep the Bible, but object to prayers by Bible believers?
From under the Internet bridge where trolls dwell will come the complaint that nobody sane believes in Biblical morality. Obama is using the Bible, because every President of the United States from Washington (who kissed the Book!) has done so.
Obama doesn’t believe the Bible, because nobody in American history in the mainstream has ever believed most of it. President Obama has just done to sexual morality what the rest of us, including mainstream Christians, did long ago. The Troll will rant about eating shell fish or the rape laws in ancient Israel. Apparently, in two thousand years of Church history, intelligent Jews and Christians keep giving up on “impossible” areas of Biblical morality without noticing it.
Now the brave Troll will tell us that Mr. Obama is just like we are: he loves the Bible while ignoring the nasty bits just like the rest of the sane. He uses the Bible, because it is a harmless costume from the Founders. A more skeptical reader than the Troll might worry that the same Troll is usually ranting that the Founding of America was totally secular and that religion and the state must be utterly separate.
But we need not ask secular Trolls to be consistent, we must demand they be literate.
After all, how plausible is this idea that nobody takes all the Bible’s morality seriously? Did literary scholars such as the late C.S. Lewis or philosophers such as Richard Swinburne not notice this self-deception? Did we have to await the twenty-first century atheist to find out our folly?
Probably not, since nineteenth century village atheists made similar complaints, though too many people in the nineteenth century had an education in classics to give the argument much force. Learn to read Greek texts, even in translation, and the village atheist argument about the Bible and morality sounds foolish.
Whatever the merits of our technical education, too few of us get a sound grounding in our roots. We lack classical reading skills so we tend to read old books as if they were new books written on scrolls instead of computers. But ancient authors were not just modern authors with quills, they had a different worldview.
Ancient Biblical law books require some cultural sophistication to read. Weirdly, the same people who would scoff at the Ugly American Tourist who cannot be bothered to learn the subtle linguistic norms of another culture (“adjectives oft come after the noun in our language,” the guide explained wearily) butcher old cultures’ thought patterns.
Some Biblical laws applied only to a nomadic people. Some were meant for a poor and embattled kingdom…and others were universal. Scholars might argue at the margins, but there are sensible ways to differentiate the categories.
Sexual desire, like any physical desire, deceives us easily. It makes demands that humans exiled from God find overwhelming. Most people in most places in most times have discovered that restricting those desires is necessary for civilization. They had a word for cultures that did not: decadent.
We haven’t discovered anything new that would change morality. Our Constitution, signed by the Founders “in the year of our Lord,” remains incomprehensible apart from the classical and Christian tradition.
President Obama is right to take the Oath on the Bible, but he is wrong to reject its morality. He is divisive to reject the morality of many Americans and most of the globe in a fit of parochial, partisan exclusion.
If President Obama doesn’t want the prayers of good men like Lou Giglio, then he doesn’t want my prayers. And yet the Bible, the morality of the Bible, commands I pray for him anyway. I must love him, I must honor him, and I must ask God to give him wisdom. And so I will pray tonight as I have every night:
“God save our Republic and my President Barack Obama.”