“Folks Haven’t Been Reading Their Bibles” – Barack Obama on Religion and Public Policy

“Folks Haven’t Been Reading Their Bibles” – Barack Obama on Religion and Public Policy July 24, 2012


Someone made the above quote from then senator Barack Obama into a poster. It illustrates what those who are intimately acquainted with the Bible and its interpretation see clearly, but religious fundamentalists less familiar with their own Scriptures often miss, namely that it is not at all straightforward to derive a clear set of beliefs and practices from the diverse and divergent writings that make up the Bible. As a result, even when people agree on what Scripture is, and even if they agree that it is inerrant, does not at all lead to them believing, doing and advocating the same things.

Fundamentalists are often so unfamiliar with what the Bible says, and where it diverges from their own beliefs and values (which they assume are what the Bible says) that the experience of reading the Bible ends with their becoming atheists.

The reason I am a Liberal Christian is precisely because I think the only Christianity worthy of the name is one that knows what is in the Bible, and is honest about the fact that we do not believe and practice everything it says, that we do not want to do so, and that there are good reasons why we should not do so.


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  • Frank

    Obama clearly showing his ignorance about the bible with that quote!

    • Such short insulting comments are meaningless. Shall I just reply by saying that you show your ignorance about the Bible with that comment?

      What about the quote suggests ignorance of the Bible? Why do others of us get the opposite impression? Do you actually have anything meaningful or constructive to say about this topic?

      • Frank

        The truth sometimes can be insulting but it is never meaningless. Are you saying you believe all Levitical laws are the same like Obama believes? Are you suggesting that the NT negates the OT or is somehow more important like Obama suggests?

        You ask “Do you actually have anything meaningful or constructive to say about this topic?” And I answer “Do you?”

        • Kubricks_Rube

          Are you responding to something other than what is in the Obama quote provided? Because:

          all Levitical laws are the same


          the NT negates the OT or is somehow more important

          are nowhere in Obama’s quote.

          • Frank

            Once anyone brings up the shellfish argument you know for sure about their ignorance regarding Levitical laws. Obama also suggest that the NT is more important to follow than the OT which is also an ignorant, incomplete statement.

            So yes Obama has some glaring public biblical ignorance to address.

          • Stan

            Where did he suggest that the NT is more important to follow than the OT?

            The point of Obama’s statement was that even if we succeeded in merging Christianity and government policy, we’d still be faced with the innumerable variety of Christianities that exist. Some brands do think the Old Laws are still vitally important. Most don’t.

            Obama is saying not to get “carried away” with forcing Christianity into public policy, because the Bible does not have a homogeneous policy with which all Christians agree.

          • Frank

            Maybe that is what he meant but those statements are problematic. He should probably read his bible more first before worry about what others so he does not continue to look so foolish.

            And for the record everyone “forces” their own beliefs into public policy. That’s how democracy works.

          • Umm, no, our democracy has a variety of safeguards in place which prevent in particular the forcing of religious beliefs into public policy, since that would involve the use of state power or influence to promote a particular religious view, which has long been deemed unconstitutional.

          • Frank

            Yes there are safeguards for the protection of religious beliefs (which is the point of separation of church and state not the other way around) but what about non religious beliefs. Everyone believes something and make decision based on those beliefs so my statement stands.

        • @Frank Given that your rejection both of the view that the New Testament takes precedence over the Old, and of the view that all the Levitical laws or all parts of Scripture are equally valid, it isn’t clear what your stance is or whether you have a well-thought-out position that you can clearly articulate. But if you want a conversation, you will have to try. If you are here just to toss around insults, so be it, but this blog has very intelligent regular readers, and so don’t expect that they will be impressed with such tactics. You would do better, rather than writing three short and obscure comments that are nothing but vague jabs, to write a longer one that actually explains what you think and what you are criticizing and why.

          • Frank

            Well you certainly have a high opinion of you and your blog which is fine i guess but i am waiting to see this superior “intelligence.”

            My stance based on your post and Obama’s word is a simple one: biblical ignorance.

          • Straw Man

            Are you a fundamentalist, Frank? I ask because you seem to say, “ignorance of the Bible,” when you really mean, “ignorance of my interpretation of the Bible.” Fundamentalists often react to the kosher food laws by stamping their feet and saying, in effect, “any fool knows those laws have been repealed!” They have no idea that some denominations interpret the Bible differently, and know the Bible just as well as them.

            Whatever you think of Obama–and I doubt that his interpretation of the Bible is going to be terribly close to mine–his quote above is simply factual. The very reason for the separation of church and state is that every church has its own idea what the state should be enforcing, and when you belong to a different church with a different view you have no choice but to submit, or become a criminal, or perhaps resort to force of arms.

          • Frank

            Well I think you should learn more about the 1st amendment so at least you sound knowledgeable.

            The original Jefferson text reads: “… I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” Jefferson reflected his frequent speaking theme that the government is not to interfere with religion.

            So the reasoning behind the first amendment is not ” that every church has its own idea what the state should be enforcing” but to keep the government from inhibiting religious belief.

            So no its not about not bringing faith into politics, its about keeping the government out of faith.

            It’s scary how little people actually know!

          • spinkham

            > So no its not about not bringing faith into politics, its about keeping the government out of faith.

            Have you read the Virginia Stature for Religious Freedom that Jefferson wanted listed on his headstone as an achievement more than the fact he was president?

            It contains lovely gems like this:

            > That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,

            Do you know about the context of both that statue and the first amendment? If not, the second episode of this excellent documentary, free online covers it well. I highly recommend the whole series to anyone who wants to understand the religious history of the US, it’s very well researched and produced.

            For reasons that should be clear if you know the history, the baptist joint commission is one of the larger groups both promoting free exercise of religion, and fighting the establishment of one religion.


            I will agree to a certain extent that faith and politics cannot be separated, but so does Obama. Here’s a few more parts of the same speech:

            Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn’t the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn’t want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves.

            It was the forbearers of the evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they did not want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it.

            This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason.

            I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

            It’s not that your faith can’t inform your politics, it’s that you can’t establish positions from your religion as state policy based on an appeal to the authority of your religion alone.

    • You clearly shown your ignorance about the bible with that nonsense.

      • I have deleted your comments that were just insults. I appreciate your taking the time to comment here, but please do so in a manner that actually engages the substantive points of other comments, rather than merely insulting them in a way that does nothing to actually contribute to the discussion. Thank you.

  • Melody

    Don’t try reasoning with Frank, the resident troll of progressive Christian blogs. He is most definitely a fundamentalist with an insufferable superiority complex. He evades your questions, and then he accuses you of doing the same thing, the filthy hypocrite. I used to have his mentality about 6 years ago. Then I learned to use my brain, which he clearly hasn’t. He sold his brain to fundamentalism a long time ago. I would feel sorry for him if he weren’t such a schmuck.

    • Frank

      Hi Melody! Always a joy to see you. It always serves as a confirmation that I am saying something right. Thanks for your help!

      • Clearly you have failed to comprehend Melody’s comment and what it means.

  • This guy is an ignorant about basic theology (as some other Christians and atheists as well).

    First, the Bible don’t see nothing by itself: it’s a collection of books. Some of them are divine laws, some of them are human laws, stories, proverbs and some of includes even songs or poetry.

    The Bible mentions slavery, but just as a social condition. God condemned racial slavery, so he gave freedom to his people from Egypt. However, there is slavery for economical and militar reasons, although Jewish religion treated them as people.

    Second, most of the Bible is applicable to spiritual life, not political laws.

  • Gary

    I want to address this to Frank. He said “Are you suggesting that the NT negates the OT”. I am not going to debate, but I find it interesting that we are discussing this roughly 1900 years after Augustine and Faustus. Not a new idea. I don’t necessarily support Faustus, but I believe everything he said in the following quote, from “Augustine and the Jews”, Paula Fredriksen, quoted from “Against Faustus” (Augustine wrote it), Faustus says, “These books of the law …portray a god so ignorant of the future that he gave Adam a command without knowing that he would break it….Envy made him fear that a human being might eat of the tree of life and live forever. Later, he was greedy for blood and fat from all kinds of sacrifices, and jealous if these were offered to anyone other than himself. At times his enemies infuriated him, at other times, his friends. Sometimes he destroyed thousands of men over little; at other times, over nothing. And he threatened to come with a sword and to spare no one, whether the righteous or the wicked.” About the people in the OT, he wrote, “We are not the ones who wrote that Abraham, enflamed by his frantic craving for children, did not fully trust God’s promise that Sara his wife would conceive. And then-even more shamefully, because he did so with his wife’s knowledge-he rolled around with a mistress. And later-in fact, on two different occasions-he most disreputably marketed his own marriage, out of avarice and greed selling Sara into prostitution to two different kings, Abimelech and Pharaoh, duplicitously claiming that his wife was his own sister, because she was beautiful. And what about Lot, Abraham’s brother, who lay with his own daughters once he escaped Sodom…” this goes on for much more, and I am tired of typing. Although I have to include “And Jacob, Isaac’s son, who had four wives and who rutted around like a goat among them”…I typed this to get to the punch line, “Either these stories are false, or the crimes that they relate are real. Choose whichever option you please. Both are detestable”… “Against Faustus” 22.4-5. Smart fellow, Faustus.

    • Frank

      Wow how more wrong can someone be than Faustus. I would not hang your hat on that. Yikes!

  • Gary

    One other plum.”Against Faustus” 32.2, the gospels “are so filled with discrepancies in their stories and with errors in their teachings that they cannot be made to agree within themselves or between each other”. About the Catholics, he says “You sip so daintily from the Old Testament, that your lips are scarcely wet!” The meaning, “Catholic Christians manifestly felt free to honor whatever they found useful in the Old testament and to utterly disregard the rest”. Again, very smart fellow, Faustus. If you disagree, argue with Faustus, not me, Frank.

    • Frank

      No need to argue with a foolish person.

      • Gary

        I agree. Thus no more discussion.

        • Frank

          Ooo good one! :rolleyes!

  • Kati

    Sadly, in the wake of this recent election (and the sort of people that will soon be put in place), it seems President Obama’s words are even truer now than they were back then. Appreciate your article, and agree with your conclusions.