God Only Knows

The highly endangered Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) has a new holiday-timed ad up that’s raising eyebrows in Arkansas.

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Note the key line:

The Bible teaches us no one has all the answers. Only God does. And neither political party is always right.

Now to some progressive folk, particularly those outside the South, this probably sounds like some sort of pandering effort by Pryor to disassociate himself from his own party. But he’s actually saying something a lot deeper and a lot more controversial: God’s not a Republican, and the Bible is not a Republican campaign document.

The standard Christian Right take on the Bible’s relevance to politics is that it removes all doubt and ambiguity about what the believer should do. As Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), a Senate candidate himself, put it in a 2012 speech, the Bible is “manufacturer’s handbook for how to run all of public policy and everything in society.” Now this attitude defies many centuries of scriptural interpretation, and is about as spiritual in nature as a medieval crusader killing a heretic or “heathen,” but it’s a pervasive if self-consciously hammer-headed approach among Culture Warriors these days.

Pryor’s basically saying the Bible teaches some humility and reserves wisdom and final judgment to God Almighty, not to his self-appointed representatives on earth, clerical or especially political. It’s a message that would have been instantly understood by God-fearing southerners in the not-too-distant past, but unfortunately, it’s a risky gambit today, much like the president’s own speech at Notre Dame in 2009 touting humility and even doubt about God’s specific purposes as holy virtues.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.