Monday, May 28, 2012
As I’m now engaged in teaching a summer course on the Hebrew Scriptures, I can’t help but reflect – this being Memorial Day – that the distinguished Founders weren’t only indebted to the likes of Montesquieu, Locke, Burke and others for their political theory, but (believe it or not) to the Bible. The “Good Book,” they were convinced, would help them escape the endless pitfalls of governing. Remember the prophet Samuel, who warned the Israelites of the dangers of asking for a king? Didn’t the Scriptures envision an early form of “checks and balances” to prevent one form of tyranny or another from gaining the upper hand? The king wasn’t allowed to rule in an unfettered manner; he was to be “checked” by priests and prophets, whose job it was to hold him accountable to a higher authority, who could and frequently did put him in his royal place. The Bible, it seems, isn’t just a book of high-minded religiosity. It puts forth the very political ideas that came to be part of our own republic!
Sunday, May 27, 2012
It’s definitely appropriate to reflect on “freedom” on Memorial Day. But let’s recognize at the outset that freedom, far from being something we yawn about in a musty old history book, is by nature more than a tad … SUBVERSIVE. America’s Founders were, as we know, students of the Bible … but not just as traditional religionists, who politely bowed their heads as they listened to Sunday sermons. They were rebels with a cause – freedom from British tyranny – and they looked for political lessons in every page of holy writ. The fact that quite a number of them were in full rebellion against religious authority (many being Deists, Unitarians, and members of disparate sects – Quakers, Separatists and the like) enabled them to look at Scripture with a critical eye, not just swallow what their clergymen told them. That “rebellious” attitude is what got them over here to begin with, and it further informed their entire philosophy of government (hence the First Amendment). It also helped birth a revolution.