Friday, July 12, 2019

Mortal Kombat in the Heavens

The dirtbag Right loves to wave religion around, which doesn't particularly distinguish them from many liberals and progressives and leftists.  So of course I've been seeing numerous liberals scolding the Right for, as they see it, "distorting Scripture."

Daniel Larison, whose work I mostly like, praised this article by Bonnie Kristian attacking Mike Pompeo for "misrepresenting the Bible to gin up war with Iran."  The article is a rebuttal worth reading, it contains some important arguments, but it falls down here and there.  The author focuses on Pompeo's use of the biblical Book of Esther, which she says "is a story of different kinds of courage, of God working in unexpected ways, of assurance of eventual justice for the downtrodden."  The trouble here is that Esther is notorious for not mentioning God, or his working, at all.  The only other biblical book that doesn't mention God is the Song of Solomon, which is about sex; of course that hasn't stopped theologians, Jewish and Christian alike, from interpreting it as an allegory of God's boner for Israel, or Christ's for the Church.

Kristian is right that Esther "is not a lesson on the longstanding malfeasance of the Iranian people. Esther offers no commentary on Islam, which did not exist when it was written. It is not included in the Jewish and Christian scriptures to tell us Iran is bad."  If anything, it depicts Persia/Iran as a haven for Jews after the bad guys who conspired to harm them were exposed and punished.  But that's something else Kristian papers over, what this article calls "the bloodthirsty bits": Haman, the royal official who led the plot against Esther's people,
was hanged, or more likely impaled; the Jews were given permission to "destroy, kill and annihilate" their enemies, with their women and children (8:11), a permission of which they took full advantage. Esther asked for an extension of the bloodletting (9:13) and for the impalement of Haman's 10 sons; 800 men were killed in the capital Susa and 75,000 elsewhere in the empire. The Jews were saved, Mordecai was promoted and the events have been celebrated on the Feast of Purim ever since.
That's presumably what Bonnie Kristian meant by "eventual justice for the downtrodden."  It's probably the part that Pompeo likes best, and that inspires his agenda on Iran.  I wouldn't accuse Kristian of misrepresenting the Bible, exactly, but she certainly de-emphasizes to the point of erasure the part that most resonates spiritually for Pompeo and other right-wing supporters of Israel -- including the Israeli government -- who'd like to treat Iran as Esther did.

Lest someone complain that Esther is the Old Testament, for chrissake, and the New Testament is about love, it's not full of hate and vindictiveness and judgment like the Old -- that's just not true. The New Testament is full of bloodthirsty fantasies of "eventual justice for the downtrodden," from Jesus' constant threats of eternal torture to the extravagant blood-in-the-streets-to-the-height-of-the-horses'-bridles visions of the Revelation.  And as I pointed out recently, the video-game ultraviolence of the Revelation is perpetrated by the good guys, the servants of the Lamb, not by Satan's minions.

Kristian's piece on the abnormality of the Pledge of Allegiance is much better.  But she, no less than Mike Pompeo, can't seem to represent the Bible in all its messy complexity.  It's not necessarily invalid to use stories, ancient or modern, to comment on current events and controversies, but one should at least try to get the details and the context right.  I'll be having more to say about this soon, perhaps including Bonnie Kristian's well-meant but inadequate attempt to resolve the role of religion in American political life.  But I have numerous other examples by other writers who dwell on the specks of biblical misrepresentation in their brothers' and sisters' eyes, while ignoring the beams in their own.