Contrary to popular belief, the Bible affects people’s everyday lives because of its influence on the political and social realm, experts said.
Biblical scholars gathered for a two-day conference from Sunday to Monday to present the applications of the Bible in politics and foreign policy. The event, titled “The Bible in the Public Square,” discussed the correlation between current events and the Bible, including those in national politics and international affairs. The series was a joint collaboration of Duke’s Center for Jewish Studies, Religion Department and Southern Methodist University.
“Because the Bible was, is and probably still will be an important part of American life, we wanted to highlight the way it plays out to a certain extent in American politics,” said speaker Carol Meyers, Mary Grace Wilson professor of religion.
Meyers noted that many people do not understand the context by which presidential candidates are quoting the Bible, and the purpose of the lectures is to raise awareness for voters in Durham. The lecture series featured professors who specialized in biblical research so that references by politicians from the Bible would be more accessible to the average voter. The Bible is especially pertinent to this year’s upcoming presidential election, since it appeals to all the constituencies of the religious political spectrum, she said.
“It is very hard to get the real Bible,” Meyers said. “I would urge students therefore to try to take courses that help them bridge this gap between the way the Bible appears in contemporary media and the way it would have conveyed its messages in its ancient context.”
When politicians cite scripture, they are doing so strictly with a political mindset and not because of their love for God, said Jacques Berlinerblau, associate professor and director of the Program for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University. He noted that there is no direct link between George W. Bush’s seemingly religious political policy and his religious devotion. There was no biblical reference that justified his invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Berlinerblau also addressed the reason for the sudden increase in scripture citings in politics. The Democratic Party has switched from a separationist secularist to a accomodationist secularist standpoint. Instead of promoting the separation of the church and state, the Democrats now engage politics alongside religion, as long as it encompasses all religions, Berlinerblau said.
Because American secularism is declining at an increasing rate, switching to an accommodating view is more attractive to voters, he said.
Senior Sarah Bartleson said the Bible plays an important role in elections, noting that candidates who cite the Bible are ultimately more successful.
“Whether or not they believe the Bible should be cited that way, it’s sort of pandering in a sense,” she said.
Senior Hannah Smith, who also attended the lectures, noted the role of the Christian right in elections makes addressing the Bible necessary.
“The upcoming presidential election is necessarily intertwined with the Bible.” Smith wrote in an email Monday. “The Christian right has so many voters that both presidential candidates will need to use the Bible in order to appeal to a large voting block.”