Saturday, April 16, 2016

An Eye for an Eye

"Standing Together"

Politicians often tout their religious beliefs as a means for getting elected to office, especially during a U.S. presidential election; but this season it seems even more prevalent than ever as candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz appeal to their “electoral base” by talking about how deeply religious they are and how the Bible serves as the foundation for how they lead their lives.

Oddly enough, at least in Mr. Trump’s case, he really doesn’t belong to any church and he has virtually no understanding of what the Bible actually teaches. Something he said yesterday clearly demonstrated just how little he knows about religion and about what the Bible actually teaches.

In a New York City Talk-show interview, Mr. Trump was asked to articulate his favorite passage in the Bible – a book that he claims is the most important book in his life. Without batting an eye Trump quoted a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” He then went on to explain that this biblical passage encourages people to take vengeance against one another, to lash out against those who do us wrong. So, for example, when illegal immigrants come to America and “take away” our jobs we have to hit back hard, build a big wall, send them all away. As Trump sees it, the Bible justifies and supports all these acts.

But this is not at all what that “eye for an eye” passage from the Hebrew Scripture actually teaches. This particular passage is found in several places in the Hebrew Bible and it as essentially an ancient legal code to assure the establishment of a fair judicial system - a guiding principle meant for lawmakers to prevent them from issuing “overly harsh” sentences.

Apart from his gross misrepresentation of the Hebrew Bible, Trump, who also claims to be a Christian obviously doesn’t “get” what Jesus actually taught.  In fact, Jesus directed his followers to go beyond being “overly harsh” against those who do us wrong and taught instead not to be harsh at all. In his well known Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples:

You have heard that it was said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’
but I say to you, if anyone slaps you on the right check, turn the other to him also.
If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.
Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.
I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who do you wrong.

Mr. Trump and people like him make loud claims that this nation needs to return to Judeo-Christian values but, as I see it, that’s not what they really want. The core “Biblical” values call for a just and compassionate society where strangers are welcome and there is a place of dignity for everyone at the table of life. Trump and those of his ilk distort biblical teaching by using the scriptures as a battle-cry for taking revenge and a defense for bigotry and bullying. They disguise themselves in religious clothing but what they propose is about as far from religious teaching as one might get.

Karen Armstrong, well-respected Professor of World Religions, offers this wonderfully succinct summary about what “genuine religion” is really all about:

At their fundamental core all religions are designed to teach us
how to live joyfully, serenely and compassionately in the midst of suffering.

Wouldn’t it be great if our American politicians would adopt these fundamental core beliefs as the basic foundation for their views about how to govern in this country?

Actually I have no problem at all with politicians holding up their religious beliefs as an indication of who they are and how they live their lives. I just wish that, when they do so, they would hold up the values that religion actually professes.


  1. Paul, I could not agree more. This is a carefully written post.