It irks me a bit when people, particularly politicians or social activists, lift phrases and imagery from the Bible and exploit it for their own purposes.Â Winston Churchill did this quite often and this practice seems to be on the rise of late.
The temptation to fuse biblical wording with one’s own agenda is quite alluring–a person can call up the emotional associations of biblical passages and combine them with a certain political agenda (which may or may not be harmonious with the particular biblical text).Â Ideology with a religious-like emotional fervor is the mother-lode of politics.
At a symposium upon the “prophetic movement” and the legacy of Abraham Joshua Heschel (who briefly taught at HUC) at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, Cornell West and Susannah Heschel, Abraham Joshua’s daughter and Dartmouth professor, integrated Barak Obama into the presentation.Â Here is a selection from the Wall Street Journal:
The recent evening’s discussion of Heschel’s legacy gravitated, over and over, to the subject of Barack Obama. First Ms. Heschel and Mr. West brought up the presidential candidate and then the audience did. “He’s a gift to this country,” Ms. Heschel said, to great applause. It was as if everyone in the room were intoxicated with the idea that a politician could embody the prophetic. As she explained: “Today, there is a yearning for redemption. We want to be redeemed from cynicism and corruption. We want our politicians to turn swords into plowshares.”
Professor Heschel surely knows her Tanak well enough to realize that the verse from Micah 4 that she alludes to is focused upon Yahweh and the restoration that he will bring.Â However, she lifts the Yahweh ordained escatological vision of peace from Micah and then fuses it with modern politics.Â Are modern politicians Yahweh?Â Most certainly not.Â However, she rearranged biblical imagery and urged the crowd to seek redemption and ultimate restoration and peace from presidential hopefuls.
If politicians and social activists want to use biblical imagery and phraseology (however, I would rather they not) may they spend a bit more time to properly understand and employ the texts instead of hijacking them for their own predetermined ends.Â Furthermore, it might be wise to avoid putting yourself or your favorite politician of the moment into the place of Yahweh.Â Sometimes the most politically expedient path is not the most sagacious one.