The Bible is a foundational document of Western civilization, and by extension, America. It seems only natural, then, that people would seek to use the power of the Bible to advocate for a certain agenda in our society. In How Would God Vote?: Why the Bible Commands You to Be a Conservative, local author David Klinghoffer claims to do just that.
If the title is not indication enough, Klinghoffer early on defines his agenda, billing his book as “a call to arms to America’s mostly Christian conservatives,” a plea, if you will, for conservatives not to abandon their religiously based political advocacy. To this end, Klinghoffer operates with the premise that “the Bible is as clear on politics as it is on morals.”
The key to this clarity, he argues, is a Biblical worldview that promotes morals and individual responsibility: True freedom comes in a person’s deciding whether or not to embrace these doctrines. Klinghoffer contrasts this embrace of responsibility with what he claims is the liberal attitude of submission to nature.
The author devotes the bulk of his attention to individual discussions of an ambitious range of contemporary issues, including family and marriage, education, poverty, taxes, health care, gun control, immigration, the environment, Islamic terror, and Israel. Klinghoffer presents relevant Biblical and extra-Biblical material concerning each issue, evaluates the contemporary arguments from both sides, and draws a conclusion on what he believes is the Biblical view on the issue. While he does challenge some traditional views, the book more or less lives up to its name while espousing a condescending view toward secular and liberal perspectives.
The gravest problem with Klinghoffer’s book is his misuse of the term Bible and, by extension, his abuse of the Biblical text. Klinghoffer routinely uses extra-Biblical material — the Talmud, Midrash or Maimonides, for example — and reinserts it into the Biblical narrative to draw his conclusions about the Bible’s stance on issues.
For example, because post-Biblical Jewish sources sometimes refer to Rome as Edom or Esau, Klinghoffer feels free to rewrite the Jacob and Esau story as a conflict between Israel and Rome, which in Klinghoffer logic represents the struggle between monotheists in America and secularists of Europe.
What Klinghoffer fails to understand is that when you use extra-Biblical material to supplement and rewrite Biblical material, what you are left with is not authentically Biblical material. It follows that Klinghoffer’s claim that such material is indicative of the Bible’s support of one agenda over another is simply ridiculous.
Elsewhere, Klinghoffer shows his inability to provide a close reading of the text. In his discussion of taxes, for example, he cites 1 Samuel 8 as evidence that 10 percent was considered an excessive amount to pay for taxes. This passage does warn the Israelites of this downside to having a king rule over them. However, the passage follows a description of other taxes a king would demand, specifically service requirements such as serving in the army or in the king’s royal court — not to mention a general seizure and re-appropriation of land, which would amount to much more than 10 percent.
One final criticism is Klinghoffer’s attitude toward liberals and secularists: It is, simply, smug and condescending. In his chapter on parenthood, for example, he ridicules the reasons secularists have for having children: Wanting to give a child love, nurturing a child, watching him grow, saying, “But let us be honest and see that not one of them would be unexpected coming from a would-be pet owner looking for a dog, cat, rabbit, or turtle to buy and care for.”
In contrast, Klinghoffer asserts that people of faith have a higher birthrate because of what he sees as the Bible’s “pro-natalist stance.” As a parent of two, I have to say that knowing one’s limits as a parent seems more important than procreating for the sake of a presumed pro-natalist Biblical stance.
Incidentally, this chapter also betrays Klinghoffer’s willingness to tamper with the text. He sees God’s declaration “It is not good for man to be alone” as God “counseling against celibacy.” If this were the Bible’s intent, then Klinghoffer should explain why God creates animals and birds to serve as man’s “helper” immediately after uttering these words. Woman is created only after Adam finds no “helper” among these creatures.
In Klinghoffer’s favor, he is at least aware of the major issues at the forefront of American politics, and he is willing to challenge some traditionally conservative views. The Bible, after all, is largely a subversive text, written primarily from a minority perspective, suspicious of power by nature, and sympathetic to the disenfranchised. It fits easily into the ideas of those who champion the rights of the oppressed, such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King. Klinghoffer can be commended for taking a shot, but let’s be honest, he never had a chance.