The other day, on his show The Last Word, commentator Lawrence O’Donnell brandished a Bible and made a fool of himself. This is part of what he said:
“This time, as it was last time for the first time in history, the [Bible at the Presidential Inauguration] will be held by a First Lady who is a descendent of slaves. But the holy book she will be holding does not contain one word of God condemning slavery. Not one word. But that same book, which spends hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages condemning all sorts of things and couldn’t find one sentence to condemn slavery, does indeed find the space to repeatedly condemn gay people, as the now banished Louie Giglio said it does. And as the First Lady is holding that book for the President, sitting someone near them will be a pastor who the Inauguration Committee will make sure is much more adept at hiding what that book actually says than Louie Giglio was.”
O’Donnell is breathtakingly wrong here. He apparently has no clue about what the Bible “actually says.” “Not one word of God condemning slavery”? Seriously? Does O’Donnell not know that the Bible gives us the faith of a band of escaped slaves and their descendants? The whole book is a condemnation of slavery! Almost every time we read the word “Egypt” we can assume it refers to the regime of slavery from which the Israelites were delivered by God. Liberation from slavery is the event that gave birth to the faith and people of the Scriptures in the first place. No, the Bible contains not one word condemning slavery, it contains hundreds of thousands of them.
The Bible does occasionally indicate a limited, grudging toleration of slavery. Slavery was the backbone of the world economy for thousands of years. America only got rid of it 150 years ago. It took a ghastly war. But it would not have happened were it not for the tireless, courageous and dedicated work over many decades of people guided by… the Bible. Because, in spite of a few isolated passages taken out of context, the Bible is an anti-slavery tract.
O’Donnell is also wrong that the Bible manages “to repeatedly condemn gay people.” He’s talking about less than half-a-dozen brief passages in a text that is well over a thousand pages long. But the Bible contains over 2,000 verses advocating economic and social justice for the poor, the sick, aliens, women, and other excluded people. Judging the whole Bible by a few scattered verses, whether it is done by Mr. Giglio or Mr. O’Donnell, is foolish. It indicates a reader who doesn’t care what the book actually says, but seeks only to find something in it they can extract and use for their own purposes. You can do that with just about anything.
O’Donnell occasionally does these sanctimonious little sermons near the end of his show. Often I agree with him in principle, but he is blowing something way out of proportion simply for its shock value or offensiveness to conservatives. In other words, trolling.
I think I will find a new bridge to take me from Rachel Maddow to Jon Stewart. I know he's done some good things; I love his effort to provide desks for schools in Africa. But O’Donnell has lost his credibility with me, at least for a while. He should stick to what he knows about and leave the Bible alone... or better, he should actually read it. It is actually more revolutionary than anything he has ever done. +++++++