In response to my recent post about Charlie Fuqua — an Arkansas Republican who lauds the Hebrew Bible’s insistence on stoning disobedient children — a couple of very thoughtful commenters have suggested that my use of the term “cherry-picking” to describe Fuqua’s use of the Hebrew Bible might not be apt.
Their allegation is that Fuqua is simply an extremist fundamentalist who believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible and thus that he isn’t cherry-picking. I’m going to briefly defend my use of the term “cherry-picking” in this case, and in so many other cases where fundamentalist Christians read one part of the Hebrew Bible literally while ignoring all the rest.
My argument is that any time a law from the Torah seems difficult or unclear, these fundamentalists simply say that it’s unnecessary to pay attention to it because Jesus’ arrival on Earth supersedes it. These are typically laws or mitzvot that are incumbent upon individuals and that many Jews continue to practice (keeping kosher or celebrating the holiday of Sukkot, as innocuous examples). But the laws that never seem to be superseded are ones that Jews no longer adhere to (or haven’t adhered to for centuries in some cases); these also seem to be ones that are binding upon others (the death penalty, as an example) and that seem to fit with right-wing (political) positions.
In this sense, I read it as cherry-picking because it seems to me to amount to consulting a religious text that isn’t generally considered binding by this group in order to find laws or rules that fit their previously-held (political) positions and then using the authority of that religious text as justification for one’s beliefs about, say, vengeance or homosexuality or women’s rights or whatever else. The authority of the very same text does not apply to the strictures that might impact their own lives in the way that they desire to impact the lives of others.
The short version is this: Fundamentalist Christians — and most other Christians, I would venture to guess — view Christianity as radically different from Judaism. Their general rejection of the laws of the Torah thus makes a lot of sense to me. What doesn’t make any sense is turning to a religious text whose laws they generally reject in order to find support for positions they hold but that most adherents of that religion don’t hold. Imagine if I ignored virtually everything I’ve read in the Christian Bible because I don’t believe the central proposition of that text … but then I pulled out six or seven passages to justify some political position that I hold based on the authority of a religious text.
That’s just cherry-picking.