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Blog of Mass Destruction

Proof Texting

By The Reverend Published: February 17, 2009

UPDATED with cartoon below

Among fundamentalist Protestant Christians, the practice of "proof texting" the Bible is very common. Well meaning evangelical Christians very often rely on this methodology as they seek to defend their belief system. This approach is rarely, if ever, relied upon among Catholic Christians because the burden of proof with Catholics is the authority of the Church as interpreted through it's hierarchical governing sytem of popes, cardinals and bishops.

Proof texting is the practice of cherry picking cross-referenced lines of scripture, most often taken out of their historical context,.....and then amassing them in support of a larger 'truth' about god, morality, prophecy, etc. So called Bible studies, among fundamentalist Christian groups, often consist of a series of proof texting exercises. The Schofield Bible, appearing first in 1909, and still used widely by evangelicals, incorporated this proof texting cross referencing system right in it's center-page columns of small-type annotations.

What often happens, in using the proof texting method, is that the biblical books, instead of being read and understood in their historical, contextual setting, are, instead, studied to find those 'gems' within passages that support what is already believed.

The irony here, at least to me, is that the 'people of the book', those who faithfully study their Bibles, while able to defend their belief systems through this method, don't actually understand the Bible at all.

I know that's a critical statement.....but I've been there and done that... I speak from experience. It wasn't until I dropped this proof texting method and approached the Bible as I would any other book......using a more scientific, historical, critical methodology....that I came to an "understanding" of what the Bible really is, what it's saying in it's myriad books, and why.

I bring this up to illustrate what I see today in America's political discourse. What I read every day in comments, in newspapers and online articles, what I hear and see on teevee shows, is, oftentimes, nothing more than an exercise in proof texting.

Let's look at one example.

One prominent conservative political doctrine (belief) that we have been hearing about in the last four weeks (after an 8 year hiatus), is 'smaller government and low taxes.' The cherry picking is witnessed in proof text references to what Reagan said about "gub'mint is the problem" or selective readings of specific periods of the American economy when this or that indicator 'proved' what was already believed by conservative doctrine adherents.

What we just witnessed in the stimulus/recovery discussions is how this proof text doctrinal approach to government and taxation misses the national forest for the individual believer trees. In the same way that understanding the Bible is impossible, really, by using a proof-text too, understanding government's role, and the purpose of taxes within that role, cannot be accomplished through simple sound bite proof texting of the already-believed, conservative doctrinal creed.

In the chart below we find job creation under Bill Clinton's 2 term presidency as compared to job creation under George W. Bush's 2 term presidency.

Clinton raised taxes in 1993, as this Heritage Foundation piece explains in a dire warning about how Clinton's plan would fail and lead to national economic misery.

Bush cut income tax rates across the board in 2001 and then cut capital gains tax rates in 2003. Those tax cuts were hailed as historic attempts to spur growth.

Looking at the jobs chart....did Clinton's tax increases lead to fewer jobs and economic stagnation as Heritage warned? Did Bush's deep tax cuts lead to historic economic growth and job creation as conservatives promised?

In light of this broader analysis stretching over 16 years, why is it that conservatives and Republicans resorted to tax cuts as the only vehicle that would create jobs in our current job-losing landscape? Proof text conservative beliefs. It seems as if no matter what the empirical evidence suggests from a broader analysis of what's transpired in the last 16 years, conservatives resort to their default-setting belief systems....anyway.

The inarguable proof of this dynamic is seen in the 90% vote of Senate Republicans for Jim Demint's (R-SC), all tax cut proposal, called "The American Option." 36 of 41 GOP Senators wanted to see nothing but tax cuts going forward as a formula for creating American jobs.

Are these GOP'ers cognizant of the jobs comparison chart above? Absolutely. Do the obvious conclusions staring them in the face escape their brain's comprehension? No. Are they simply dishonest brokers? Not really.

These modern Republicans are self-enslaved by their ideological proof texts in the same way that fundamentalist Christians are enslaved to their's. The fact that Clinton's modest tax increases led to expansive job growth and Bush's deep tax cuts didn't.....doesn't lead Republicans to re-think their pre-conceived beliefs. Instead, just as fundamentalist Christians dismiss any glaring contradictions in their "inerrancy of the Bible" or "virgin birth" doctrines, so too Republicans, simply dismiss any obvious contradictions to their, "we already know what works" tax cutting dogma.

Come, let us reason together.




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