The Affordable Care Act and the legal fallacy of the prooftexting hermeneutic of fundamentalism

This morning the US Supreme Court ruled that federal subsidies, for states that have refused to set up their own insurance exchanges, are a part of the overall intent of the law. The challenge was based on an isolated wording of the law indicating that individual states had the authority to accept or refuse the federal subsidies, which would have a very clear impact on the implementation of the ACA.

It is not so much the details of the law that I am focusing on here. The key issue is the hermeneutic that led to the challenge in the first place. Hermeneutic, in academic terms, is a method of interpretation. The method of interpretation employed by those who read the words of the ACA and challenged the law was to isolate a few words and to read them out of the overall context of the statute.

The fact that opposition to the ACA comes almost entirely from conservatives is only part of the dynamic that drove this challenge. There’s another dynamic at play that is virtually lost in the analysis. I call it the prooftexting hermeneutic of fundamentalism.

As a parallel development of the Neo-conservative movement in the 1980s (Ronald Reagan, James Baker [the bulldog who was sent to further entangle the election mess in Florida in 2000], James Watt, Newt Gingrich, Jean Kirkpatrick, William F. Buckley, Jr., et al., et al., ad nauseam), the Religious Right and the Moral Majority (Francis Schaeffer, Billy Graham [American revivalism], Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson) grew out of the American Christian fundamentalist movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In fact it’s still around.

One of the basic hermeneutical assumptions of fundamentalism is that the Bible is the inspired word of God. This is very much akin to the approach of Islamic fundamentalism in its assumptions about the Qur’an. Here is how the syllogism of prooftexting works. If our scripture is the inspired word of God, then every syllable is sacred without human contribution. And if every syllable is sacred without human contribution, then every word, every sentence, has a timeless message for all of humankind.

There are multiple issues that follow from this basic syllogism of American Christian fundamentalism, but here I am only interested in one of the implications this has for interpretation within fundamentalist communities, and that is prooftexting. Prooftexting, as religiously justified on the grounds of the fundamentalist assumption of inspiration, is a method of selecting a text out of its context to “prove” the fundamentalist assumption. From a historian’s perspective, this is an egregious misuse of reading texts. But fundamentalists justify it, because it supports the assumptions that undergird the formation of their faith. The closed circularity is so obvious that it shouldn’t warrant pointing out.

Fundamentalism has historically been a separatist movement, choosing to separate themselves from a corrupt society in order to avoid the impurity of the sinful world. Since the emergence of the Religious Right (Moral Majority) movement and its combination with the Neo-conservatives in the 1980s, fundamentalists have shifted their separatist perspective to one of engaging the culture as warriors in God’s army whose mission it is to win back for God the United States as a Christian nation. Never mind the separation of church and state imbedded in the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Into the culture war fundamentalist Christian politicians and activists bring with them their refusal to compromise theologically (now politically) and their prooftexting hermeneutic. Hence their challenge of the ACA in the Supreme Court by reading a few words of the statute out of their context while conveniently ignoring the overall intent of the law.

Fortunately, six of the nine Supreme Court justices were intellectually honest enough to understand that reading a few words out of context is a very clear problem. On the other hand, whether the two conservative justices, Roberts and Kennedy, who voted to strike down the challenge voted this way because of their intellectual integrity or because they were politically motivated to pull the GOP’s collective butt out of the fire in view of the gathering storm that would have exploded had they taken health care coverage away from millions of American citizens, well, I suppose that becomes a matter of opinion. Or we could let their legislative track record speak for itself, beginning with their appointment of George W. Bush as president in the 2000 election. Imagine how the entire world would be different had they not followed the fascist path to solving the problems of that election.


White privilege, racism, and myth

This from my colleague and friend Jim Perkinson over at Radical Discipleship. Jim is a poet, an artist, a thinker, and a radical activist who lives it. Racism isn’t just the transgression of polite boundaries. It is an ugly, systemic hatred imbedded in our psyches, an embodied fear that has evolved for generations. It’s a good read. It will make you stop and consider your own adherence to a narrative that denies the many ways we participate in a culture of racism.

An internal discussion among the IMF staff regarding income inequality

IMFStaff members of the International Monetary Fund organization just published a document for debate regarding the global scope of income inequality. And while I dislike the phrase “income inequality” and prefer the phrase “opportunity inequality”, the document makes important points about what is probably the most serious issue of our times. The disclaimer at the beginning of the document warns against associating the findings of this paper with the IMF and that the paper should be taken as the views of its authors. That’s fine. It presents a lot of facts for serious consideration. The one overarching fact is that paying people more in real wages, rather than exploiting the working poor and gutting the middle class, makes for an environment that allows the economy to work for everyone, not just a privileged few. It’s worth the read.

The hallucinogenic ritual culture of the Philistines?


This article appeared yesterday in the online magazine Ancient Origins. Archaeologists have discovered chemical compounds in a pit associated with the local Philistine temple in Yavneh (Israel). While this is evidence related to a culture that existed centuries before the Second Temple period, I have often wondered about ekstatic experiences described in Second Temple period apocalyptic texts. What were the actual mechanisms? Mystical receptions of other worldly revelations (which is what they wanted their readers to think)? Vitamin depletion during long periods of fasting? Ingestions of hallucinogenic chemical compounds extracted from local flora? Were Enochic apocalyptic visions chemically induced in ritual settings? I kind of like the thought of this explanation. They would not have used the chemicals to “escape” reality or self-medicate in ways that happen in today’s complicated and sometimes sophisticated drug culture. They probably would have used the chemicals as a sort of access to “heavenly” visions which they then interpreted in terms of their own peculiar socio-political contexts.

Media manipulation and the attempt to silence Bernie

Ignoring one who disagrees with you is clearly a form of polemic. I know this from experience. It’s a passive agressive tactic that can be very effective. Noam Chomsky has had plenty to say about media manipulation of political information over the years, and this is a shining example. Bernie Sanders deserves to be heard, especially since he has such a substantial following among the working class and poor in the US. From our friends over at naked capitalism.

The measurable and socially immoral consequences of opportunity inequality

We have this posted over at Naked Capitalism this morning, originally from VoxEU. This is even more disturbing when combined with the social reality that the disenfranchisement of young people who are not integrated into the basic structures of society invites higher crime rates.

The conservative attack on academics in higher education

Since conservatives have pushed the adjunct model to its limits over the last 10 year span and effectively can squeeze productivity in that direction no longer, now they are going after tenured faculty who were all but silent while the rest of us suffered. I try not to have hard feelings about a class of faculty who viewed adjuncts as less than themselves (even though adjuncts have the same credentials and many are more qualified than the privileged tenured), but I certainly don’t wish this on anyone and I think it is grotesquely small-minded of conservative legislators who are having their ignorant way with “liberal” academics.

Ground breaking and dedication ceremony scheduled for the Huron Valley Community Garden and Urban Farm

Garden meeting today. Growing interest and participation from the neighborhood. Publicity for the dedication/groundbreaking ceremony here.

My justification lies with God

“As for me, my justification lies with God. In his hand are the perfection of my walk and the virtue of my heart. By his righteousness is my transgression blotted out. For from the fount of his knowledge has my light shot forth; upon his wonders has my eye gazed — the light of my heart upon the mystery of what shall be.”
– 1QS 11 2-4

Simon Joseph on the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in L.A.

Simon Joseph provides an interesting review of the recent Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in Los Angeles. About ten years ago a Scrolls exhibit passed through Grand Rapids, Michigan, incorporating as part of its narrative Gabriele Boccaccini’s perspective on the Enochic/Essene nature of the documents and the yachad community. It looks like the naysayers are having their turn. About the same time the exhibit was held in Grand Rapids, Lawrence Schiffman was our guest speaker for the Judaism and Christianity in the Greco-Roman World series sponsored by the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and the Michigan Center for Early Christian Studies. Over lunch Larry argued that the inhabitants of Qumran were Sadducees. I simply pointed out that the eschatology of the Qumran scribes alone would rule out any possibility of a Sadducean character of the yachad. Larry’s argument was based in part on Mishnaic descriptions of Sadducean halakhah compared to halakhah in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The problem with that kind of comparison is that various Jewish groups from this period shared halakhic practices, and it was only the very small, minute details of halakhic observance that actually defined sectarian difference — a case of losing the forest for the trees. At any rate, Simon provides a nice review and, I think, an accurate criticism.