Obama and the Bible

Jeffrey S. Siker, the chair of the Department of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University, recently presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Catholic Biblical Association on Barack Obama’s use of the Bible in public discourse.

According to this Los Angeles Times summary of Striker’s paper, Obama uses the Old Testament more often than the New Testament and tends to focus particularly on the Exodus story. His two favorite motifs are the idea that “we are our brother’s keeper” (Gen. 4:9) and the “Joshua Generation.” The latter is a reference to Joshua finishing the work of Moses by bringing the Israelites into the Promised Land. Like Joshua of old, Americans must finish the work of the previous generations who have made America great. (This idea seems to assume that the members of the Baby-Boom generation have, in general, behaved in ways that have been good for America. This can be debated).

Here is a taste of the LA Times article:

In both “The Audacity of Hope” and a June 2006 speech on faith and public policy, Obama spelled out some of his thoughts.

“Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is okay and that eating shellfish is an abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith?” Obama, then a U.S. senator, said in the speech in Washington D.C. “Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount — a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application?”

The answer, Obama said in the speech, was that religiously motivated people must find principles that are accessible to people of all beliefs, including those with no faith at all. “In a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice,” he said.