Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Of Motes and Beams

It used to be that John 3:16 was the most ubiquitous Bible verse, but these days I think I've been hearing Matthew 7:3 a lot. I think it may have become our favorite verse. It goes something like this:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in Ted Stevens's eye?

Oh, is that not the way you learned the verse? Me either. I mention this because Republican Mark Sanford invoked this verse in response to the recent presidential election.

Sanford said:

I believe in the Biblical notion of taking the log out of your own eye before worrying about the splinter in someone else's. Accordingly, let me focus on my own party and the way Ted Stevens personifies what went wrong in the election.

It's hard for me to disagree with his personification of Stevens, but I do find myself quibbling a bit over his application of the Biblical verse. Particularly when the verse says to not focus on your "brother's" fault. Clearly Sanford is trying to identify with corporate errors, but he does so by focusing on some other member of his party and saying the fault is theirs. In the same piece he insists that the lost election is not a repudiation of his party's principles--and certainly not of him.

Sanford begins the piece by saying that as an American he wishes the new president "every success." By the end of the piece he is speaking not of the faults of the GOP but of what he "fears" the Obama administration will become.

Is it possible the American electorate rejected the GOP not because of (alleged) corruption of one Alaska Senator (who still has an appeal pending) but because of the a blanket failure to offer alternatives to trickle-down economics and members who simply bad mouth the other guy? I don't know, I'm just asking.

What I'm saying, though, is that whether or not Sanford's piece is poor politics, it sure seems like poor Biblical exegesis. How the taking the "log out of your own own eye" became a synonym for scapegoating Ted Stevens is not exactly clear to me.

It's funny to me how many people these days have taken to citing this verse aggressively, as a means of telling others that they have beams that they should take care of before criticizing someone else (usually the person citing the verse). Isn't doing so--attacking someone else with this verse--the very opposite of what the verse admonishes us to do? Isn't it, in the semantic sense, a perversion of this verse?

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