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Thumpin' It: The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today's Presidential Politics Paperback – December 17, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Georgetown University professor Berlinerblau (The Secular Bible) makes the unoriginal argument that American politicians on the left and right use Scripture in their speeches, and that policy wonks on both sides of the aisle draw on the Bible to defend positions on the environment, stem-cell research and foreign policy. Berlinerblau finds politicians' use of Scripture to be shallow—they offer poor and tendentious readings, throwing in a verse here or there and failing to acknowledge Scripture's internal diversity and contradictions. A few of Berlinerblau's sweeping historical assertions are questionable—did the U.S. really undergo a thoroughgoing secularization in the first 75 years of the 20th century? A wealth of scholarship on the persistence of conservative religion and the extent to which religion shaped liberal agendas such as feminism would suggest not. His tone has the faint veneer of sarcasm (Enter, as if on cue, the Evangelical Climate Initiative), so when he gives speechwriters tips about using Scripture effectively—be vague, avoid theological depth—it is hard to tell if he is being sincere or snide. Two concluding chapters assess the ways leading presidential candidates, from Clinton to McCain, present their religious bona fides. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


This book uniquely combines the author s expertise as a biblical scholar with his canny perception of the American political scene in a volatile presidential election year. Events move quickly and unpredictably, but this kind of analysis may prove useful for a long time to come. --J. Philip Wogaman, author of From the Eye of the Storm: A Pastor to the President Speaks Out, and former pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, DC.

Jacques Berlinerblau ... couldn't be more timely with his wittily titled warning to presidential wannabes....The message here is that Oval Office hopefuls, all of whom are prone to quoting from the Good Book to support their positions, need to be more careful about those slippery, contradictory, and sometimes even nonexistent passages from the Bible. Try as one might, it's hard to make a compelling case against stem cell research from anything contained in the Old or New Testaments. But try pols most certainly will, on this and other matters, and the results of their efforts should come, Berlinerblau tongue-in-cheekishly suggests, with a candidate's disclaimer that his (or her) use of a particular passage may be subject to radically different readings. --From US News & World Report, written by Jay Tolson on his "Faith Notes Blog"

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press (December 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 066423173X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0664231736
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,610,930 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By K T Jones on February 18, 2008
Format: Paperback
Berlinerblau's slim volume is one of the best guides to religion and presidential politics around today.

Berlinerblau is exactly right that the Bible has come back into our politics because politicians are aggressively targeting the evangelical vote. At the same time they are carefully ignoring the substantial (and growing) secular voting bloc. His discussion of secularism in America today is more nuanced and balanced than anything I have read on the subject.

Chapters 2, 3, 4 talk about how the candidates justify their ideas on issues like the stem cell research, the environment and Middle Eastern foreign policy. Chapters 5, 6, 7 give very balanced portraits of the religion strategies of all the 2008 candidates and Bush and Bill Clinton. The sections on Giuliani and Obama are excellent. This book will be an important resource for those trying to understand Obama's religious influences. Inexplicably, Berlinerblau leaves out any discussion of the evolution/ intelligent design controversy--the only significant weakness in an otherwise authoritative overview of the contemporary political-religious terrain.

Berlinerblau concludes that even though there is a lot of religion in American politics it still has little actual influence on governmental decisions. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and appreciated the author's sense of humor and his refusal to take sides. If he has an axe to grind, there is no hint of it in the book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Rick Stilwell on March 13, 2008
Format: Paperback
I think it's a literary breath of fresh air for my own political re-emergence this electoral season. Subtitled "The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today's Politics", it's actually a pretty good primer on the Bible's use throughout American history. He does a bang-up job at describing the details without taking a partisan side, explaining credibly that both sides "use and abuse" the Bible.

"... no empire, no society, and rarely even one denomination has ever been able to agree on what the Bible says. Put differently, even if there were one 'right' reading of the Bible, we have yet to find a social body that has achieved agreement as to what it might be." (p. 32)

His first pass is into such divisive hot button topics as the environment, stem-cell research and foreign policy - all areas of current event interest that are not really addressed in 2,000-year-old texts. But each "side" has its own loose prooftexts to cite, its own spin and perspective on the issues and problems at hand, and the Bible serves to give some weight and authority to those opposing views. Both sides paradoxically use the same Bible to point to diametrically opposed viewpoints. He also leads into dialog on the campaigns and the party dynamic, where Democrats are waking up to the spiritual side of the electorate that the Republicans have had a stranglehold on for decades. In most cases, the pointed use of vague and victorious-sounding scriptural rhetoric is a plus for a candidate, while relying too heavily on the Bible, or appearing to take it too seriously, is also almost always a pitfall.

I want to recommend this one to everyone - but it's mostly for those who see something spiritual on the political scope that "just smells funny".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By P. Troutman on April 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
This piece is perhaps odder than the other reviews might lead you to suspect. It is above all else, irreverent -- which, with the advantage of hindsight, is something I might have been able to predict given the _Thumpin' It_.

This work argues that the pursuit of the evangelical vote has led presidential candidates in both parties to explicitly play up their religious bona fides, something that Republicans do much better than Democrats, though Berlinerblau considers Obama to be the master of the art. Berlinerblau categorizes different ways that candidates have attempted to weave the Book into their public comments and rates different techniques from effective to disastrous. In that regard, this is a good book for candidates themselves. (It certainly won't take much of their time to read.)

What makes this book quirky, however, is its take-no-prisoners bemusement with just about everything discussed. Other reviews stress that the author is unbiased -- and in fact he vows not to vote for any candidate for President in the next election to avoid subconscious favoritism. His evenhanded assault on everything, however, is likely to grate more on conservative Christians who stress the sacred -- and for some, inerrant -- nature of the Bible. They won't, for instance, appreciate his underlying premise that the Book is so rich that you can draw out support for almost any position. Nor will they favor sentences like, "the Bible is to clear and coherent political deliberation what sleet, fog, hail, and flash floods are to highway safety.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ranger Gary on October 23, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Thumpin' it" is well written and the author understands the subject far better than many, whether secularists or Christians. But the author's extended, italicized disclaimer of "no bias" piqued my suspicions from the outset, and by the time I finished I concluded that the book fell short of its purported purpose--and is, indeed, a biased tome.

First, it is not scholarly. Its thoughtful, but not scholarly. One quick example--Berlinerblau accepts without critique the separationist interpretation of Jefferson's "wall of separation" metaphor, despite extensive (and scholarly) criticism that the modern hyper-separationist model arising from that phrase rests in bad history and created bad law. So bad that one federal appellate court recently called the concept a "tiresome extraconstitutional construct." Thus, his "neutrality" unfortunately slides onto the secularist end of the scale.

More subtly, he astutely analyzed the schism between Republicans on the embryonic stem cell issue, noting that two pro-life LDS Republican senators had allied themselves with pro-abortion Democrats to support federal funding for that embryonic stem cell research. But he didn't go to the next level, and explain why LDS theology leads its believers to accept embryonic stem cell research, while evangelical Christian theology finds the research morally repugnant (it has to do with the ensoulment of the embryo). And this failing is one of several factors that disproves his theory that religious principles don't influence American policy--Mormon theology drove that acceptance of a morally questionable act as throughly as Christian theology drove opposition to it.
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