Sunday, June 11, 2006

Will God Testify in the Tom DeLay Trial?

At long last, Tom Delay has left congress. He is under indictment for money laundering related to his anti-democratic attacks on the people of Texas via redistricting.
He gave a really revealing speech on Friday that I just had to write about. Here's some interesting (and negative) analysis about his view toward compromise, and also some positive analysis by the Right's second most influential drug addict.
As is typical with the Right, DeLay invoked God in his speech, and I just couldn't let this one pass. He said, "I have scraped and clawed for every vote, every amendment, for every word of every bill that I believed in my heart would protect human freedom and defend human dignity. I have done so at all times honorably and honestly, Mr. Speaker, as God is my witness and history is my judge. And if given the chance to do it all again, there's only one thing I would change: I would fight even harder."
Of course, "As God is my witness" is a famous quote from "Gone with the Wind" (which I've never seen). According to the Interweb, Scarlett O'Hara says, "As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again."
Leaving aside the lying, cheating, and stealing, I think it's interesting how these two ways of invoking God as witness are very different. Scarlett seems to be asking God to witness her oath about future events, whereas DeLay seems to be asking God to testify as a witness for his past deeds.
They're both wrong, actually. Let's deal with Scarlett first. In Matthew 5:33, Jesus says not to make vows or oaths in God's name, "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."
As with lots of what Jesus says, this is good sense as well as an instruction about how to treat God's name. It almost sounds to me like he's saying to watch out to people who have to swear by something rather than just letting their own word stand for itself. You shouldn't bring God into the picture because you need to know the difference between your own words and God's. I think he's saying that you are bound by your word, whether you "swear" or "promise" them or just speak them.
Unlike Scarlett, DeLay isn't making a promise for the future, he's making an assertion about the past, and he asks God to testify for him as a witness. Unfortunately, God hasn't taken the stand in the DeLay case, and I don't think God will. Therefore, we're left with DeLay's hearsay about what God would say, and of course hearsay is inadmissible in court, unless you're Jesus himself (John 8), of course.
The Message Bible (an "every day" English translation) translates the above mentioned Matthew 5 in a manner that covers both cases, "don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying 'I'll pray for you,' and never doing it, or saying, 'God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say 'yes' and 'no.' When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong."
This version points out the danger in writing or speaking in a way that uses religion to back up your point. Whenever you do so, you had better be careful about it, and I hope I have been careful here.
Tom DeLay said, "as God is my witness and history is my judge," but we all know that it's the other way around. God won't testify on his behalf. History will record and remember what he has said and done. God will judge in the end, not man.  

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