Politico‘s Joel Baden attacked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Sunday, accusing him of tweeting “the most Republican part of the Bible,” namely the book of Proverbs.
“Proverbs is notable in that it presents a fairly consistent view of the world: The righteous are rewarded, and the wicked are punished,” Baden argued, chiding Rubio. He compared “some of the statements in Proverbs” to statements from “modern-day conservative policymakers.”
“In short: Proverbs is probably the most Republican book of the entire Bible.”
Rubio had the perfect response to this attack. “Proverbs is the Republican part of the Bible? I don’t think Solomon had yet joined the GOP when he wrote the first 29 chapters of Proverbs,” the Florida senator tweeted.
Proverbs is the Republican part of the bible?I don't think Solomon had yet joined the GOP when he wrote the first 29 chapters of Proverbs. https://t.co/2bGhkGwoqH
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) July 9, 2017
But Baden’s argument is wrong for other reasons as well. Most importantly, the Politico author described Proverbs as having a “harsh, almost social Darwinist worldview.” By encouraging young men to be virtuous and promising them success for doing so, the book of Proverbs may seem to suggest that the rich have earned their status while the poor deserve to be poor. The lesson, Baden suggested, is that the poor should be neglected and the rich treated with honor.
To an actual reader of Proverbs, this statement is laughable. Proverbs 24:23 condemns this “partiality in judgement.”
Proverbs 22:22-23 says, “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.” Proverbs 31:9 says, “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Then there’s this promise: “If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever” (Proverbs 29:14).
Proverbs 22:2 emphasizes the equal dignity of poor and rich. Proverbs 28:6 says, “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.” If the book truly had the kind of social Darwinist vision Baden suggested, it should be impossible for a man of integrity to be poor (as Proverbs clearly says).
Finally, the very definition of righteousness involves protecting the poor. Proverbs 29:7 says, “A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.”
Even accepting Baden’s ridiculous premise that all Republicans are social Darwinists, was Barack Obama secretly a Republican when he quoted Proverbs 28:1 in his remarks at the National Peace Officers’ Memorial on May 15, 2010? “The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but the righteous are as bold as a lion,” Obama declared. Does this inspiring verse suggest social Darwinism?
Baden neglected to mention this quote, but he did admit former President Bill Clinton’s reference to Proverbs 29:18 when accepting the Democratic Party nomination in 1992. “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” Clinton quoted (neglecting the second half, “but he who keeps the law, happy is he”).
While arguing that Republicans quoted the book more than Democrats, Baden referred to a helpful list of presidential quotes from Time. While only Republican presidents quoted Proverbs in their inauguration speeches (perhaps an accident of history, as the list has more Republicans than Democrats on it), only four Republicans on the list cited Proverbs, compared to sixteen who did not.
One final note: Many Christians take up the discipline of reading one chapter of Proverbs per day, corresponding to the day of the week. A careful reader would have recognized that Rubio was doing just this.
For instance, on July 9, Rubio tweeted, “The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD, & knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10.”
The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD,
& knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) July 9, 2017
On June 30, he declared, “Every word of God is tested; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Proverbs 30:5.”
Every word of God is tested;he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Proverbs 30:5
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 30, 2017
June 28? “Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are safe. Proverbs 28:26.”
Those who trust in themselves are fools,
but those who walk in wisdom are safe. Proverbs 28:26
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 28, 2017
Rubio is not promoting social Darwinism, but rather trying to connect with Christians in Florida and across the country who engage in the discipline of reading one Proverb a day, to match the calendar date.
“There is surely nothing wrong with a politician turning to the Bible for spiritual, ethical and moral guidance. The Bible is the foundational text of Western civilization, after all,” Baden admitted. “But concentrating exclusively on the parts of it that affirm one’s own perspective is a form of confirmation bias.”
Even if Proverbs did “affirm Rubio’s perspective,” Baden seemed to have missed the point of Rubio tweeting those particular verses — on those particular days.
But of course, Baden had to note some Bible verses that allegedly conflict with Republicanism. He threw Matthew 19:24 in Rubio’s face: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” But this verse is less an attack on rich people and more a statement about those Jesus came to save — those who know they are sinful, who know they need God’s grace. The self-righteous need not apply — or so they think.
If Republicans do privilege the rich over the poor, that is a problem and not in keeping with the Bible’s morality — or that of Proverbs specifically.
But any real Republican would gladly explain to Baden that free-market policies actually help the poor, fostering economic growth to lift all boats. Big-government programs deprive them of dignity. Heck, Republicans can even argue that decreasing government favoritism is reversing “partiality in judgment.”
Perhaps Baden is correct, but not in the way he expected. Proverbs supports Republican policy, so long as the party defends the poor and decreases partiality in judgment.