Bible Verses, Flyover Voters, and the State of the State

A few days before Christmas, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote a letter to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, requesting he desist posting weekly Bible verses on his official social media platforms. This isn’t surprising news—that an Arkansas governor is posting Bible verses and blatantly breaching the separation of church and state protected by the Establishment Clause. Hutchinson’s office didn’t respond to my interview request—or anyone’s for that matter. I actually know Governor Hutchinson (old family connection) and used that relationship, to no avail, to try and glean at least an official statement regarding FFRF’s request and the governor’s next steps. But not even the daughter of an old friend could learn what they might be.

Hutchinson has, as recently as January 7th, continued to post Bible verses via his gubernatorial social media pages. Not only does he feel no obligation to respond to the media or FFRF, he’s adamantly acting against the Establishment Clause. And his constituency is both thrilled and rallying around him. Just read the comments on his latest Facebook Bible verse.

After Donald Trump won the presidential election, there was a national discussion about voters in the “flyover” states; they made their voices heard by electing Trump, went the story of reckoning, and the detached liberal left would be wise to reach out and listen to their fellow citizens in the center and south of the nation. As a daughter of the South and former evangelical, I found this discussion about talking to the evangelical base evidence that the coastal states have no clue about these so-called flyover voters. We can certainly listen to them—they are happy to explain and defend their political positions—but there will be no joint conversation or agreeing to disagree. As one of Hutchinson’s Facebook followers quoted, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” You see, there is no separation of church and state for evangelical Christians. The Bible IS the law, and all the laws “of man” should be based on the divine law. It’s one of the most infamous and infuriating logical fallacies they employ.

The Southern Baptist Family Council presents the position of Hutchinson’s constituency perfectly as the common argumentum ad populum fallacy: the Bible is the most widely read book in the history of human civilization. In Europe and the United States public speakers, writers, and elected officials have quoted it for centuries. The president of the United States typically takes the oath of office on a Bible. Elected officials often share well-known, popular, or inspirational Bible quotes via their official social media accounts. Given all of this, why shouldn’t an elected official be able to post a Bible verse on Facebook or Twitter? Why indeed.

There is a big dispute regarding the “most widely read book in the history of human civilization.” Some historians say it’s the Bible; others say it’s the Koran. Obviously exact numbers can’t be garnered in either case. But there is enough evidence to suggest that the Family Council’s statement is more than questionable, if not false. The second most printed book in the world, following closely behind these two religious texts, is Pinocchio. So, by this logic, we should definitely include Pinocchio as a basis for our laws. Because, you know, everyone’s read it.

Despite the fact that every premise in any argument by an evangelical regarding the Bible’s position as the quintessential foundation for political law is false, they also depend on logical fallacies to promote their agenda. So, even if the premises were independently true statements, the arguments’ conclusions are false. Sadly, evangelicals rarely entertain a constructive conversation about logic, as it is manmade and doesn’t have a biblical basis.

This is why the Establishment Clause is so important and why it is so controversial for religious zealots. Without the separation of church and state, not only would religious and nonreligious minorities be openly and widely discriminated against, but our laws and justice system would be based on false premises and fallacious arguments. The disenfranchised would never be able to defend themselves against the ruling authority through logical discourse. The justice system would incorporate 2,000-year-old prejudices into sentencing. Hell, I wouldn’t be here writing this article; I’d be at home, uneducated and the indentured servant of a patriarchally imposed marriage.

The inability to even consider logical arguments, or just differing opinions, is the biggest obstacle for reasonable discourse with many of the flyover voters. They can certainly be understood and considered in political agendas and strategies. They can be manipulated by zealot leaders for certain. But as for those political agents purporting policies based on logic and humanism, these voters will remain a major obstacle.

The discord between the progressive coasts and the conservative interior is not new. In fact, it’s an ancient political problem with roots deep and established. One of Plato’s most famous works on civic justice begins with, “I went down to the Piraeus.” Piraeus was a Greek port city, and Socrates and his friends travel from somewhere inland down to the port city to see a foreign festival. Coastal cities have long been known for diversity, new ideas, new cultures, and progressive philosophies. Interior cities are known for the opposite, simply because there are rarely challenges to the traditional status quo. And this lack of diversity gives “the other” a fearful and wrong persona to those unexposed. It is not a coincidence that Plato staged his greatest discourse on political justice in a port city.

There is not an easy road to enlightening the flyover voters. It’s not as simple as orchestrating constructive dialogues with them so they understand reason. Or as easy as bringing violations of the law, such as with Governor Hutchinson, to their attention. It’s not that they don’t care; it’s that they believe they are right, and right by divine edict. The hard truth is that the progressive political battle isn’ just with evangelical voters, it’s with their god. When it comes to legal authority, we’ve got to figure out how to get the flyover voters to stop looking up.