“I stand by all the misstatements that I’ve made” – Dan Quayle
White House press secretary Jim Carney made a mild gaffe the other day when he “quoted” the bible: “Well, I believe the phrase from the Bible is, ‘The Lord helps those who help themselves.’ And I think the point the President is making is that we should — we have it within our capacity to do the things to help the American people.”
OK, first the obvious. The Bible nowhere says this. That’s fine, there are plenty of things that the Bible doesn’t actually say but that are consistent with Biblical principles … but this isn’t one of those either. Yes, the Bible does talk about a righteous man having prosperity in whatever he does (that is, what he actively undertakes, not what he sits around and waits on). But there are also plenty of Biblical principles which expressly run against the notion of God “helping those who help themselves.”
Consider salvation. God doesn’t promise to save those who start to make a few steps toward cleaning up their act. No, the very premise of even starting to clean up your life is beyond you. The only “step” we can make in the right direction is actually a “decision” in the right direction. It is a decision to acknowledge our sin before God, and ask for forgiveness. To recognize that we have all failed to live up to a holy and perfect standard through the entirety of our life, and that we need forgiveness for the wrong we have done. To ask for this forgiveness from God, the only one who can provide it. To confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God has raised Him from the dead. This is all a decision, it is all a conversation. There are no other “help yourself” steps in here at all.
What I find more intriguing though is the misuse of the misquotation. Carney here uses a common Biblical misquotation that is often used by conservatives, not liberals. The notion of God helping those who help themselves is often used as an assault against the notion of government assistance. (Note, I don’t support government assistance, but neither do I need to misquote my Bible to make the point. There are plenty of legitimate scriptures that apply quite nicely.)
There are only two ways that Carney’s statement makes sense. First, he could be viewing society in a collectivist sense, and making a rather tenuous leap that government programs are akin to a country helping itself. This is absurd on its face, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he felt this way. (One could just as easily argue that invading an oil-rich nation to swipe the loot in difficult economic times is also like a country trying to help itself.)
The other option is that Carney is replacing “God” in his misquotation with “government” – and that government should help the people who are in need of help, trying to help themselves, and otherwise unable to get traction. This, of course, is consistent with the radical progressive view of the world, that government is the suitable replacement for God in the lives of men and that it should try to take on the characteristics of God in its actions.
Neither of these interpretations is reassuring.