The Corner

Coded Religion

Joe Knippenberg points out this interesting bit from a Pew forum with Mike Gerson:

A fourth category are literary allusions to hymns and scripture. In our first inaugural, we had “when we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side;” or “there is power, wonder-working power in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people” in the State of the Union.

I’ve actually had, in the past, reporters call me up on a variety of speeches and ask me where are the code words. I try to explain that they’re not code words; they’re literary references understood by millions of Americans. They’re not code words; they’re our culture. It’s not a code word when I put a reference to T.S. Eliot’s Choruses From the Rock in our Whitehall speech; it’s a literary reference. And just because some don’t get it doesn’t mean it’s a plot or a secret. (Laughter.)

I remember one incident in the last election when Frank Bruni – who is one of my favorite people; I really like and respect him – wrote on the front page of The New York Times that the president had said in an interview, actually – not a speech – that people should take the log out of their own eye before taking the speck out of their neighbor’s eye. And Frank, writing on the front page of The New York Times, called this an odd version of the pot calling the kettle black. (Laughter.) Neither he nor his editors knew it was from one of the most famous sermons in history, and the part of the New Testament that’s in red. (Laughter.) But actually, most Americans knew and the disconnect was not particularly – I don’t think – the president’s fault. 

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