Out of Context

Poor Shirley Sherrod.  There she stood in front of a local NAACP gathering telling them how she’d overcome her prejudice against white farmers when, with the stroke of his computer  key, Andrew Breitbart, a conservative blogger, took the first part of her speech ‘out of context’ and made her sound like a racist. The whole thing turned into a big brouhaha.

Without checking the facts, her boss, who just happens to be the Agriculture Secretary, asked for her resignation. When the truth came out, the president got involved. Maybe Shirley Sherrod isn’t so poor after all. She’s been offered a new and better paying job and she’s thinking about suing Andrew Breitbart,

But the fact is, what happened to Shirley Sherrod happens all the time.

Creationists are fond of quoting this ‘out of context’ sentence from Charles Darwin’s  Origin of the Species.

To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances could have been formed by natural selection seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.

Here is what Darwin wrote: To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself originated; but I may remark that, as some of the lowest organisms in which nerves cannot be detected, are capable of perceiving light, it does not seem impossible that certain sensitive elements in their saccade should become aggregated and developed into nerves, endowed with this special sensibility.

Political campaigns seem to bring out the worst. Last week before the primaries in Kansas and Missouri, our mailbox was full of  ‘out of context’ quotes on mailings from opposing candidates.

Sarah Palin has mastered the art of pulling quotes out of context to prove her point.

For example, she said that ”when he (President Obama) was asked last week about his faltering efforts to advance the Middle East peace process, he did something remarkable. In front of some 47 foreign leaders and hundreds of reporters from all over the world, he  (President Obama) said that whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower.

Whether we like it not?” she continued.” Most Americans do like it.”

This is what the President really said while speaking to fellow leaders at the nuclear weapons summit.

But what we can make sure of is, is that we are constantly present, constantly engaged, and setting out very clearly to both sides our belief that not only is it in the interests of each party to resolve these conflicts but it’s also in the interest of the United States. It is a vital national security interest of the United States to reduce these conflicts because whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower, and when conflicts break out, one way or another we get pulled into them. And that ends up costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.

And speaking of President Obama, Have you heard these out of context’ quotes, the first two from his book,  Dreams of My Father.

When people who don’t know me well, black or white, discover my background (and it is usually a discovery, for ‘’I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites,) I see the split second adjustment they have to make, the searching of the eyes for some telltale sign. They no longer know who I am.

I took the long way home, along the east river promenade, and tried to figure out what to make of the man (Marty Kauffman) He was smart, I decided. He seemed committed to his work. ‘There was something about him that made me wary, a little too sure of himself, maybe. And white.’—he’d said himself that was a problem.

This sentence came from an article on Obama’s book written by Steve Sailer in March 2007.and published in The American Conservative Magazine ‘I found a solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against my mother’s race. Barack Obama didn’t even write this.

Even bill Maher is not above quoting ‘out of context.’ He attributed John Adams with saying, “this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were not religion in it.”

What the president really said: “Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, ‘this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.’!!! But in this exclamation I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly [two clergy from his childhood]. Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite society, I mean hell.”

The bible is frequently quoted ‘out of context.’ Here is a quote from Corinthians 3:16: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”

Some ministers use this to persuade their parishioners to stop smoking by saying “don’t defile your body by smoking.”

Actually, If you read the entire passage you find that the quote concerns the body of Christ, not your body.

Here’s another one from Genesis 3:1 “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.” The minister I heard went on to say Cain came from the evil seed of the serpent and that the Jews were descendants of Cain.

I’ve looked everywhere but I can’t even find that one.

But then, George Bernard Shaw once said, “No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says; he is always convinced that it says what he means.”

Finally, I happened to come across this cartoon in the Kansas City Star.

One Response to Out of Context

  • Glenn Haynes says:

    After knowing this lady for 30 + years I am continually impressed by the power and depth of her mind! Not that we are always in agreement…

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