Last Friday, in a conference call to support Todd Akin, Mike Huckabee invoked the biblical story of Elijah and the priests of Baal. This showdown, from the eighteenth chapter of 1st Kings, depicts Elijah testing the powers of his god against those of Baal. Both sides prepare a bull for sacrifice on their respective altars, and see whose god takes notice.
Elijah lets the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal (supported by four hundred additional prophets of the groves) go first. But no matter how much they beseech Baal, the offering is left untouched. Elijah takes his turn, but increases the degree of difficulty by dousing the whole altar with water. Naturally, this is not a major obstacle, and his god sends down fire to consume the bull utterly–including the altar, pyre, and the water itself.
Huckabee would like a similar showdown over Akin. In that conference call, he said:
“This could be a Mount Carmel moment. You know, you bring your gods. We’ll bring ours. We’ll see whose God answers the prayers and brings fire from heaven. That’s kind of where I’m praying: that there will be fire from heaven, and we’ll see it clearly, and everyone else will too.”
But Huckabee didn’t mention the coda to the story. He didn’t need to; as a veteran dog-whistler to evangelicals, by invoking Mount Carmel, he implied the ultimate end result: “And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.”
I’m not saying that Huckabee is calling for the deaths of those who oppose Akin, but he does clearly want them delegitimized as voices in the American cultural landscape. Like the Chik-Fil-A appreciation day, he would see renewed support for Akin as heavenly fire proving his righteousness.
Huckabee is not the first to use Mount Carmel to attack political opponents–not by a long shot. In 1896, P.S. Henson, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Chicago, preached a series of sermons explaining some of the “Stumbling Blocks of the Bible.” He explained the “butchery of the priests of Baal, who had been engaged with Elijah in a study of comparative religion,” as justified because:
“…they were not mere theologians, but debauchers of morals and subverters of the government of which the God of Israel was the head, and so were traitors and Anarchists.”
Of course, the priests of Baal were actually endorsed by Ahab, the lawful king of Israel, so Henson’s interpretation and connection with modern politics (note the capital-A “Anarchists,” a bogey-man of the day) imply a dissatisfaction with secular government that does not recognize God as its actual head. Like Henson, Huckabee is concerned with today’s “debauchers of morals and subverters of government,” and would like a metaphorical heavenly fire to consume them, at least from the political arena.
Thank you for this thoughtful position. One question – did P.S. Henson also see himself embroiled in a culture war as a persecuted minority the way Huckabee sees the religious right as the “one good cop in the bad town” to also draw upon the narrative of Elijah?