I’m not going to comment on the political ramifications of the Vice-Presidential debate, because very likely there are none. Historically, Vice-Presidential debates do not matter all that much in terms of who gets elected. In a couple of days, anything Joe Biden or Paul Ryan said or didn’t say will be ancient history. Gone. Adiós. People vote for – and are motivated to vote by – the candidate at the top of the ticket. The election is all about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
However, I would like to comment on the reaction to the debate, and in particular the reaction to Joe Biden. Yes – Biden laughed and smiled. Relentlessly. Incessantly. Some commentators found it condescending and offensive, while others found it refreshing and effective – even if a bit over the top. Personally, I would avoid use of visible exasperation as a method to convey disagreement, but I suppose everyone has their own debate style. What surprised me, though, was the immediate, sweeping, and absolute (i.e. “this is the way it is – no discussion!”) attachment of Proverbs 29:9 to Joe Biden’s performance: “If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.” This Bible verse has become a nationally-trending topic on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Do a Google image search of “Proverbs 29:9,” and you will see picture after picture of Joe Biden laughing and smiling.
The connotation is clear, then. Joe Biden is a fool. Case closed. End of discussion. However, that’s a pretty serious allegation, in my estimation, to call someone a fool, and one that I believe requires further analysis. We are talking about the sitting Vice-President, after all, and a man who has dedicated his life to public service – an honorable vocation. I adamantly disagree with most of the policies he advocates, but I admire his clear love for country. I don’t believe he is a bumbling idiot any more than George W. Bush was. Both depictions are popular media created caricatures. Is he a fool, though? Let’s investigate.
Whenever I examine an issue like this, I oftentimes go to the Christian Courier, which I find very reliable, so I happily give that publication full credit for the analysis in this paragraph. Unlike Fareed Zakaria, I am no plagiarist (Google “Fareed Zakaria plagiarism” and you’ll understand). What is a fool, then, in the context of Proverbs? Proverbs addresses the character and behavior of a fool, and there are at least three kinds of fools contemplated. First, there is the “teachable fool.” This is a person who is “naïve, gullible, or too trusting.” Proverbs 7:7 says he “lacks sense” and is easily persuaded and controlled. Second, there is the “hardened fool.” This person “makes foolish decisions, but…is not young or naïve.” This fool “hates instruction, is quick to be angry and contentious, can be explosive, is the center of controversy, has loose lips, and associates with evil.” Third, there is the “arrogant fool.” This person is “arrogant” and “haughty” and “acts with arrogant pride.” He or she “is not content with going his own way,” but rather “delights in the ruin of others.”
So, is Joe Biden a fool? That’s a determination I cannot make for you, but if you come to that conclusion, then you must place him in one of the three above categories, and you must be prepared to defend your position. Your defense of position must include facts and detailed analysis, not mere reference to the fact that he smiled and laughed in a debate. I am not ashamed to admit that I am neither knowledgeable nor smart enough to make this judgment. I confess I detected arrogance from Biden during the debate, and there are quite a few documented examples over the past few months of him creating controversy, but I am not comfortable labeling him a fool. Maybe you are.
As Christians, we obviously have to make judgment calls from time to time about other people. Many grossly misconstrue the verse “[j]udge not, that you be not judged” as a blanket prohibition applicable to all judgments. Clearly, we should not judge superficially. We should not judge if we are guilty of the very condemnation we are pronouncing (a hypocritical judgment). You will see this principle explained in Matthew 7:1-5. However, Jesus himself commands us to make “righteous judgment” in John 7. We must draw conclusions – how else would we identify false teachers or erring Christians? Those kinds of judgments, however, “should be rendered compassionately and in conformity with the facts.”
Admittedly, then, there is no error should one analyze the facts and conclude that Joe Biden meets the definition of “fool” in Proverbs. My argument is that such a proclamation should not be made haphazardly, because it is not made without consequence. It’s a serious allegation that should be dealt with carefully, in my opinion. Some of you may disagree with my observations, and that’s alright. If we all agreed on every issue, then something would be terribly wrong. However, remember (and I am speaking to conservatives now): we bemoan name-calling and blanket labeling from the left, so let’s not be guilty of the same behavior without being fully prepared to back it up.