From left, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. raise their hands to answer a question Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

If you read gestures, as ritual studies folks tend to do, this is a provocative photo.

In reading sacred texts a religious studies scholar wants to be doing exegesis and avoiding eisegesis. “Exegesis” means “to read out of.” “Eisegesis” means “to read into.” A believer, unlike the scholar, is engaged in eisegesis.

To read the political gestures in the photo is eisegetical:

Bernie: Damn it, listen to me. I reach forward, not backward. I’m balding from wisdom.

Joe: Before God in heaven, I tell you. I am an upright man. My hand is desk-steady.

Elizabeth: My hand and my brain are connected. Shorter than a man but brighter. Please, teacher, my turn.

It’s fun to play the game. Get 3 friends. Ask each to write down 3 meanings for each candidate‚Äôs gestures and postures. Compare. Argue. Vote, not on the basis of each candidate’s explicit ideology but on the basis of your gut, gesture-informed feeling.

The internet is full of guides for reading and using what we used to call “body language.” Here’s an example from MindTools and another from VeryWellMind.

I’m not a believer in the “this gesture means that” school of thought. For one thing, too much depends on context. For another, gestures are easily taught, learned, then performed.

When I watched this debate, I quickly tuned out hair (dyed, permed), clothing (chosen to send a message), arms (too choreographed) and eyes (too busy reading teleprompters and pretending to “see” the audience) and went for mouths as the most revealing: how they twisted and turned, whether sound came from the middle or sides, how they opened and closed.

As the debate wore on, I lost focus. I was watching everything, which, of course, is more than humans can do. By end I had “a feel” for ways to cast my vote.

Eisegetical? Sure.

A Big Question for voters: Should I vote on the basis of (1) Ideology: explicit, verbally articulated policy? (2) Identity: female/male, black/white, gay/straight, old/young, rich/poor? (3) Intuition: a “feel” informed by postures, gestures, and tones of voice? (4) Strategy: I feel this way, but will vote that way?