The Bible is the most-purchased and least-read book of any. What can we do to discourage the reading of this dangerous book? The medieval church kept it wisely in Latin. The damned Protestant Reformers wanted everyone to read it and look what evil that has accomplished! Shall we burn it? Shall we prevent it being sold? I am serious.
THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:
The Religion Guy would have ignored this one except for the last three words above that require us to take this seriously. Norman’s prior postings to “Religion Q and A” indicate he’s quite knowledgeable about intellectuals’ attacks against biblical Jewish and Christian tradition. With a tiny faction such thinking turns to hatred or intolerance toward Scripture (at a time when devotion to Islam’s Quran expands in secularized western natiuons).
If Norman is “serious” the answer here is easy. No, “we” won’t be doing any such thing, even if “we” are not Bible fans, certainly in the U.S. given the Constitution’s freedoms of publishing and speech. (However, upholding, defining, and applying the freedom of religion guarantee is hotly contested.) The right to publish and read the Bible in common languages was a hard-fought freedom centuries ago. Access fostered widespread literacy and is normally regarded as a boon to civilization.
The theme is timely in this 200th anniversary year of the American Bible Society, which has distributed 6 billion copies, and next year’s 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Yes, both the Reformers and the society “wanted everyone to read it.”
Reverence or at least respect toward the Bible remains strong. A U.S. Gallup poll found 79 percent of adults see the Bible as sacred and 50 percent believe it has all the answers to life’s important questions. Yet many who are fond of the Bible ignore it, perhaps figuring the “Good Book” is just too difficult. On that see The Guy’s response to this prior question: “Why are holy scriptures so complicated?” The Guy said “Scriptures are as complicated as life itself.” Though the Bible invites lifelong study the big stuff is clear enough, and modern-day readers have excellent resources when puzzles arise. See www.patheos.com/blogs/religionqanda/2013/01/why-are-holy-scriptures-so-complicated.
Norman doesn’t specify just what rouses contempt. But nowadays such feelings usually involve Scripture’s teachings on sexual morality (especially same-sex relationships) or the exact opposite, passages that offend modern moral sensitivities (e.g. corporal punishment, holy wars, or toleration of slavery in ancient times). “Religion Q and A” has treated several such questions and invites readers to post some more.
The status of Holy Writ is the theme of a new book by the Religion Guy’s friend, former New York Times religion writer and college teacher Kenneth A. Briggs: “The Invisible Bestseller: Searching for the Bible in America” (Eerdmans $25). His two years of legwork found a Dickensian best of times / worst of times. For many in these disunited United States the Bible is as cherished as ever. There’s a flourishing subculture of home Bible study groups, myriad young “Bible churches,” easy-to-digest translations for every taste on sale, and access via all electronic media.
And yet, Norman will cheer, Briggs portrays a “cultural distancing from the Bible,” which has “effectively dropped out of public life.” It is “everywhere and nowhere at the same time.” His weightiest chapter ponders academic “higher criticism,” whose modern thinking Briggs regards as generally unavoidable though it has divided Christians and undermined former unified belief about the Bible.
Briggs documents Norman’s statement that Scripture is more bought than read. Remarkably, 88 percent of U.S. homes have at least one copy, more than a third have two or three, and 22 percent own six or more. And let’s not forget those Gideons hotel rooms. That’s vastly beyond the penetration of any other book in history.
However, 26 percent never actually read the Bible, and another 21 percent read it rarely (once or twice a year), compared with 15 percent who read it daily and another 13 percent saying “several times a week.” The Religion Guy figures with younger Americans, Bible reading slides simply because book-reading over-all declines, and the more depth a book contains the less likely it’s perused. Hey, Bob Dylan’s song lyrics just copped the Nobel Prize for Literature!
Bible ignorance is shown in head-scratching surveys. In one Gallup poll, about a tenth of U.S. teens thought Moses was one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, didn’t know what Easter Sunday marks, and couldn’t figure out who Adam and Eve were. Two-thirds were unable to identify a famous quote from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.”
Contrast that with the U.S. Supreme Court’s view in its 1963 ruling that barred devotional Bible recitations in public schools: “It might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities” so long as classwork is “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.”
That’s the commitment of the Bible Literacy Project, whose interfaith team has published “The Bible and Its Influence,” a textbook used in 625 public high schools across 43 states. This excellent, non-sectarian resource makes it abundantly clear that as a purely secular matter, politics, history, literature, and fine arts are pretty much unintelligible without a working knowledge of the biblical heritage. See www.bibleliteracy.org.
Schooling aside, the critics and skeptics downplay the Bible’s positive social impact with movements for civil rights, women’s rights, and much else. As for influence on individuals, Briggs himself reflects on his Methodist boyhood in hardscrabble East Templeton, Massachusetts: “The dawning of a bigger picture of what life could be and should be was the most influential gift I ever received, and I owed it to the Bible.”
And today? “Whatever my foibles and the Bible’s enigmas, Scripture remains fundamental to my understanding of life.” The Religion Guy confesses he agrees with his onetime journalistic competitor on this, as do countless others.