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American Christians buy millions of Bibles they seldom read and don't understand

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By Laura Miller

Recently I found myself explaining to a group of surprised friends from Protestant and secular backgrounds that, despite being educated in the Catholic faith up to the sacrament of confirmation at age 14, I didn't read the Old Testament until I was assigned it in a college literature course. Traditionally, the Catholic Church did not encourage its congregation to read the Bible; we had the priests to explain it to us. In fact, the church once took such a dim view of the idea that, in 1536, the English reformer William Tyndale was tried for heresy, strangled and burned at the stake, largely for translating the Bible into English for a lay readership. Tyndale House, a major American Christian publisher, is named after him.

Though I'm no longer a believer, and in principle I support the notion of adherents to a religion familiarizing themselves with its scriptures, it sometimes seems like the old Vatican had a point. In his new book, "The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book," religion professor Timothy Beal describes all the angst and doubt that Bible reading provoked in him during his youth, as well as the frustration many American Christians experience as a result of their own encounters with the book. This doesn't prevent them from buying truckloads of the things -- Beal notes that "the average Christian household owns nine Bibles and purchases at least one new Bible every year" -- but actually reading them is another matter. Beal believes that's because today's Christians are seeking a certainty in their holy book that simply isn't there, and shouldn't be.

"The Rise and Fall of the Bible" is a succinct, clear and fascinating look at two phenomena: what Beal calls "biblical consumerism" -- in which buying Bibles and Bible-related publications and products substitutes for more meaningful encounters with the foundational text of Western Civilization -- and the history of how the book came to be assembled. The latter story, albeit in a severely mangled form, came as a revelation to many readers of Dan Brown's bestselling novel "The Da Vinci Code." Beal, who teaches an introductory course in biblical literature at Case Western Reserve University, estimates that more than half of the students who come to his classes know more about the Bible from Brown's conspiracy-crazed potboiler than from "actual biblical texts."

For anyone with more than a passing familiarity with biblical history, however, the historical portions of "The Rise and Fall of the Bible" will be old news. The thing is, many Americans -- especially those raised in the less reflective Christian denominations -- know nothing about how the Bible was compiled. That's why so many of them were amazed to learn from "The Da Vinci Code" that the Old and New Testaments are assemblages of texts written at different times by different authors, most of whom were not eyewitnesses to the events they describe. In Brown's crackpot version, the Emperor Constantine gets cast as the arch-villain, ordaining that conservative texts be officially canonized, while more politically radical (and less misogynistic) works got kicked out of the scripture clubhouse. The real story is even more unstable than Brown's inaccurate potted version, with dozens of official and semiofficial variations (including or excluding certain marginal books) produced in the centuries after the death of Jesus.

The bestselling New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, who, like Beal, was raised in a conservative evangelical family, has written in greater depth on early Christian texts; that isn't really Beal's purpose. Ehrman became an agnostic, but Beal is still a Christian, and with "The Rise and Fall of the Bible," he wants to argue against the common perception of the Bible as God's infallible handbook on how to live, "totally accurate in all of its teachings" -- a view, incidentally, that nearly half of all Americans (and 88 percent of "born again" Christians) claim to believe. Beal is the sort of Christian who doesn't want to raise his son to "think that creationism is a viable alternative to evolutionary biology or that homosexuality is sinful," but he is as skeptical of liberal attempts to simplify the Bible as he is of the more predominant right-wing reductionism. He would rather see his co-religionists embrace the fact that the Bible is full of contradictions and inconsistencies and come to regard it not as "the book of answers, but as a library of questions," many of which can never be conclusively resolved.

Some of the most interesting chapters in "The Rise and Fall of the Bible" explore the world of Bibles created for specific subcultures and needs: the manly Metal Bible and Duct Tape Bible, kicky handbag/Bible combos and special editions geared toward teenagers, African-American women and so on. These can contain as much as 50 percent "supplemental" material, "explaining" the scripture according to the taste of the intended audience. Then there are Biblezines, publications in which articles about how to grill steaks or talk to girls (in the case of a Biblezine for boys) share the page with biblical quotations. Well-meaning older relatives give this material to young Christians, hoping it will make the Bible itself seem more "readable." Beal thinks the kids just wind up reading the articles and skipping the quotations. He compares Biblezines to the "sweeter and more colorful roll-ups, punches, sauces and squirtable foams that I buy for my kids' lunches" in lieu of the unprocessed fresh fruit they refuse to eat. At least you can tell yourself you're giving them fruit.

Even more insidious, in Beal's eyes, is the trend over the past couple of centuries away from word-for-word translations of the Bible and toward "functional equivalence" and "meaning driven" translations. These considerably fiddled-with versions iron out the wrinkles and perplexities in the ancient texts and nudge them closer toward the advice, directives and "values" so many people expect from their Bible. Beal argues that the Bible industry resorts to this sort of thing precisely because the Bible doesn't offer cut-and-dried guidance -- or Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, as one popular modern acronym would have it.

Much like the professor who assigned the Old Testament during my sophomore year of college, Beal would prefer that people read the Bible as if it were a work of art -- that is, as a text permitting multiple interpretations and as a spur to further thought and self-examination rather than as the last word on all of life's enigmas. Or, as he rather fetchingly puts it at one point: "This is poetry, not pool rules." His approach is, of course, more congenial to nonbelievers than the conviction that the Bible describes historical facts and constitutes the "inerrant" word of God. Still, even an optimistic secularist may find it difficult to credit Beal's prediction that his way of reading the Bible is just about to catch on, big time.

Beal thinks the current boom in biblical consumerism amounts to a "distress crop," the last great efflorescence of the old authoritative ideal before people move on and learn to embrace biblical ambiguity. I'm not so sure. Craving the certainty and absolutism of fundamentalism is a fairly common response (across many religious faiths) to the often terrifying flux of modern life. If certitude is the main thing American Christians are seeking when they turn to the Bible, then they're unlikely to tolerate, let alone embrace, Beal's "library of questions" model. You can learn a lot about how the Bible was created in the past 2,000 years, and about the many strange forms it has taken in the present, from "The Rise and Fall of the Bible." But where it's headed in the future is a mystery much harder to solve.

http://www.salon.com/books/what_to_read/index.html?story=%2Fbooks%2Flaura_miller%2F2011%2F02%2F13%2Frise_and_fall_of_bible

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I hear ya, people also buy a lot of exercise equipment.

:thumbs:

and vcr's/dvd players, and still can't program it. :hehe:


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American Christians buy millions of Bibles they seldom read and don't understand.

Is that something like the Muslims from Iran that I went to college with in the 1970's that wanted me to take them out on the town, get them drunk, and get them hooked up with big tittied American blondes with loose morals?

Naw! Depends on your definition of Muslim and your definition of Christian. Ever heard of a Jack Mormon? Some of these guys weren't even Jack. The last thing they ever wanted to do was go back into the arms of the Ayatollahs. One of my old Iranian party buddies tried every trick in the book to avoid going back home until he racked up too many DWI's to avoid deportation. On the same note...are these Muslims that strap on bombs and commit suicide to advance Islam real Muslims?

Why, Steven, do you rejoice in disrespecting Christians when there are so many other hypocrites running around in America and all over the world? But I should have known already...that is what white Christian raised liberals love to do. Trash your own people to look hip. If you want to trash people...spread the wealth. Don't just focus on your own people. Try pointing fingers at liberal sacred cows once in a while. You can criticize and trash other peoples, but your liberal buddies will abandon you and accuse use of some unpardonable -ism. That is why I'm not a liberal and never will be. I calls it like I sees it and let the chips fall where it may. Take it or leave it. ;)


"Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: Those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave."

"...for the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported at the end of the process."

US Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-TX)

Testimony to the House Immigration Subcommittee, February 24, 1995

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I am not sure that a "Christian" who doesn't often read the Bible can be called a hypocrite. The more appropriate term would be human :lol: Most people follow religion very nominally. This isn't hypocrisy, just how it is.

JMHO of course.

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My understanding was that one of the 'requirement's of being a christian was the study of religious text on a daily basis in an effort to bring oneself closer to a true understanding of god's purpose and by extension man's requirements on earth. Obviously simply studying text alone is not enough, one then has to go out into the world and set the example of what living a christian life is. In that case, owning a bible and not reading it and describing oneself as a christian is hypocritical. Mind you, I also agree that such a nominal attention to religion is normal.


Refusing to use the spellchick!

I have put you on ignore. No really, I have, but you are still ruining my enjoyment of this site. .

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Steve just goes lock step with dear leaders views.


If more citizens were armed, criminals would think twice about attacking them, Detroit Police Chief James Craig

Florida currently has more concealed-carry permit holders than any other state, with 1,269,021 issued as of May 14, 2014

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Obviously simply studying text alone is not enough, one then has to go out into the world and set the example of what living a christian life is. In that case, owning a bible and not reading it and describing oneself as a christian is hypocritical.

The practice of sola scriptura (by scripture alone) is widely an American phenomena among Christians, which is why it's really only here in this country among Christian nations, that there is even a debate of Creationism vs. Evolution.

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I am not sure that a "Christian" who doesn't often read the Bible can be called a hypocrite. The more appropriate term would be human :lol: Most people follow religion very nominally. This isn't hypocrisy, just how it is.

JMHO of course.

Actually I should have used the term "phoney". But a hypocrite can be appropriate in some cases too.


"Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: Those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave."

"...for the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported at the end of the process."

US Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-TX)

Testimony to the House Immigration Subcommittee, February 24, 1995

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The practice of sola scriptura (by scripture alone) is widely an American phenomena among Christians, which is why it's really only here in this country among Christian nations, that there is even a debate of Creationism vs. Evolution.

You may well be right about that. It's not a phenomena I grew up with at all. My understanding was that while the understanding of scripture was essential, putting that understanding into practice was too. Mind you, there are contemplative orders, those who dedicate their lives to study in order to make the understanding of the scripture easier for the lay person, but that has its own particular dangers.


Refusing to use the spellchick!

I have put you on ignore. No really, I have, but you are still ruining my enjoyment of this site. .

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Well for one the Bible is one of the most boring books in the history of mankind.

COMPLETE TRASH (and if the deaf, blind, and mute of the past 2,000 years Creator can hear this may He strike me dead as I type this....oops, still here, yet the same deaf, blind, mute God would destroy entire towns including animal and children if He was in a bad mood back in the Bible days when human intelligence and gullibility were at thousand year highs.....

Matthew 1

1A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac the father of Jacob,

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram,

4Ram the father of Amminadab,

Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon,

5Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

6and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife,

7Solomon the father of Rehoboam,

Rehoboam the father of Abijah,

Abijah the father of Asa,

8Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,

Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,

Jehoram the father of Uzziah,

9Uzziah the father of Jotham,

Jotham the father of Ahaz,

Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,

10Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,

Manasseh the father of Amon,

Amon the father of Josiah,

11and Josiah the father of Jeconiah[a] and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

12After the exile to Babylon:

Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,

Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

13Zerubbabel the father of Abiud,

Abiud the father of Eliakim,

Eliakim the father of Azor,

14Azor the father of Zadok,

Zadok the father of Akim,

Akim the father of Eliud,

15Eliud the father of Eleazar,

Eleazar the father of Matthan,

Matthan the father of Jacob,

16and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

17Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.

18This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[c] because he will save his people from their sins."

22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"[d]—which means, "God with us."

24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Edited by Lord Infamous

India, gun buyback and steamroll.

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I'm gonna have to agree with Lord Infamous about the bible being boring. When I was still allowed in catholic school we had to read bible verses every day. I don't even understand why people would enjoy reading that.


Life is a ticket to the greatest show on earth.

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