My Uncle George, who made his living as a freelance writer, used to exhort me to read the Bible from cover to cover. I found this odd because his contempt for organized religion was open and seething. When I was sixteen I finally thought to ask why I should bother to read the Bible if it wasn’t a pathway to salvation. "Oh right," Uncle George reflected, "well, you should appreciate the quality of writing, because it’s truly stunning. Especially the New Testament." After a pause he continued. "Did you know that, of all the books ever published, the Bible has the highest percentage of one syllable words?"
I didn’t know that. I still don’t because, other than my uncle’s swift pronouncement, I’ve never heard this factoid again. I understood his point, though: the Bible’s message was linguistically simple and easily accessible, even though early religious leaders used its message to advance political goals.
Today’s political leaders still rely on the power of the Bible, and with good reason. Polls show
that 60% percent of voters prefer candidates who believe in God. And
many voters think that the Bible is the literal word of God. I thought
about the Bible’s importance in politics as I watched this fairly recent YouTube video. Rick Klau said
(weeks ago) that Mike Huckabee’s response made him a lock for the
Republican nomination, and the recent Iowa caucus results lend support
to Rick’s prediction. I agree that Huckabee handled the question
adeptly, but I was baffled at the notion that religion is such a
bellweather in contemporary American politics. Huckabee’s rise makes
me dwell on the importance of the Bible in modern society. This, in
turn, reminded me that I’d failed to follow through on my uncle’s
suggestion. So I’ve resolved to actually read the Bible –to experience
its literary and spiritual majesty directly, bypassing the venal
filters of politicians and evangelical TV ministers.
I’m less interested in the quality of writing or the literal
veracity of the Bible, and more curious about the transcendent
message. Ideally, understanding the eternal mysteries of existence
shouldn’t hinge on the word-symbols that have been translated through
many languages and many generations. I don’t believe the Bible needs
to be literally true in order to convey important messages. And I’m
glad I can draw my own conclusions about the Bible without having to
convince others that my conclusions are ‘right,’ or widely acceptable.
Is it possible to find spiritual meaning in the Bible without
external guidance? Or without believing that every word is literally
true? I guess I’ll find out.
As for mixing the religion and politics, I’m not in favor of that.
And I doubt my allegiance will shift from Obama to Huckabee anytime
soon. I like Huckabee, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him as the
President, and I’m definitely glad he wasn’t the governor of Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina happened.
It would seem that when religion intrudes into interpretation of
insurance policies things have gotten out of hand. But that’s just my
opinion. No doubt the polling numbers offer a more enlightened view.
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There is some value in reading the old testament as an historic background to the current Israel vs Arab conflict. Historically the jews and the arabs are totally incapable of living in harmony with each other, both are sons of Abraham, different mothers, but due to be enemies forever. We waste too much time and effort trying to find a solution. There is much history in the bible, that is of value. Find spiritual help if you want to or need to.
The candidates missed the thrust of the question–deliberately perhaps. The questioner was very particular about holding up the King James Version, which includes both the Old and New Testaments. The Mormon faith believes there have been more revelations since then; the Jewish faith discounts the New Testament; some modern translations are skewed towards evangelicals and get completely away from the King James.
If you’re going to read it cover to cover, I recommend the King James version, Ernie. That’s where the beauty of the language lies. Having said that, I’ve never read it cover to cover and don’t intend to. I grew up in a country that is predominantly Protestant, but church-going wasn’t anything other than something you might or might not do depending on if your friends went or you felt you needed it at a time of stress.
It’s just a translation–with all the room for error that implies–of stories that for the most part weren’t gathered from primary sources.
Enabling people to have healthy skepticism at all times about all things in life seems to be the best path to having a little sanity in the world of public affairs.
Impossible, as that statement is written – I’m sure The Cat In The Hat would beat it. 🙂 Compared to books with similar word counts, it’s probably true, though.
It is possible to find spiritual meaning in the bible without external guidance, or believing every word is literally true. I suggest a modern translation like the ESV rather than King James.