2010: The Year of the Bible

U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia) is trying to get his so-called Bible bill made into law. And while it’s not … Continued

U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia) is trying to get his so-called Bible bill made into law. And while it’s not likely to happen any time soon, it’s a wonderful idea…at least in theory. What’s wrong with a law which would declare 2010 the “year of the Bible”? Given that we already have days for secretaries, months for reading and have parsed the calendar for just about every other purpose and cause from artichokes to zebras, it’s almost silly that we have not already done this.

Would it really be so wrong to honor the most influential book, for better or worse, in America? Comfortable or not with that reality, that is the way it is. And for that reason alone, the year of the Bible should be a good idea.

Let’s face it, the bible is the 800-pound gorilla in American political, literary and cultural life and it needs to be addressed in ways that rescue the conversation from both the rabid secularists and the coercive religionists. And a year honoring the good book could do just that. In fact, the year of the Bible should be a no-brainer. But because we are so divided as a nation and so stupid in our approach to religion in American public life, we can not even have an intelligent conversation about the bill itself, let alone about how to acknowledge the importance of the Bible in our culture and in our politics.

The language being used by politicians taking sides in this debate, demonstrates both why this idea should move forward and why it can not. Witness the language used by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Gerald Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) who oppose the bill, and Rep. Broun who is leading the charge for its passage into law.

Congressman Frank commented, “Does that mean 2009 is not the year of the Bible? What is 2012 the year of? The Qur’an?” And what if it was Congressman? Would that be so bad? And if so, why? Do you have a problem with Islam in particular or is it all religion? Either way, Frank’s hostility violates not only his usual commitment to government protecting and endorsing the free exchange of all ideas, but marks him as remarkably foolish.

Given the place of Islam in the world today, I think that a serious engagement with its most sacred text is pretty important. It’s one of the reasons I am especially proud of my 15-year-old daughter whose Arabic is now better than mine, thanks to both her hard work and the Orthodox Jewish high school she attends.

And Gerry Nadler just doesn’t get it at all. He actually hates the idea of any religious expression by public officials, which is why he does not place a mezuzah on his office door even though he has one at home.

Congressman Nadler fails to realize that however much he bases his conclusion on the laudable fear of “making anyone uncomfortable”, his approach actually contributes to a culture in which people are ashamed of self-expression. He needs to figure out how to have a mezuzah on his door and still make people comfortable, whether they are mezuzah-hangers or not.

Then there is Congressman Broun. “This doesn’t have anything to do with Christianity,” he said in an interview with Politico. Rather, he says, “it seeks to recognize that the Bible played an integral role in the building of the United States, including providing the basis for our freedom of religion that allows Muslims, Hindus and even atheists to vocalize their own beliefs.” It’s the words beginning with Muslims, and continuing to the end of the sentence that worry me.

His first claim regarding this not being about Christianity would need to be true for this to be a good idea. And his second claim about the centrality of the Bible is American history is beyond dispute. But both the language of the bill itself and the second half of Rep. Broun’s comments make me wonder.

Broun indicates that those other groups (ital. mine) and “even atheists” should be free to express their beliefs. These comments unmask Broun as one who really does believe that there are two religious tracks in this country: legitimate faith (as a Jew, I probably make it in this world but not in the next) and tolerated beliefs. That’s so wrong, it’s not even wrong.

Finally, there is the language of the bill itself. It calls upon the citizens of this country “to rediscover and apply the priceless, timeless message of the Holy Scripture…as well as its rich spiritual heritage, and which has unified, healed and strengthened its people for over 200 years.”

The presumption that the Bible has but one message, marks this bill as evangelical, not educational. And its claim about the unifying and healing capacity of scripture, without also acknowledging both its historic and current capacity to do just the opposite, should be of even greater concern – indicating that far from the good idea it could be, this bill is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

But rather than focus on whether or not this bill makes it into law, which is not at all likely in any case, we should raise the bar on how we have the conversation about whether or not it should. Let’s see if the true believers on both sides of this issue can transcend their own triumphalist tendencies, and actually welcome the ideas and texts which shape our nation and its culture – all of them in all of their wonderful permutations.

I know that won’t help as many people get elected, and I mean every bit of the double entendre, but it’s better than beating each other up in the name of ideas that are supposed to serve all people, isn’t it?

About

Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • WmarkW

    “to rediscover and apply the priceless, timeless message of the Holy Scripture…”Wrong Wrong Wrong Wrong WrongThe Bible’s messages are firmly rooted in the time and place of their origins. The fact that Bibles are distributed as a single volume between a pair of covers does not alter the fact that it contains many widely divergent views. The whole thing can no more be reconciled than can the first two chapters of Genesis, or the stories of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke.It’s time to DISCOVER the Bible’s diverse contents, though authors like William Dever, Richard Friedman, Lawrence Boadt, James Kugel and Isreal Finkelstein; and if you’re a Christian, Bart Ehrman and Michael Goulder (via John Shelby Spong).

  • cacxo

    I just had a longish discussion elsewhere and the bible ended up being an issueThe problem with the bible is “the bible as proof of God”. The bible is a proof of “God” as much as the Harry Potter series is proof of Harry Potter.

  • Athena4

    Okay, let’s have 2011 be the Year of Tantric Buddhism! Woohoo! And 2012 be the Year of Ancient Mayan Prophesies.

  • bigbrother1

    Is this the best the Post can hire these days? What a dumb thing to propose. We’ve had quite enough of that wretched book for some time now, thanks. The sheer volume of smug stupidity in this essay will make your teeth numb. It’s that bad.

  • ccnl1

    And you would have the odd Baha’i demanding for at least one year, a calendar having 19 months with 19 days with four added “strange” days, all to honor the 19 original Baha’i disciples.

  • Maryann261

    It is a ridiculous idea. The Bible has no place in the public realm.What next? Have a year for every other religious text? The whole idea is nuts.

  • lepidopteryx

    Okay, let’s have 2011 be the Year of Tantric Buddhism! Woohoo! And 2012 be the Year of Ancient Mayan Prophesies.

  • ccnl1

    There definitely should be a year for Wicca especially with those eight extra holidays. From Wikipedia-”Wiccans, as followers of Wicca are now commonly known, typically worship a God[3] (traditionally the Horned God) and a Goddess (traditionally the Triple Goddess), who are sometimes represented as being a part of a greater pantheistic Godhead, and as manifesting themselves as various polytheistic deities. Other characteristics of Wicca include the ritual use of magic, a liberal code of morality, and the celebration of eight seasonal-based festivals.”

  • screwyou

    This is actually a wonderful idea. Set all the fundies against each other trying to decide which version of the bible would be the “official” version for the year. Would it be King James? Good News? Tyndales? The amplified version? New International? Some of the “hip” versions written in comic book form or in current slang? Maybe Congress should create an official government translation?I’d pony up for the pay-per-view on this battle! My guess is that we’d have a final agreement sometime around, oh I dunno, maybe the year 2500. What an incredible bit of political pandering and buffoonery.

  • Athena4

    We’re finally in agreement on something, CCNL!

  • mbeck1

    I’m a secularist, but a year of exploring the bible would be a good thing. I think a lot of people who think they know the bible would be shocked at what is written in it. Perhaps if more people actually read it, biblical literalism would diminish.

  • kippy314

    I really liked the Lord of the Rings. In particular i think i would support this idea if we made 2011 the year of “Return of the King”. Or perhaps 2012 should be the year of “1984″. Although that might get confusing.

  • yeager_zeal

    “The year of 1984″ would get a bit confusing I must agree. How about “The year of Oprah”

  • ecalderon

    How about 2009 being the Year of the Necronomicon?”Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn!”

  • TTWSYFAMDGGAHJMJ2

    CELEBRATING THE BIBLE:Now if you want to celebrate being a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Marxist, or a Pagan, the only reason you can do that in America is because our heritage recognizes from Scripture that man has a free will.

  • gander8

    Don’t tell a Hindu that his faith is illegitimate.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    from the bill:NOPE – that’s religion. U.S. Rep. Paul Broun said, “APPLY…scripture”!he may have tried to cloak this in some kind of academic appreciation of the influence of the bible on american culture, but let slip that “apply” scripture line. he wishes we were all (his specific kind of) christian.i have found that ALL religion-in-society problems begin when the religious “apply” their scripture to others.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    TTWSYFAMDGGAHJMJ2, you said,”They Founding Fathers weren’t talking a Buddha, or a Hindu God or Mohammad; they were talking about our Judeo-Christian heritage.”that may be true for patrick henry, john jay and MANY of the founders. the ones who WROTE THE DOCUMENTS (jefferson, madison, adams) were also thinking about christianity – but they were thinking of how to protect us and the government from christians like henry and jay (and rep. broun). they fought hard to disestablish religion.

  • semidouble

    I agree, and 2011 should be the year of the book “Hansel & Gretel”, in 2012 it would be “Thumbelina’s” turn and of course 2013 the always classic and popular “Peter Rabbit”.

  • Chops2

    Franks comments were not ridiculous but in fact highlight he problme with having years of the bible etc as a political decision. If the U.S. had a year of the Koran, imagine the outcry from the bible bashers?And therein lies the problem.

  • US-conscience

    THE original intent of seperation of church and state was to keep government out of the church, it was NEVER intended to keep church out of the government.

  • PemaRedux

    The year of the Bible is about the stupidest thing I ever hear. What a cheezy grab for conservs and the relgious right to attempt to regain power.

  • salero21

    …Therefore there should be no impediment with Rep. Paul Broun to propose a year of the Bible. Except of course for the rabid secularist and others of the same species..

  • renkent777

    You…. Think in your minds that I need You?Oh Children playing with words ..Do you still not know what you do?I am in the eyes of the child

  • microbrewjournalism

    Rabbi Hirschfield has written an excellent column. The Bible is the central text in American culture. It influences our literature, our language, and how different groups analyze the issues in our lives. Americans would get a better understanding of each other if we studied–in our own diverse ways–this essential text.

  • BernardEckholdt

    lol, the year of the Bible.

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