Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz continues his appeal to religious conservatives. “If we awaken and energize the body of Christ,” he recently said, “we will win and we will turn the country around.”
It’s a line he’s used before in various ways, but pundit Kathleen Parker told CNN she was astonished by it. “This seems to have slipped through the cracks a little bit,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who takes their religion seriously who would think that Jesus should rise from the grave and resurrect himself to serve Ted Cruz. I know so many people who are offended by that comment.”
Seriously? Parker is—for what it’s worth, evidently not much—an award-winning commentator. She has a Pulitzer. And yet she doesn’t know that “body of Christ” refers here to Christians, not Jesus’ physical body. Or that the body she’s worried about left the the grave two thousand years ago.
Parker’s gaffe reflects a growing lack of consciousness about the Bible and its contents in our culture.
A couple of years ago the New York Times famously described Easter—the central holiday of the Christian year—as marking Jesus’ “resurrection into heaven.” The Times issued a correction, but the fact it got by in the first place is telling.
Ditto its correction of a column by David Brooks just two months later:
An earlier version of this column incorrectly identified the biblical texts in which three figures—Saul, David and Esther—appear. Their stories are told in other books of the Jewish Bible, but not in the Torah. The column also incorrectly described a passage from I Corinthians that ends with the statement, “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” It was written by Paul, not spoken by Jesus.
It’s actually worse than the correction lets on. Not only was Paul’s line misattributed to Jesus, but the column also failed to identify in which of the two Corinthian letters Jesus wasn’t speaking—while simultaneously changing the audience for the misattributed line: “In Corinthians,” the column originally said, “Jesus tells the crowds. . . .” No, manifestly, he did not.
And the punchline? Brooks flubbed the Bible while addressing the ebb of religion in society.
Please understand: This is not meant to beat up on Brooks or the Times or even Parker. I make more mistakes in a week than any of them do in a year and tempt fate by pointing to another’s faults. But these stories are cautionary.
Commonweal blogger Michael Peppard explains the issue by looking at Brooks’ error. The most troubling part of the story is that it went unflagged by Times fact checkers. “[M]ultiple people,” says Peppard, “read over [Brooks’] sentence, and not one of them stopped the error. What that reveals is profound: the staff at the Times is not as secular as we think they are. They are even more secular than we think they are.”
Americans are famously dim when it comes to the Bible. One study several few years back found we’re more familiar with McDonald’s menu than the Ten Commandments. But that’s man-on-the-street stuff. These are people responsible to know basic details of our culture and civilization because they—you know—opine on it constantly.
Imagine, says Peppard, if they let slip “Columbus’s voyage on the Mayflower” or “Malcolm X’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.” Such an error would say that the facts of basic American history are unknown. To let Jesus’ supposed resurrection into heaven or his imaginary address to the Corinthians skate by betrays a sad reality: the basic facts of the Bible, the font from which so much of our culture flows, are increasingly unknown.
Parker, who like the Times should know better, only demonstrates the point more forcefully. She speaks of Cruz’s “grandiosity and messianic self-imagery” that he will somehow conjure Jesus from the grave when the only pride on display is her own. And even that is eclipsed by her ignorance.
We have capped the well and now find ourselves parched. But we shouldn’t be surprised.
Image credit: Dwight Stone.