We’ve lost our consciousness of the Bible

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.

12 comments:

  1. Dear Joel,

    The only solution to this problem of religious ignorance is to teach children about Jesus from an early age. In other countries (such as Greece), children begin their religious education in the public school system at age seven and continue on with it (in school) until the age of seventeen in high school. But, in this country, due to the separation of Church and state, this is not feasible. Therefore, parents who want children to grow up knowing the Faith must one, teach their children themselves and two take them to Church (every Sunday) and enroll them in Sunday school.
    And, I agree, that Americans lack of knowledge of the Bible, in a historically Christian country is sad. The comic Jay Leno even exposed this ignorance in a “Jay-walking” segment of his show where he asked people on the street to name Jesus’ twelve disciples (and people couldn’t name all of them). When asking one gentleman who wasn’t able to , Jay offers up a follow-up question, “Can you name all of the Beatles?” And of course, he could.
    Let us pray that we get back to the basics and do what we have historically done-learn about our Lord Jesus Christ.

    1. As for the 12 disciples, even the bible can’t even come to an agreement on their names. The books of Matthew and Mark give corresponding lists, which is a good start. Though when the book of Luke joins the party dear Thaddaeus is non existent and Jude can be found in the list of 12.

      When one opens the Book of John things continue to shift a little. In John we see only 7 of the 12 specifically named plus there are an additional 2 referred to as one of the ‘sons of Zebedee’. So really that gives us a good understanding of 9 of the 12, while 3 are left unmentioned completely. But there are still a few wrinkles in the book of John, first, like in Luke, John lists Jude as one of the 12 but no Thaddaeus, and second John lists Nathanael rather then Bartholomew as a disciple. Now traditionally within church circles it’s been seen that Bartholomew and Nathanael were the same person but scholarship over the years has pretty much shown that they were in actually referring to two different people.

      Finally, we have the Book of Acts join the party. Now while Acts reinstates the traditional Bartholomew over The Book of John’s newly inserted Nathanael, it also adds a new name though maybe not a new person. In Acts, one of the 12 is named Judas, though its made clear that it is not the Iscariot, but rather Judas, son of James. So we have technically now a new name but if one goes back to the Book of Luke where the name Jude is first introduced as a disciple, we see that Jude is also referred to as son of James. So going forward on the idea at Jude is short for Judas or visa-versa, this now gives us 3 of the 5 books listing Jude as one of the 12 and only 2 listing Thaddaeus.

      So to make a short point long I’m actually rather comfortable with the common every-man from the street not being able to name the twelve disciples. Because the writers of 5 books of the bible, that purport to be eye witness first generation or in some cases second generations followers, couldn’t even create lists naming all the same 12.

      1. Dear Bill,

        After reading one of Joel Miller’s post, a thought came to me. One, great way to get to learn about Jesus’ disciples (and not forget their names) is to keep the Feast Days of the Saints. Usually the feast days are the same every year (for most Saints) and all Orthodox calendars (which are widely available for purchase) list the feast days.

        God bless you.

  2. Good job Joel. of course judgement does start in the House of God (The
    Church) where ignorance of our own faith & history is embarrassing. I
    got the beatles down pat…but struggle with the last 2 of Jesus’ 12
    disciples. Worse yet…does this ignorance really bother us…or bother the
    secularists who seems destined to increasingly rule over us? Lord have mercy.

  3. These are rather minor errors from people who do a lot of writing under deadline. They don’t show “Bible illiteracy” or conclusively demonstrate the country’s secular tilt (real though that is).

    1. For Parker to hang her critique of Cruz on a wild misunderstanding of “body of Christ”–which she had time to evaluate given that she supposedly spoke with people who were similarly offended–and Brooks to mangle Jesus/Paul speaking to a crowd in Corinthians–in an article about religious decline!–I think very amply demonstrates what I’m saying.

      1. Perhaps it wasn’t the Biblical technicalities Parker was really concerned with, but Cruz’s brazen invocation of Christ, which legitimately raises the question, for all of Cruz’s feigned Constitutional respect, whether he understands and respects the fact that the Founding Fathers went out of their way to exclude this degree of pompous religiosity from our government.

        1. I’d rather someone had Christian faith than didn’t. The United States is largely a Christian nation, whether it’s in the Constitution or not, and that’s a good thing. I’d also rather a politician with genuine Christian faith like Ted Cruz, than someone who merely pays lip service to it like Trump, or for that matter, Obama.

          1. Blair, that’s a fine sentiment, but let’s look at what one does not what one says they believe. George W. Bush promoted his evangelical faith in his memoirs, how it helped him quit drinking, etc., and that’s just fine and dandy, but what did he do? His war of aggression against Iraq devastated the Christians there (and many others). Now there is no christianity in Mosul. So what if Trump skips church and doesn’t run his mouth about the faith? Hopefully his policies will help us correct these awful wars of Obama and Bush which have decimated christians in the ancient places. I say, go Trump.

  4. Doesn’t it go too far to suggest that Parker’s comments suggest pride? Ignorance, clearly. And her ignorance appears to have led her to assume Cruz’s comments implied grandiosity and messianic self-imagery. But why would that suggest pride? Cruz’s comments connect spiritual awakening with his winning an election victory and the country turning around. With several candidates claiming to hold similar religious convictions, the comment conveys a substantial degree of grandiosity.

    A second concern … Parker’s ignorant comments merit criticism. But what indicates a greater potential cause of harm for the church. Is it biblical ignorance among elites or attempts by politicians to co-mingle the mission of the church with their political ends?

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