10/10/2014

That Bible Verse You Quoted....I Don't Think it Means What You Think it Means

From the New International Bible

I live in the buckle of the Bible Belt ......and I am surrounded on all sides by people calling themselves a Christian of various stripes. Day and night, from old and young, at home and at work, everywhere I go I get told things by random people I come in contact with - people who are guests in my home, random people in line at the grocery store, people I meet at social events, in restaurants, at my job or my husband's work...... where I live, it is considered totally OK for these folk to share with me, spontaneously out of no where, and apropos of nothing, whatever their version of Christianity tells them to think or do about pretty much any topic that enters their head.

I regularly have students mis-quote the Bible in class discussions, make outrageously inaccurate comments, or not be able to understand simple Biblical allusions, symbols and motifs in literature . When asked where they got their ideas, they often say, "from my youth minister." When I ask them what Bible verse or which particular branch of the faith their idea comes from, they do not know. Many who claim to attend church regularly do not know any of the familiar tales children in western cultures are often told as bedtime stories, or that suggest the toys they have played with. If I ask my students if they study their own faith in Sunday school, CCD, catechism class, Hebrew school or some other structured learning situation, they tell me they don't participate in any of those. They get dropped off at "youth group" meetings so their parents can have some free babysitting.

I have been told about the "good news" repeatedly and asked about my own beliefs by my husband's secretary at work, soccer moms at sporting events, co-workers, a dentist, neighbors and friends. Christian muzak plays in the waiting rooms all over town. Co-workers, shops and businesses regularly feature religious art (never the "good" kind, either, say, Italian Renaissance reproductions from Michelangelo, Raphael, or Leonardo ...oh no....people around here just think those guys are teenage mutant ninja turtles) and sayings on the walls of their offices, classrooms, and shops. Inspirational posters, flyers, art, commercials and ads saturate the media. A co-worker once called me the devil and an "un-godly woman" because I did not attend HER church. A marriage therapist once told me that my problem was that I needed to follow the Christian rules for being a wife. I have been penalized at work for not belonging to one of the three power churches in town. Because I live on a main street, my home is subject to a continual parade of would-be proselytizers......frequently on Saturday mornings, large vans park out front, a dozen or more people spill out, then they start canvassing the neighborhood, ringing doorbells (upsetting the dogs, rousing my household from sleep or pulling folk, dripping, out of the shower) as they go. Sometimes I will have a door-bell ringer every 5 minutes, a dozen or more all morning, as they work their way back to the van. (I did put up a small sign that says " No salesmen, no missionaries" with a blessing in 5 different languages/faiths, but people still either think I am rude, or want to talk to me about the sign.)

The thing is, I have lived in other parts of the country and other parts of the world, and I know this is not "normal" behavior in other cultures. When I lived, taught and worked in the northeast, diversity in all forms was the norm, and people would get belligerent about protecting the rights of those who were different. I once taught school in Maryland, and we had Buddhist monks and Orthodox Jews from nearby temples come volunteer at our school, which was made up of students from a diverse array of faiths. No one tried to convince others of their beliefs, although they felt free to share them, and we celebrated 6 different festivals in December, including Kwanzaa.  

The other thing is, I was raised Presbyterian. I attended Sunday school where we studied the Bible - every August we'd start at Genesis, and every May we'd finish at Revelations. We'd parse each chapter and verse, read and discuss the various meanings and translations, the history of what happened, as well as the history of it being written down.  I did this for 18 years of my life, in gradually increasing complexity, year after year. As a young adult, I decided to become an Episcopalian, and went through the confirmation class for that branch of the faith (in addition to my childhood Presbyterian confirmation class.) In college, I was an ancient history major, specializing in near east religions. I read Latin, Biblical Greek and a little Hebrew, took classes in history, archaeology, anthropology, comparative religions, mythology, art history, philosophy, and studied it all in-depth. I traveled through the countries involved, and participated in archaeological digs in several of them. Read from the original texts, in the original languages. Guided by scholars as diverse as a Benedictine monk, a Coptic priest, and studied with American, Italian and Israeli professors. 

So I just don't "get it" when someone tries to tell me about their version of Christianity, without really ever having studied it, then wants to pass a judgement on someone who doesn't agree with what they think they know. I know this isn't just a problem peculiar to where I live - it is a problem worldwide, with people from many faiths. 

What does any of this have to do with the photo at the top? I was browsing pinterest the other day , and one of my feeds pinned this, so it was in my feed. Initially, I passed over it, then something in it caught my eye and I thought to myself, "hmmmm.....that really doesn't sound like what I remember of 1st Thessalonians." So I looked it up. The actual verse is underneath. And now I am even more curious : is this catchy pink meme someone's attempt to spin a meditation off the original verse, and say more about the topic? Or did the creator, and the millions who pinned it, think it was the actual verse that is listed? This is what happens when books disappear, when learning is not linked to a definite source that can not be changed. If the original source was removed or destroyed, no one would ever know how or that  it was changed. I'm not a believer in the inerrancy of the Bible, but I do believe one should know what one is talking about, if one is going to refer it. Many claim to have "the true version of...." but do they, really? The hubris at thinking your perspective is better than anyone else's astounds me. We have so many problems in the world today - people claiming a religious text as their source to justify abuse of people of differing faiths, beliefs, genders, orientations, practices is so perverse - but if you are going to do it, at least get the damn verse correct, people !

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