Sunday, May 31, 2009

Year of the Bible?

A misguided Georgia Republican named Paul Broun last week introduced legislation proclaiming 2010 as “The Year of the Bible.” One wonders, is it the Hebrew scripture that he wants to honor, the Roman Catholic Bible (which includes books like Tobias, Judith and Ecclesiasticus that Protestants exclude from the canon), the Greek Orthodox Bible (whose pages make room for the book of Odes), the Slavonic Old Testament (with its two books of Maccabees), the Ethiopian Bible (which includes Jubilees, the Book of Enoch and other unique testaments) or perhaps the Jefferson Bible, which our third President crafted in two versions during his first term in the White House and which excludes the miracle stories and resurrection from his version of the gospel?

Rep. Broun’s proposal reminds me of a quotation from the Reverend Edward Everett Hale, who served as chaplain to the U.S. Senate from 1903 until his death six years later (and who was the grand-nephew of Revolutionary War patriot Nathan Hale). Asked if he prayed for the Senators, Chaplain Hale replied, “No, I look at the Senators and pray for the country!”

There is a reason men like James Madison insisted on a division of church and state in our First Amendment, because they believed religious faith was stronger and healthier when entirely voluntary and non-coerced, not the product of Bible Bills or other government-sponsored programs.

The Good Book is an incredibly robust document, a collection of history, poetry, moral reflection and myth that has survived and evolved for thousands of years, revered by many as the word of God, and regarded as a centerpiece of Western culture even by those who deny it any divine inspiration. It has been translated into hundreds of languages around the world. Presumably Holy Writ needs no boost from Congress.

Representative Broun should find better outlets for his piety and return to minding the public’s business. The Bible doesn’t need his help.

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