With the furor over a clumsy video depicting the revered Muslim prophet, Mohammad, in an alleged poor light and the subsequent and expected violent fallout, come news of a French magazine adding fuel to the fire by publishing some satirical cartoons about the prophet and the faithful. Sure, in the West individuals and institutions are free to mock their religious leaders and cast them in all kinds of unfavorable lights. In the Muslim world that can get you killed. Muslim clerics routinely issue Fatwas (literally a contract to commit murder) on those that mock the prophet. Just ask Sir Salmon Rushdie who had to hide for years for fear that some assassin would end his life.
But with all this ignorance, anger and superstition flying around and the "we are God's favorite people" (Good Bless America) and "they, the others, the outsiders and outliers" are not it is time that we explore how informed and enlightened "we Christians really are." That the American Christian God is different to Allah or Yahweh or Jehovah is implied by Christian words and deeds. And since we're the most religious, advanced and industrialized nation in the world it stands to reason that we know the Word of God, the Bible, like no other people.
So let's go done the road and expose the myths
Preachers, lay people and even the non-religious routinely utter this phrase in response to hardship and tragedy: "This, too, shall pass." Over the years many Christians and non-Christians alike have embraced this short, pithy statement as a grain of Biblical wisdom. Funny thing is that this statement cannot be found in any Bible. It's a phantom scripture. This points to the fact that the Bible is the most revered book in the United States but it's also the most misquoted and misunderstood.
Political leaders on the stump, motivational speakers, Sunday school teachers, religious leaders, preachers and pious-as-a-church-mouse Aunty Mary, all spout popular quotations that sound Biblical but are nowhere to be found in the Good Book. Here are a two of them that you hear every day:
"Spare the rod, spoil the child."
And there is this often-cited paraphrased account piously recited by the righteous ignorant: Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden. As a result Adam and Eve sinned and we're suffering today as a result. Thing is none of this appears in the Bible -- period.
But these kinds of phrases and statements endure and are pervasive in Christian societies because the faithful never challenge them. The preacher's word is law. He or she knows best. So being intellectually lazy, the faithful rely on the wisdom of the preacher and never read the Bible themselves. And those who do read the Good Book end up cherry picking some statements and using them to justify societal behavior fitting the statements to the particular issue at the time.
Biblical ignorance is pervasive and systemic within the American Christian religious community in a way that rivals and equals their counterparts in Pakistan, India and Iran. Even in today's technological world of the mega-church with Sunday attendances of over 20,000 "good Christians" there is a glaring disconnect: people prefer to remember and recite Biblical, and in the case of Muslims, Koranic, passages that help reinforce their pre-existing beliefs. The vast majority of today's Christian churchgoers have memorized parts of Biblical texts that they string together to "prove" the basis for their beliefs.
But there's more. And it's based on ignorance, confusion and historical folk wisdom. Let's look at two of these enduring "truths" that many believe come from the Bible.
"God works in mysterious ways."
"Cleanliness is next to Godliness."
Yes, they do sound Biblical. The first phrase was written by the English poet William Cowper in the 19th century. The statement is "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform." And the second, about "cleanliness," is the work of an 18th century religious leader John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church. As a religious leader people assumed incorrectly that he must have taken it out of the Bible.
And what about the "spare the rod and spoil the child" statement that has been regurgitated by so many Christian mothers, grandmothers and fathers as justifying corporal punishment? Did that argument come from the Good Book and was it clear, fool-proof directions about how to discipline an errant child? This still-popular saying is an edited and distilled version of Proverbs 13:24: "The one who withholds [or spares] the rod is one who hates his son."