Governor Bevin has proclaimed 2017 to be “The Year of the Bible” in Kentucky, although he did the same thing in December 2015 for the year 2016 and few Kentuckians took notice of it for more than a week. The announcement pretty much coincided, also for the second year in a row, with the so-called Kentucky 120 United Bible Reading Marathon, an event staged by a group called the Kentucky Prayer Focus and which involves volunteers statewide taking turns reading Scripture aloud until they orally complete the entire sixty-six books. I’m unsure what this is supposed to accomplish. Do the Governor and the Kentucky Prayer Focus think that this yearly ceremonial reading serves as some sort of annual gesture or invocation for God’s blessing on the state? And if they do, wouldn’t simple, silent prayers to that effect do more good? After all, Jesus of Nazareth once reasoned that God preferred private prayers spoken quietly from inside one’s closet, and he gave a name to those who prayed out loud at the street corners for no other reason than that they wanted to be seen and heard: hypocrites. A little hypocrisy never stopped a politician—or the occasional football player—from making a grand gesture, though.
Still, even if it’s politics as usual, I guess Bevin’s and Kentucky’s Year of the Bible is harmless enough. It’s certainly preferable to what the State Legislature once did, proclaiming April 1986 as Jimmy Swaggart Month only a few months before the famous evangelist got caught with his britches down the first time. The real tragedy, I think, is that both The Year of the Bible and the Kentucky 120 United Bible Reading Marathon only emphasize what’s already obvious: the Bible is the most-bought and most-praised, yet least-read and most-misread volume ever compiled in the history of the world. Saddest of all to me is how completely it’s neglected within the United States as one of the very pillars, alongside Shakespeare’s plays, of modern English language and literature. An entire generation, probably more than one, has grown up never having learned about the source of many common expressions they’ve heard all their lives: “the blind leading the blind,” “forbidden fruit,” “a little bird told me,” “a leopard can’t change its spots,” “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” and a host of others originating in Scripture—including even the old song about the bones being connected together. And there’s seemingly no way of fixing the problem, either within our present public school system or the quasi-religious setup which Governor Bevin and his cronies seem to want to replace it with.
All too often it’s the case that the more observant you are religiously, the more heaven and earth hangs on doctrine and the more you quarrel over dogmatic questions. If the Bible were studied in elementary, middle, and high school in an academic fashion, like most other ancient writings are when they are studied at all, soon enough you’d have irate parents complaining that the course work somehow didn’t give proper respect to a book that they regard as holy. Around here at least they’d likely perceive any comparison and contrast of the good old King James Version with later translations, or even the Hebrew and Koine Greek of the original writings, as introducing doubt and heresy to their children. And the same principle applies even if the Bible were taught from a doctrinal perspective, because there’s so blasted much dogmatic disagreement. Immerse, pour, or sprinkle? Confession, penance, and absolution, or the “priesthood of all believers”? Musical instruments or just voices? Can you backslide, or are you heaven-bought and heaven-bound no matter what you do or say? Purgatory or simply split hell wide open? You can find justification for all in Scripture. Back when Christianity was newly recognized as the Roman Empire’s state religion, there were street fights and actual killings in several cities over a dispute about the nature of Jesus of Nazareth—and ironically, in the Koine Greek then spoken throughout the Empire, the difference amounted to no more than one letter in one word. With a historical record like that, maybe we ought to regard religion like Chuck Q. Farley respects both work and his mother: so much that he’s never struck either one of them a lick in his entire life. Actually this may be exactly how Governor Bevin and most other politicians do respect religion. But it’s not really a satisfactory solution, either.
The Year of the Bible? I’ll never live to see the real thing. But I keep wishing.