INTRO: God Hates . . . Figs? The Bible as America’s Book

If you log your required hours on Facebook, you’ve probably already seen this one.  The provenance of this photo isn’t clear, but it has been flying through many of the interweb’s tubes lately.  I got it from the site Stuff Fundies Like  The folks there speculate it must have come from an annual Peeps diorama contest.  Makes sense.  Who else would spend the time?

I’m including it not only because it’s hilarious, but because it helps me introduce ILYBYGTH’s newest thread: Why do fundamentalists care so much about what the Bible says?  For non-fundamentalist Americans, it seems like a bizarre fetish.  Why, after all, would we base our public policies on a group of texts from a relatively obscure bunch of herders writing their ancient prohibitions thousands of years ago in the dust and dismay of the Jordan River valley?  Why should the science curriculum in our children’s schools be influenced by the creation myth of one obscure group of ancient people?  The criticisms seem too easy to bother to make.  Perhaps we could similarly ban exploration of the North Pole since it will disrupt the operations of Santa’s Workshop?  Maybe a powerful faction of our government could get together weekly for ‘Fairy Breakfasts’ to discuss the use of the Tooth Fairy as a non-governmental supplier of dental care?

Yet unlike these other quaint myths, the Bible does play a significant role in guiding contemporary American politics and culture.  Those who indulge in snarky critiques of Bible believers—Peep-based or otherwise—are really the ones who have a fundamental misunderstanding of American culture.  Through the late twentieth century, according to Gallup polls, roughly one-third of Americans agree that “the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally word for word.”  In addition, roughly one-half of Americans believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, though perhaps not literally true word for word.  In 2000, when asked, “Do you believe the Bible answers all or most of the basic questions of life, or not?” 65% of respondents answered yes.  The corollary is obvious: there is a strong public sentiment in the US of A that the Bible should somehow be included in all decisions, public and private.  A significant proportion of citizens do not find it odd to use this collection of ancient Hebrew writings to make twenty-first-century policy decisions.

Posts on this thread will explore the reasons for this widely shared belief.

  • First, ILYBYGTH will look at the history of the Bible in public life.  How has it been used as a textbook in American public schools?  What does it mean that one of the most pressing emergencies on November 22, 1963, a day seared into national consciousness, was to locate a Bible so that LBJ could be sworn in as the new President on Air Force One?
  • Next, posts will delve into reasons why fundamentalists care so much about it.  Why do fundamentalists insist that the Bible should be allowed to dictate public policy?  Why do they think the Bible must remain the guide, moreover, to our understanding of science and humanity?
  • Third, ILYBYGTH will look at the ways the Bible has been seen as a universal panacea.  Historically, fundamentalists have seen the Bible as a literally miraculous book.  The merest exposure to its pages, many fundamentalists believe, can convert the ignorant to fundamentalism.  Similarly, reading the Bible has been seen as an inoculation against all forms of spiritual danger and doubt.
  • And finally, at the end of all times, we’ll explore the end of the world, Bible style.  We’ll look into different readings of Bible prophecy and predictions of the apocalypse.  Such prophecies have tended to focus the fundamentalist mind on the tricky question of Biblical interpretation.  For most fundamentalists, one of the Bible’s unique powers is that its meaning is clear to all readers.  So how have so many earnest interpreters differed on such key questions as the end of all times?

Of course, this plan is subject to change and digression.  And new Bible questions are welcome from readers and commentators.  If you consider yourself a Bible believer, why do you think the Book has such supreme importance?  If you’re a skeptic, how do you feel about fundamentalist insistence on the Bible as the source of all knowledge and true wisdom?


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