It’s Day 6 of Mysteries of the Bible at sea and I can feel my frustration building. Donald calls it Bible study, as though it were some sort of real critical, intellectual process. Some of the people carry their grossly annotated bibles and concordances. Someone even brought a Jewish version of the Old Testament. So there’s the appearance of it being intellectual. But it is really Bible affirmation; all about hammering that badly edited volume of stories, songs, lists of genealogies and rules and myths, written at different times, that re-translated, and bowderlized, compilation of thees and thous into something coherent and prophetic. Rather than “the word of God,” as they like to put it, it is a pastiche fashioned by different editors over the centuries of writers who often wrote of events with all the direct experience of myself writing about American Civil War as though I had fought in it.
But then I already knew that about the Bible. My other frustration, of which I am a little ashamed, is that nobody has really elected to take me on my heretical views about it. I’m coming t the conclusion that it’s because most all of this group are basically good people. They come from stable, prosperous, democratic nations—and that has to be a big help—so they are not likely, or even inclined to gird themselves in C4 and nuts and bolts and blow a disco or a school bus to eternity. That does not discount the remote possibility that, in the extreme there might be one who would bomb an abortion clinic. They are more consumed with their faith than perhaps they should be, but for the most part they are not theopathic  like their paradise-seeking martyr-Muslim opposite numbers.
The reason became obvious—there were only as few American Evangelical Christians in this group, and only about three of them seemed to fit the fundamentalist mode. Since the Reagan years the reciprocal resurgence of political conservatism and evangelical Christianity have gained a strangulation hold on American politics and have dominated our political and social life for the past nearly thirty years. Politicians increasingly kowtowed to fundamentalist religious leaders who controlled the dim minds of millions of adherents, chunks of mass media, and even founded “universities” and mega-churches. Religious blowhards like Billy Graham had always had access to the highest echelons of political power, but did not seek it for themselves. That was not the case these days with the Pat Robertsons, Jerry Falwells, James Dobsons, and Ralph Reeds who possessed money and political ambition to match their arrogance. Robertson, who has taken to informing his flock that America’s problems—even the attacks upon it on 911—are God’s punishment for its sinfulness, even made a run for president. Political candidates from local to national feel obliged to genuflect to these generals whose forces besiege the wall between church and state, sprinkle their speeches and platforms with references to our Christian nation and principles, and promise to ram prayer and creationism into our classrooms, turn back the progress made in women’s rights, censor media, marginalize homosexuals, and insinuate themselves into the most personal aspects of our lives. They may have finally overreached themselves—both the Religious and Political Right—in the now infamous Terri Shiavo case, but that was also evidence their arrogance and reach. American Fundamentalist Christians had become a force and threat worthy of being called “The American Taliban.” They had finally, and in such a short space of time, reached the highest office in the land in the person of George W. Bush, a man who could openly claim that God wanted him to be president, and who could not have achieved that office without the “useful [religious] idiots” with whom his political party had formed a Faustian compact that has made a travesty of both democracy and Christianity.
American Evangelical Christians had come to stand for almost everything I am against. Their faith, even in Christian terms, is anachronistic, harkening to the Inquisition in Europe. They tend to have a millennial perspective, a sense of Armageddon and the “end times.” It’s a retro-Christianity that brings them close to eschatological parity with the Muslims who share some of their distasted for aspects of modernism, liberal societies, the participation of women in society, and other values, such as the separation of church and state. This is something that is not likely to come into these Bible discussions, but I still have to wonder what of their biblical perspective opposes the Koranic view, what they think of the prospect of a momentous clash, not of civilizations, but of cosmologies. I find it almost laughable, were not there to be so much collateral damage, that both sides may be end up sending millions of their believers to a paradise that neither knows really exists.
But most of the Bible class seemed hardly like our contemptible American Christian Evangelists at all. Their faith was more considered, contained, and, if the word can be applied to metaphysical belief, if not reasoned, at least reasonable. Perhaps it was because politics scarcely entered our discussions. Perhaps also, because there is ugly history in all of their states, especially in the religiously-sanctioned mistreatment of less-fortunate and more pigmented peoples over whom they took dominion in Australia, South Africa, and in the other reaches of the Christian British Empire, they see the dangers of zealotry more clearly. I even began to suspect that they sensed the distinctions between their own Christianity and that of the Americans, especially since the emergence of Bush and his legions of the faithful. Perhaps this also explained why Donald steered the discussion to Old Testament passages upon which he built hazy metaphors and extracted gratuitous interpretations. To go to the central tenets of Christ’s message was really to invite a level of discussion that dealt with revolution, with both religious and secular authorities that have become entrenched, oppressive, self-perpetuating and long distanced from the values and motivations that created them.
There was another hypothesis. Three of the group had approached me outside of the class to say that they “appreciated” the questions that I was raising. One admitted that she was a rather “bored” with the wanderings in the desert of irrelevance of the Old Testament, and one of them, I suspect, relished the notion of a clash between myself and Donald. They said that they were either shy or inured not to raise such questions. I might not be their champion, but I brought the prospect that things might be more “entertaining.” I wasn’t sure who was exploiting whom. In any case, why shouldn’t the Bible be “entertaining”; Cecil B. DeMille made a film career out of it.
©2006, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 12.31.2006)
 This is a favorite neologism for which I take the blame. See, Archives, 10. 2: The Theopaths (7.15.2004)