The Bible tells me so

CNN.com features a story about popular phrases that are wrongly attributed to the Bible. At the time I'm writing this, it has 111 pages of comments. That's like 6,200 comments. And to think that editors sometimes wonder if religion stories have enough appeal. The piece begins by quoting NFL coach Mike Ditka saying that Scripture tells us "all things shall pass." He points out it's not actually in the Bible and that neither are "God helps those who help themselves." and "Spare the rod, spoil the child."

What I liked about the piece was that it showed the difference between errors, not treating them as all equal. For instance, the latter phrase up there is very close to an actual verse in the Bible. Here's the section on the other verse from "That's Not In The Bible":

Most people have heard this one: “God helps those that help themselves.” It’s another phantom scripture that appears nowhere in the Bible, but many people think it does. It's actually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation's founding fathers.

The passage is popular in part because it is a reflection of cherished American values: individual liberty and self-reliance, says Sidnie White Crawford, a religious studies scholar at the University of Nebraska.

Yet that passage contradicts the biblical definition of goodness: defining one’s worth by what one does for others, like the poor and the outcast, Crawford says.

Crawford cites a scripture from Leviticus that tells people that when they harvest the land, they should leave some “for the poor and the alien” (Leviticus 19:9-10), and another passage from Deuteronomy that declares that people should not be “tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”

“We often infect the Bible with our own values and morals, not asking what the Bible’s values and morals really are,” Crawford says.

I'm highlighting this section in part because this mis-statement is one of my pet peeves -- and particularly because it's anti-Biblical. But I also thought the reporter just handled it well. With an economy of words, he explains the popularity and history of the saying and shows, briefly, how it contradicts actual Scriptures. It's clear that this is no "he-said, she said" journalism here. This is a very substantive discussion of a topic that society encounters all the time.

The piece also went into some deeper analysis about why biblical ignorance is so pervasive. And again, the reporter doesn't paint with the same broad brush. Some of the wrong verses are because of how influential a past writer was, others because of our desire to condense complicated ideas into bite-size pieces.

There are parts of the article that I find odd -- we're told that the mistaken view that the Bible says there were three wise men when the actual number is not included is dangerous. Dangerous? I mean, it's another pet peeve of mine but I have a hard time believing it's really dangerous.

And another section about the serpent in the Garden of Eden could have used much more context and would have provided a great opportunity to talk about Biblical criticism or include more viewpoints.

Here's another area I thought was somewhat confusing:

It’s easy to blame the spread of phantom biblical passages on pervasive biblical illiteracy. But the causes are varied and go back centuries.

Some of the guilty parties are anonymous, lost to history. They are artists and storytellers who over the years embellished biblical stories and passages with their own twists. ...

Others blame the spread of phantom Bible passages on King James, or more specifically the declining popularity of the King James translation of the Bible. ...

Others blame the spread of phantom biblical verses on Martin Luther, the German monk who ignited the Protestant Reformation, the massive “protest” against the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church that led to the formation of Protestant church denominations.

“It is a great Protestant tradition for anyone - milkmaid, cobbler, or innkeeper - to be able to pick up the Bible and read for herself. No need for a highly trained scholar or cleric to walk a lay person through the text,” says Craig Hazen, director of the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University in Southern California.

I have no problem with pointing out how much Luther thought that the Bible should be much more widely accessible. And I have no problem with pointing out the downsides of such a situation. But it seems to me that this gives the wrong idea that Biblical illiteracy increased with the Reformation, which is something I would counter vigorously, and it also presents only a negative without the positive.

But really these are quibbles. I don't agree with everything in the piece, but I think it was a really fun but substantive read on a major issue affecting religious adherents and society in general.

On the other hand, many of those 6200 comments are from people who think the reporter is all wet. What do you think? And what do you think about this type of story in general?

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