The other day, someone posted a comment on the online version of my column regarding a passing sort of mention to Pentecost.
“I was really digging this until the Biblical reference. Fantastic way to isolate everyone but your Christian readers.”
(We no longer have Dot.You; this is my scheme to get more people to comment on my columns, tricking them into hoping they’ll get into print.)
And I took offense to that, or at least umbrage. I like to think there’s enough going on in these things that everyone is isolated in head-scratching at least some point along the way, for many reasons.
But of all the possibilities out there, you’d think references biblical would cast the broadest net. (Writers, too, are fishers of men.)
Most of you out there are Christian, demographic-wise, and no one in Odessa is truly non-Christian because this is West Texas: Christianity is as much a part of the landscape as mesquite and rusty pumpjacks.
That is, even if you say, “There is no God,” in mouth or heart, you’re familiar with the tenets of Christianity as opposed to say, Mahayana Buddhism. Even self-professed Buddhists around here aren’t going to catch allusions to the Diamond Sutra or whatever.
In the Western-canon sense of things, we’re all Christian readers, but some of us aren’t particularly well-read.
Now, as the son of a preacher man and pious woman, I was getting Bible stories before even “The Poky Little Puppy.”
Sunday school was boring; while everyone else was reading about how Joseph fled the temptation of Potiphar’s wife, I was still back at Judah and Tamar, which we always seemed to skip over in the booklets. And it was at least as interesting.
Leaving out a lot, Tamar’s father-in-law Judah gets her pregnant because she’s disguised and he thinks she’s a temple prostitute. Then when it’s discovered Tamar, a widow, got pregnant by being a whore, he says, “Burn her.” She says, “Well, the guy who got me knocked up gave me this stuff,” a seal and staff which just happens to be Judah’s. And then Judah goes, “Erm, well,” and she isn’t burned, and he doesn’t sleep with her again, and she has twins, so it’s happily ever after, the way Bible things are. Then in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, for some reason she’s one of just the three women named (along with a Moabite widow and helpful harlot from Jericho). And reading it, you sort of stop and say, “Huh.”
OK, I imagine most everyone is lost at this point, regardless of which church, temple or couch you attend, or how often.
Maybe that’s because we read the Bible now in bits and pieces, for stories like fables, for quotations to use for political purposes or tell who’s going to hell.
Obviously, there’s more than that. There’s a rhythm or measure to most passages and a subtlety of purpose; there’s the tension between the unity, consistency and diversity of sources, authors and redactors. There’s an abundance of mystery in the large book that may contradict itself now and again, but only because it contains multitudes.
You really could make seventh-grade English a Bible class for all students and take a whole year learning all the literary devices from it (the section on irony would be reading Esther). Then the rest of literature after that point might make sense, from the references to the rejections of the Judeo-Christian worldview.
This column isolates most people, it’s true, and moralizes, I don’t deny. But anyone who loves the Bible should love to read, and the converse is also true.