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    The Good Book

    One of Virginia Postrel’s latest posts is a great potential discussion starter:

    Some years ago, an editor asked me how he could give his children an appreciation for the English language. He wanted them to write well. Since he’s an evangelical Christian, I told him he should teach them Psalms from the King James translation of the Bible. My mother did that with me as a child, and it gave me an early sense of metaphor and rhythm. It taught me to appreciate, and understand, complex, beautiful English.

    My friend didn’t like my suggestion. After all, nobody reads the KJV anymore. Forget poetry (not to mention sensitivity to the underlying Hebrew), today’s suburban Christianity is all about accessibility. It’s been dumbed down.

    Megachurch Christianity may hone organizational and business skills, but it isn’t teaching believers to think about abstractions or communicate in higher than “everyday” language. No wonder megachurches combine their up-to-date media with fundamentalist doctrine. It fits well on PowerPoint–no paragraphs required. Leaving aside the validity of what they preach, today’s most successful evangelicals are spreading pap.

    When I was growing up, every Bible I ever had was KJV. The sermons–our services were two hours long, and you were expected to take notes after you were around twelve–generally quoted scripture from the KJV, often with explanations about how obscure passages had been rendered. My mother once, on the recommendation of a friend, bought a New KJV Bible. She found it annoying and went back to the old one the next go-round.

    To my knowledge, Virginia converted to Judaism (like 80% of my women friends from college) when she married but, unlike me, isn’t an atheist. I will occasionally run into people who ask how my beliefs have evolved and mistakenly assume that the way to get me back to church is by playing the “But you know, lots of churches now are very user-friendly and focus on making the Word of God relevant to life today.” Yech. I have my life, and what’s relevant to it in the quotidian sense, running pretty well as it is. If I were convinced to go back to worshipping God, it would be because I believed Christianity was accurate about the nature of transcendence.

    The KJV has a sense of the sublime. It’s mostly understandable, but the language is also obviously old, and there are passages that you can’t make your way through without your concordance. It gives a comforting sense of being navigable but containing mysteries. You’re constantly reminded that not everything is explicable, even to theologians with expert knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic. And, if you care about literary history, the KJV is the one that inspired countless writers and speakers over the past few centuries, as Virginia points out. It’s culturally allusive as well as having the feel of a book that’s expansive and meant to take you outside yourself.

    Once or twice I looked at a friend’s New Revised Standard Version (is that what it’s called?) when I was a teenager, and it was dead on the page. Like Dick and Jane Are Fruitful and Multiply and Fill the Earth. No intensity.

    And Power Point presentations in services? Rock music instead of hymns? I know those aren’t really new developments, but sheesh.

    2 Responses to “The Good Book”

    1. John S. says:

      You’ve hit on a big issue within my church today. I belong to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which is one of the more conservative mainstream church bodies. However, there’s a big push on within the church for exchanging our traditional worship (liturgy, hymns, scripture readings, and sermons that last for about 20 minutes) with the power-point presentation, rock-band style, contemporary worship. I’m agin’ it. However, my dad, who is a pastor, is bending to the pressure, however, and his congregation is adding things like a “worship team” (i.e., contemporary music singers and drum set), and ditching the liturgy. I am almost driven to despair… if Lutherans themselves cannot embrace traditional worship, what’s to become of us? (Sorry, that was a little hysterical)

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      I’m certainly not going to opine about which practice brings more people closer to God, and it seems to me that more relaxed socials, and even perhaps the occasional special performance of more contemporary music during a regular service, doesn’t dilute anything…but overall, the drive to make everything accessible to people–to the point that they don’t have to exert any effort to get to it beyond what they’d be doing in front of the television or at the mall anyway–strikes me as a poor approach to religious truth-seeking. Not even the religions that believe that the world of enlightenment is already here on Earth make it quite that easy for people.

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