I apologize for lying to you. Earlier today I said that my last post — the one about evolution — was going to be my last serious rant after having posted two in a row.
Well, this is my next post and it’s another rant. Well, it’s not really a rant as much as an observation, and it is actually a recycled post from February 2013.
I was reminded of it today, though, when some of the comments on my earlier post mentioned interpreting the Bible literally, believing everything in the Bible is true. So here is that post, which, I admit, is a little dated (Benedict is no longer the Pope).
The year was 1969 and the war in Vietnam was raging. I had graduated from college in June of the prior year and managed to enlist in an Army Reserve unit, a medical unit, and barely escaping the draft.
I spent the first three months of 1969 going through basic infantry training in the Louisiana swampland the Army called Fort Polk before being sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas to be trained as an army medic.
Fort Sam was a resort compared to Fort Polk, and I didn’t really mind spending my last three months of active duty in San Antonio. And it was at Fort Sam where I met my first bible literalist, my bunk-mate Michael.
Unlike me, Michael had not escaped the draft. But he had declared himself to be a conscientious objector (CO) to the war based upon religious grounds.
Like most draftees who self-identified as conscientious objectors, Michael was assigned to be trained as a medic so that he would not be required to bear arms and potentially shoot other human beings — even enemy combatants — should he be called upon to go into battle.
I found out later that Michael and his pastor father were avid hunters and Michael was well-trained in using firearms. Go figure.
I learned something else a bit strange about my bunk-mate at Fort Sam. The only book he’d read in his entire life was the Christian Bible. Seriously, I’m not making that up.
He told me that he was home-schooled by his parents, who taught him that everything he would ever need to know was found in the Bible.
“So you don’t see the Bible as allegorical, a book of stories and parables meant to inspire and guide?” I asked.
“It is the true word of God. Everything else written is, well, fairy tales,” he answered.
Yikes! I thought he was joking. I’d often used that “fairy tales” analogy to describe the contents of the Bible. But, no, he was quite serious. Not only was the Bible the only book he’d ever read, he believed every word of it to be the literal history of, well, everything. “The Bible is the truth, the only truth, the God’s honest truth.”
Cabal of COs
I had never previously encountered anyone who took the Bible so literally. And Michael wasn’t the only one in my unit who believed that way. At least a dozen guys in our barracks engaged in daily Bible studies.
These guys were passionate about the Bible, to the exclusion of anything that contradicted the “literal truth” of the gospel contained therein.
I initially thought that this cabal of COs was an anomaly, a unique gathering of undereducated religious fanatics brought together by their unwillingness to soldier.
Upon my return to the real world a few months later, however, I discovered that there were quite a few “regular people” who believed the Bible to be the actual words of God. My first boss, in fact, spent every lunch hour at church. I considered him to be an intelligent, articulate, and even humorous man, so I was surprised by his literal biblical interpretation.
According to a 2011 Gallup survey, three in 10 Americans interpret the Bible as not just words inspired by God, but as the actual word of God to be taken literally. I am floored by that statistic.
But I’m probably not as floored as those 30% of biblical literalists were after none other than the Pope called “bullshit” on the Bible.
Late last year, Pope Benedict XVI published his book, Jesus of Nazareth, in which he pointed out that over the centuries, the customary Nativity scene was embellished with other folklore and tales.
The Pope suggested that there were likely no animals present, nor were there three wise men. He also said that there is no evidence that angels sang at Jesus’ birth. So hark that, you herald angels.
The Pope wrote that Christ wasn’t really born in a stable and he wasn’t even born 2012 years ago on December 25th. He wrote that Jesus was probably born in 5 or 6 BC, and that the Roman Catholic Church chose December 25th as Christ’s birth date in order to co-opt a pagan feast day and to coincide with the winter solstice festivities.
According to modern astronomers, Jesus was more likely born in June, although it could have been any time between April and September.
So to my bunk-mate Michael from Fort Sam Houston, to my first boss, and to you 30% of Americans who take the Bible literally, all the Pope and I can say is don’t believe or take literally everything you read in books, especially if the only book you ever read is the Bible.
Of course, Pope Benedict has just announced his resignation and I suspect that he may have been forced out by the Holy See in Rome for his audacity to suggest in his book that not everything in the Bible is to be taken literally.
Apparently no one, not even the Pope, can call bullshit on the Holy Bible.
I promise you, my next post will not be about God, evolution, the Bible, or have anything to do with religion or politics. At least I don’t think it will be.