Up front: June 2012

By the book

If there’s a hell, I guess I’m going there. After all, I eat pork, and the Bible specifically lists that as a no-no. In Deuteronomy 14:8, Moses cites it on a menu of divinely prohibited fare: “And the swine, because it divideth the hoof yet cheweth not the cud, it is unclean onto you: ye shall not eat of their flesh, nor touch their dead carcase.” (We’re using the King James version here. Everybody knows the ancient Hebrews talked like characters in a Shakespearean play, and if it’s good enough for Cecil B. DeMille movies and the Calvary Baptist Church of my youth, it’s good enough for me.)

In fact, the Bible says a lot more about what people shouldn’t eat than it does about whom they may marry. But those inclined to believe that this book is the inerrant Word of God pay little heed to the former while cleaving to the latter as some sort of divine will, something to be ignored only at risk of eternal damnation, thereby making it more than sufficient grounds to amend the state constitution. And, yes, I know the gospels were a game changer, the coming of Christ toppling the old law like some celestial version of the Warren Court. The fact is, many religious people, as well the politicians who prey upon them, tend to pick and choose, treating the testaments like columns A and B on a menu at a Chinese restaurant, selecting from whichever whatever best fits their prejudices. But that is as it always has been.

Whether the Bible was inspired by God is, at its core, a matter of faith. But it’s unlikely its authors were taking dictation, and down through the ages, its text has been burnished — translated, edited, abridged and rewritten — to reflect the times. As a National Geographic article published last year on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible states, “This was a world in which there was no gap between politics and religion. A translation of the Bible that could be true to the original Scriptures, be accessible to the people and embody the kingliness of God would be the most effective political tool anyone in 17th-century England could imagine.”

But those times are not ours, and though I believe in the power and glory of books and the written word to change lives, the Bible is but one of many that have shaped our nation and us as a people. We are a democracy, not a theocracy, and though it was through a democratic referendum that Amendment One passed, this was not, as some opponents would argue, the imposition of Christian Shariah law. It was simply a setback, one of many we have faced on this journey. Democracy, unlike the Word of God, is not infallible. Things can, and will, change. In that, you can place your faith.