Do you have a bible in your house? If the answer is yes, you live in one of the 88 percent of U.S. households with at least one bible, according to the American Bible Society’s annual “State of the Bible” survey. The average number of bibles in homes is 4.7. The poll found that 56 percent of respondents think that the bible is the actual or inspired word of God with no errors, and over half think that the bible contains everything a person needs to know in order to lead a meaningful life. Over one-fourth said that they read the book daily or at least several times a week.
Surveys about religion are not necessarily trustworthy because people tend to tell researchers what they think the surveyors want to hear. Respondents want to look good. One question to these respondents is to cite the Ten Commandments. A few years ago, Georgia Rep. Lynn Westmoreland couldn’t do this on the Stephen Colbert show although the legislator wanted a law to mandate the commandments be displayed in the House and Senate chambers. The good politician could remember only three.
Biblical scholars know that the Good Book lists two different—and non-matching—sets of these commandments. Moses comes down from Mount Sinai with stone tablets in Exodus 20 but breaks them out of anger and has to get another set (Exodus 34:1). For those of you who have forgotten, these are the first ones:
- Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
- Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
- Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
- Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
- Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
- Thou shalt not kill.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
And the replacements:
- Thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
- Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
- The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep.
- All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.
- Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest.
- Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end.
- Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven.
- Neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
- The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the Lord thy God.
- Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.
God’s rewrite allows coveting, killing, adultery, swearing, and bearing false witness. He also didn’t direct people to honor their parents. God’s reconsideration merely ordered people to give Him lots of stuff, take off the Sabbath, and worship only Him with a little dietary advice such as skipping all that leaven and not seething a kid in his mother’s milk.
As long as the Ten Commandments are so ambiguous, Valerie Tarico suggests some different ones:
- This above all shall ye take as my first command: Thou shalt treat living beings as they want to be treated. And the second commandment is like unto it:
- In as much as be possible, thou shalt avoid afflicting pain or sorrow, which shall be unto thee my signs of ill and evil.
- Thou shalt honor and protect all of creation, for I the LORD have created it that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
- Thou shalt have sexual relations with neither human nor beast who chooseth not freely what pleasures thou mayest offer.
- Thou shalt not beat the child, but by admonition and instruction with kindness shall teach both wisdom and skill.
- Thou shalt do unto members of other religions and tribes as thou dost unto thine own.
- I, the LORD your God, forbid thee to own other persons be they woman, man or child; neither shall ye subject any gender nor race one to another, but shall honor my image in all.
- Thou shalt not destroy the lands of thine enemies, nor poison their well, nor salt their earth, neither shalt thou cut their shade tree nor burn their vineyard, nor wantonly slaughter the beast of their field.
- Thou shalt wash thy hands before eating and shalt boil the drinking water that has been defiled by man or beast.
- Thou shalt ask the questions that can show thee wrong, so that through the toil of many, from generation unto generation, ye may come to discover the great I AM.
A little flowery, but these would have stopped the Inquisition, burning witches, Holocaust, slave trade, and the Iraq War.
Although 60 percent of those responding to the survey can’t name more than five of the commandments, they are also ignorant of much more of biblical instruction. Twelve percent think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, and almost 50 percent of high school seniors believe that Sodom and Gomorrah are a married couple. Only half know that John the Baptist was not one of the 12 apostles, and 82 percent think that “God helps those who help themselves” is a biblical verse. (This expression, however, can be found in the Quran.) Yet 81 percent of U.S. adults think they are highly, moderately or somewhat knowledgeable about the Bible.
One so-called expert on the bible, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, is convinced that God determined all the U.S. borders. According to Fischer, anyone to crosses in the United States without permission is directly offending the Creator.
Not to be outdone, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins accused President Obama of imposing Sharia law on the U.S. military stationed in Bahrain during Ramadan. He cites a Stars and Stripes story that tells military members how to comply with the area’s local laws: “While not required to fast during Ramadan, in Bahrain, Americans can be fined or detained by local authorities for eating, drinking or smoking in public when off-base during daylight hours.” The Navy is also requiring long-sleeved shirts and blouses with long pants or skirts to be in keeping with local customs.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), still a wannabe presidential candidate, claimed during a radio interview this that anti-gay marriage business owners are being sent to “re-education camps” for refusing to serve gay customers. He even cited a specific Colorado baker who was required to submit a report on how he would prevent future discrimination after he refused to sell a same-sex couple a cake for their wedding reception. No barbed wire, no torture—just a report.
Taxpayers in the United States now support teaching creationism in schools. As this interactive map shows, lax regulations in many states allow taxpayer-funded schools to teach “alternatives” to evolution. Some of these schools are regular public schools, and others are private schools that receive state tuition voucher or scholarship programs.
One piece of hope from the survey: Between 2011 and 2013, the percent of American adults who believe the Bible is “just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories and advice” has almost doubled, from 10 to 19 percent.
Schools in the U.K. that receive government funding cannot teach creationism as scientific fact. Some of the newly-formed academies and free schools had been teaching “alternatives” to evolution and the Big Bang theory. Some of these schools use the U.S.-based Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) model and textbooks teaching evolution as a lie. (ACE, a popular curriculum in U.S. tax-funded Christian schools) also teaches that homosexuality is a “learned behavior” comparable to the sins of murder and stealing, and that people can avoid AIDS by following the Bible.)
Even more hope comes from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The anti-science fervor in the United States comes almost entirely from fundamentalist Christians who cannot reconcile reality with their bible. In this country, we may have to put up with their stupidity in the media, but the BBC Trust, which broadcasts news around the globe, has issued a statement that it will give more weight to scientific fact that unsupported opinions:
“The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences. Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given.”
Fox network will never stop spreading misrepresentations (aka lies), but perhaps more ethical U.S. media networks may decide to follow suit.