Wednesday, October 14, 2009

For Your Edification

I submit the following for your edification:

"The Gideon's International is an Association of Christian business and professional men, banded together in more than 170 countries for fellowship and service. The purpose of the Association is the promotion of the Gospel of Christ to all people, to the end that they might come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.

...The Bible contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you.

It is the traveler's map, the pilgrim's staff, the pilot's compass, the soldier's sword, and the Christian's charter. Here Paradise is restored, Heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed.

CHRIST is its grand subject, our good the design, and the glory of God its end.

It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened at the judgment, and be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents."

This was the preface to a Gideon New Testament I was handed today on the way to school. As far as Christian groups go, I have a great deal of respect for the Gideons. However, this introduction confused me and I wondered how persuasive this would really be for non-religious (by religion I mean Christian specifically) people. I request the opinion of those not raised as Protestant Christians, as to whether this makes sense and is thought to be persuasive. But first I'll go through some of my "problems" with the text.

1) Religious jargon. The text is filled with it. What is a "Gospel"? What does it mean to have a "personal savior"? What does "holy" and "sacred" mean? If this introduction is targeted to non-believers, what is the point in including a lot of Christian specific jargon? Either it is intentional or it is unintentional. I'll get to the former in a moment. If it is unintentional that means the writers are so tied up in their own religious outlook that they cannot even conceive how an outsider might view and inevitably be confused by such language. My opinion is that this is not the case, but it remains an option. If it is intentional, I can think of two reasons why they might choose to include it: a) to "peak the curiosity" (read: confuse) the reader enough so that she must find a Christian to talk to about this; b) because the introduction and the Bible in general is geared towards people with a Christan background, or backsliding Christians (non-practicing Christians). I think the latter option more likely. People who used to be Christians, or were raised in a Christian household, are more likely to be familiar with all the terminology (and metaphors) and even be persuaded by them. However, for an Association (why is it capitalized?) that purports to desire to see "all people" become Christians, this seems like a narrow focus.

2) There is a lot of metaphorical language, which is misleading because it covers up a lack of substance. If you'll endulge me, I'll break down an example of this part of this piece by piece:

"The Bible contains the mind of God,"
-That's a pretty bold claim even by Protestant Christian standards. Technically this is not a metaphor, but it can't be taken literally. I'm not really sure what it means (I doubt the Bible, as big as it is, is enough to contain a normal human mind, let alone the mind of a god).

"the state of man,"
-I think if you're not a Christian you won't know what this means.

"the way of salvation,"
-Sounds promising.

"the doom of sinners,"
-Suddenly, less promising.

"and the happiness of believers."
-Promising again.

"Its doctrines are holy,"
-I don't know what that means. I'm not sure many would understand either parts of this predicative sentence.

"its precepts are binding,"
-That means I have to do what it says?

"its histories are true,"
-A highly debated issue. I'll avoid it.

"and its decisions are immutable."
-It's probably for the best that the Gideon Bible only includes the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs or the reader might stumble upon Lev 19:19 "You are to keep my statues. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together." This must be one of those mutable immutable laws, since I never see Christians paying any attention to these laws.

"Read it to be wise,"
-I'll buy it for now.

"believe it to be safe,"
-Safe from what? The first thought I had was that believing it would keep you safe from Christians, but I don't think that's what they were talking about.

"and practice it to be holy."
-I don't know what that means.

"It contains light to direct you,"
-Like a nightlight? Like a flashlight?

"food to support you,"
-I guess paper can be considered roughage, although I think you're better off eating fruits and vegetables and far less likely to die of malnutrition.

"and comfort to cheer you."
-I'll buy it for now.

The breakdown was probably unnecessary, but I find this heap of metaphors to be devoid of meaning in this context. They point to basic needs: light, food, happiness, safety and stability but it never really goes beyond the metaphor. How is the Bible a light? How is it food? I think these things should be spelled out since I'm not sure someone would come to these same metaphors after reading the text (without help from Christian/Jewish interpretation). But I've balked long enough. Let me know what you think.


  1. Whoa. I'm sorry but this is way over my head. Jesus = Paul Bunyan. The only thing guiding my feet is my nervous system through my brain. The only thing ruling my heart is the cardiac muscle (wikipedia) and the only thing filling my memories is my actual memories not something implanted by a book.
    If it's such a mine/paradise/river of wealth/glory/pleasure then why are more people watching "So You Think You Can Dance?" than reading the Bible? What is a better paradise? A lifetime of following ancient rules towards a speculated end or a Corona Comercial? I'm drunk...

  2. I like the Jesus = Paul Bunyan comparison. Maybe top 10 Jesus comparisons of all time. If it's over your head, it's only because it's attached to a hot air balloon of bullshit. Which reminds me, I'm late for a race around the world. See you in Madagascar!

  3. This introduction strikes me as using many of the same techniques that modern commercials use. The throw out a lot of talk about light and salvation and compasses that sound nice, but really have little further meaning. Readers who they are hoping to convert are not intended to read it with a critical eye; those type of readers are unlikely to be converted by a short passage when they already have strongly rooted beliefs. Instead, I imagine, they are trying to convert people without much critical thinking towards religion who are in a moment of weakness. Maybe someone mother just died or their boyfriend broke up with them and they are in need of new answers in their lives. Someone hands them this book and they hear about a way to make everything all better and wow that sounds awesome, I gotta give this a try. And the truth is the vast majority of people in the world and not like you and I in that they do not have much of an interest in approaching most of their life, including their religion with a critical eye.

    There also seems to be an element of control that commericals also use. The more you can create your own language and termonology surrounding your religion (or product) the control you have surrounding the dialogue about it. It's a similar reason to African Americans wanting to be called African Americans. For so long, they were called by names, some deragotory, some benine, that were created by white people. But creating a new name to talk about themselves puts them more in control of their stories and their culture and takes some of that control away from white people who too often do not have African American's best interest at heart. So, if this religious group can use their positive flowery diction to control more of the dialogue, it helps those who are not critical have a more positive association with that religion.

    P.S. - That was me throwing sausages at your hot air ballon from the coast of Peru. I was attempting to lure your monkey mechanic over to my ballon so I could beat you to Madagascar. I did not intend for Herbert to meet such an untimely end. Please accept my most heartfelt apologies.