Reading the Bible to Tatters


My friend Brett Grainger grew up in a hardcore fundamentalist Christian household. So thoroughly did he imbibe his family’s creed that one day, when he came home to an empty house, he feared everyone had been taken up by the rapture and he was left behind to endure the turbulent reign of the anti-Christ. Fundamentalist Christianity is not really a doctrine (many warring denominations claim the mantle of old time religion) but rather a culture, a way of life complete with its own language, rituals, hidden assumptions, and creative expressions. Brett’s new book In the World But Not of It examines, with a wry wit enriched by first-hand knowledge, this culture of fundamentalism, looking at everything from theme parks to the protocols of the born again experience.


Here is a particularly interesting passage where Brett reflects on how fundamentalists don’t just read the Bible, they wear it down to a tatter:


A believer’s Bible was expected to age at roughly the same pace as his body. Elderly brothers carried copies that were battered and falling to pieces, with sagging spines and missing pages. Such Bibles were highly prized. They marked a man well acquainted with the Word. My grandfather’s Bible was little more than a patch of rawhide wrapped around a ragged sheaf of pages. The binding was broken and whole chapters were missing or out of order, but he always seemed to be able to find what he needed.

A man’s Bible was more than a general revelation to humanity. It was the tally of a soul’s particular walk with God, the transcript of an open-ended inquiry into truth. Though the canon was closed, believers were constantly adding to their Bibles, filling the margins with private commentaries like the rabbis who composed the Talmud. My grandfather’s copy had so many notes, underlings and cross-references that at times it was hard to make out the biblical text.

Behind the pulpit, a Bible was a preacher’s primary performance aid. They were rubbed, pummelled, coddled, slapped, stroked, pressed to lips and foreheads, squeezed tightly against the chest. It was wasn’t enough for a believer to love his Bible; he ahd to maul it, commune with it, coax and woo it, beat it with open palms as though pounding on the doors of heaven to open and divulge their secrets.

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