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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Why The Bible Is Still Important Today

Since Easter weekend just recently passed, and I was at a convention last weekend, I thought it’d be appropriate to do a catch-up commentary on the relevance of the practice of crucifixion for devotional purposes. For most people, this would seem quite bizarre, since it’s not crucifixion in a limited sense. These people actually get nails hammered into their palms and feet, albeit temporarily, and hang on the cross for a predetermined amount of time. Some have been doing this for 30 years or more as an act of devotion on this holiday of importance to Christians around the world. But to many people, even those moderately familiar with the story of Jesus of Nazareth’s life, death and alleged resurrection, this is not only bizarre, but outright unimaginable. To think that people in this modern age would subject themselves to a form of capital punishment that was used thousands of years ago, and for the most part is barely prominent except in archaic jurisprudence in the Middle East, boggles the mind. But the devotional nature of crucifixion to make any sense, it behooves people to read the book from which the significance of that act to Christians today comes from, the Bible.

The practice of devotional crucifixion is done mostly in the Phillipines, though there is a group called the Brothers of Light, or Hermanos de Luz, who have done it since the 19th century. The nature and sequence of the acts are a reference to the Passion of Jesus as he was tortured and beaten before being crucified on Good Friday. The Stations of the Cross, commonly enacted in Catholic and sometimes Anglican and Lutheran churches, are a related ritual, though there isn’t so much of the self flagellation and actual nailing of one’s hands and feet to a cross that is done by the devout in the Phillipines and Mexico. There is much preparation done beforehand and a long process of self mortification, meditation and the like to truly have as much of a connection with the suffering of their Messiah as possible. The wounds they get from the nails, along with the severe damage to their backs from whipping, can take as long as two weeks to heal, but the believers insist it is worth it to gain the closeness they desire to feel with the man that died for their sins. Of course, the duration of the crucifixion is much shorter than Jesus’, but there are many other parts to this process, such as the self whipping mentioned before as well as a part of the ceremony where, similar to the Stations of the Cross, a cross is carried partway to the site of the actual crucifixion. So many people would be unwilling to go this far, primarily for the amount of time put into the whole process, but also the degree of pain one has to go through in mere imitation of Jesus, who didn’t even die from the crucifixion itself necessarily in a Christian understanding. And even if Jesus did die from the crucifixion itself, his death was quicker than most, who usually take at least a few days to slowly waste away from starvation and dehydration. Aside from the literal risks to many people of even being crucified for a short period of time, many people don’t necessarily read the bible, even as believers in Jesus, to the extent that they are focused on Jesus’ crucifixion, but moreso, his resurrection. This kind of focus may not be the case everywhere, but one can argue that even many strong believers in Christianity may not focus so much on Jesus’ passion, his suffering and punishment before and during crucifixion, including the well known wound in his side from the mythical Spear of Longinus. The centrality of Jesus suffering doesn’t seem as pertinent as the dying and coming back from the dead to a common everyday believer, one can claim. And this is where a bigger issue comes up with the topic of religious, and more specifically Biblical, literacy.

The overall importance of the Bible in the United States cannot be overstated. Regardless of whether one agrees with the overall message it communicates, myself included as one of those skeptical of such claims about the prophecies in the holy book, the relevance of its story, particularly that of the Gospels, is important enough to people that you find copies of the book in hotels, and they are handed out by the Gideon group at colleges, high schools, and other public areas across the country. The book has been translated into hundreds of different languages across the world, and has sold billions of copies. Many people would use this to suggest that the Bible must be true, but one could propagate anything across the world with enough money and connections, but it wouldn’t make its claims more or less true because you can find it in virtually every inhabited area of the world. If anything, the popularity and general propagation of the Bible as a literary phenomenon only attests to the accessibility it has to everyone. One can read it as literature, as a cultural text for the Israelites in the case of the Tanakh and Old Testament, as religious wisdom, or other messages of salvation and devotion. The importance of knowing the basics of the Bible in any of the humanities, such as history, English, music, and even philosophy, is unavoidable, particularly in the South (I should know).
Lots of versions of the Bible exist, some of them less reverent than others. I’m partial to satire, so I’d recommend the Brick Testament or if you want a nonbeliever’s take on it, the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible is good. Most people prefer the King James Version, though the popularity of that translation might owe more to tradition that accurate translation, such as the infamous “virgin” translation in the Old Testament prophecy that relates supposedly to Mary. English Standard and New International Versions are also relatively popular, from what I’ve found. I have a physical copy of the Bible in my collection, in the Oxford Annotated style, which is supposedly the most academically rigorous translation, though I’m never certain on these things.

I could probably go on longer, but I’d probably seem disingenuous in praising a book that I’m only familiar with by cultural background and required courses on the Bible in my religious studies’ education, though a great deal more of my studies in Christianity are in theology, with a backdrop to the Bible, instead of direct study of the text itself in context. But I can’t recommend the text enough. The only problem is that, as Isaac Asimov said, “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” Of course, there are always going to be disagreements about proper reading, but that’s neither here nor there. What’s important is that we see the Bible as important in one way or another. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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