Monday, June 3, 2013

The Book Your Church Doesn't Want You to Read - edited by Tim Leedom

The title of this work isn't entirely accurate for those of us of the Unitarian Universalist persuasion. I doubt there is any book my church would discourage me from reading, and if there were, I would most certainly put such a work at the very top of my reading list.

Leedom's book is a collection of essays that explores the history of Judeo-Christian mythology (news flash: Bible stories are rehashed from pagan traditions); and points out some serious inconsistencies in the Bible. As well it looks at some contemporary church issues such as clergy sexual abuse, women's role in religious life, and the separation of church and state. The book was published about 20 years ago, but I was interested to see that these issues were all still such hot topics. This passage in particular resonated in light of recent news stories
The sort of moral considerations that could quite properly be incorporated into a [sex education program] are those indicated by common sense, social custom, and practicality. Young boys, to give specific instance, must be taught that they have no right to force their sexual attentions on anyone else, that to persist in doing so is called rape, and that it is a grave crime, punishable by imprisonment, in our society. Furthermore, it should be explained to immature boys that rape is wrong not simply because it is illegal but also because it is a cruel violation of the Golden Rule.
Libraries were mentioned throughout the work in several different ways. Since this book was published "pre-Google" there are a few places where the authors suggest going to the library to look things up (e.g. in a Bible Concordance) that can now easily found online. The discussion of the the Dead Sea Scrolls mentions two libraries that were integral to the dissemination of the scrolls for today's scholars. The first was the "hidden" library of the Essene community of Qumran (AD 132-135). The library was hidden to protect it from the Romans who were "invading the land of Judea and...destroying everything in their path". The scrolls were eventually discovered in 1947 and in 1980s, the Huntington Library "which had a microfilm copy of the Scroll fragments, decided to make it openly available to scholars". The stories the scrolls tell, in some cases, contradict traditional Christian teachings.

A section of the book about the Religious Right (RR) in America includes a political agenda item from the RR from each state for the year 1994. Many of these involved the public education system, and several targeted books and/or libraries
  • In Jacksonville, Florida "a group called Liberty and Justice for All attempted to ban The Autobiography of Malcolm X from all school libraries claiming that the book teaches children to be drug dealers and contains anti-white racism."
  • In Georgia "the House passed HB 1950 which required "that library materials be reviewed by a local media committee if 1% or 500 community residents objected to it."
  • In my own home state of Maryland the Wicomico County Free Library was the target of two attempted book bans involving children's books with homosexual themes: Heather has Two Mommies and Daddy's Roommate. The Library's Board ultimately voted overwhelmingly to keep the books.
  • And in Washington State The Washington Alliance of Families successfully lobbied to remove Jane Smiley's book A Thousand Acres from the Lyndon High School curriculum.

An essay by Austin Miles, critiquing the tax-free status of churches, begins with this description
As a guide said to me in a richly furnished, gold-leafed monastery and library outside Vienna, "this monastery was built by other than "Christian" means, indicating that "Christian" should stand for something good and honorable. It does not-the ghosts of Christianity's victims will forever haunt the universe. 
I learned a lot about the Bible by reading this book. Since I didn't actually know much about it before I started it went a long way in providing me with some "biblical literacy". However, I imagine that many of those who claim to have more biblical knowledge will likely learn as much as I did. This book will certainly give them plenty to ponder in any case.

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