Published July 21, 2005
(RNS) The boys were about 10 years old as I recall, but youth was no excuse, according to my grandmother. During a skirmish after Sunday school, one boy hit the other over the head with his hard-bound Bible. The assailant brought down the wrath of my godly grandmother, who moved him to tears with the words: "This is the holy word of God. How dare you use it as a weapon!"
Even though I was just a child myself, I thought my grandmother was being a bit dramatic. We were Baptists, after all. The words were from God, but the book itself wasn't. We didn't even think the bread and grape juice were anything more than a reminder of Christ's body and blood. Just because it said "Holy Bible" on the cover didn't mean it was really holy.
Perhaps that is why many Christians, even those who, like me, were raised with respect for the Good Book, may have a hard time understanding why Muslims would be so concerned about the recent reports of alleged abuse of the Quran. We may never understand how Muslims view their holy book, but perhaps we should consider how we view our own. Perhaps the Bible has become too common to Christians.
Bibles are big business and best-sellers. They come in a wide variety of styles and sizes. My own childhood Bible was red, a color I considered fashionable at the time. My best friend had a blue Bible. I used mine to press flowers, hold open a door and even to sit on once when I couldn't quite reach the table. It never occurred to me that "Holy" on the cover was more than a title.
These days I have a variety of Bibles, some with covers that seem designed to make them look like anything but a holy book. One doesn't even say Bible on the cover. I mark verses that are meaningful to me either by underlining or using a highlighter. I have never considered my marks to be defacing the holy.
I toss my Bible into my car pretty much like I toss other books. I set it on the floor during Bible studies and drop it occasionally off my lap without much guilt. It is just a book to me.
And yet when I open the cover, the book becomes something more. I read it almost every day because the words give me strength and meaning beyond anything I have experienced from any other book. I believe in the transcendence and inspiration of its words, even though I have worn down the cover and wrinkled some of the pages.
I have heard stories of people who live in countries where a Bible is so hard to find that whole groups of people share just one copy. I have heard of political prisoners who have survived torture by repeating memorized verses of the Bible. And I remember seeing a man who had just survived a volcanic eruption in the Congo smiling broadly because he had managed to run from his burning house with his most treasured possession, his Bible.
I resonate with these stories because the Bible is deeply meaningful to me. But perhaps because I live in a land of plenty, I too often view the Bible as a commodity rather than a holy text. I can always buy another.
I would not want to see anyone deface a Bible, but it would make me angry because it would be such a waste, not because I would consider it an affront to my faith. And yet I have never been in a situation where a Bible is rare and another is not easily purchased in another new, improved version.
The Quran holds a different place for Muslims than the Bible holds for most Christians. There are theological reasons for this, but there are also cultural ones. Perhaps Christians should take this opportunity to examine our own views of our holy text and why we consider it so common.
Dale Hanson Bourke is the author of The Skeptics Guide to the Global AIDS Crisis and a consultant to humanitarian organizations.
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