Kurt Eichenwald's new Newsweek essay on how the bible is sinfully misunderstood by most Americans (and American political leaders and the American media) is drawing fire from the folks at Fox News and their cronies — which is reason enough for me to recommend it to you. In fact, I first learned of the essay from an article that popped up yesterday in some newsfeed I read routinely, noting that the Fox crowd imagine Eichenwald is attacking Christianity by commenting on the lamentable level of biblical education in the American public.
The heart of Eichenwald's argument:
The Bible is not the book many American fundamentalists and political opportunists think it is, or more precisely, what they want it to be. Their lack of knowledge about the Bible is well established. A Pew Research poll in 2010 found that evangelicals ranked only a smidgen higher than atheists in familiarity with the New Testament and Jesus’s teachings. “Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it,’’ wrote George Gallup Jr. and Jim Castelli, pollsters and researchers whose work focused on religion in the United States. The Barna Group, a Christian polling firm, found in 2012 that evangelicals accepted the attitudes and beliefs of the Pharisees—religious leaders depicted throughout the New Testament as opposing Christ and his message—more than they accepted the teachings of Jesus.
And there's simply no real argument — no feasible argument — with the data Eichenwald is citing here, which have long since demonstrated, and repeatedly so, that most Americans are very poorly educated in religious matters, and, in particular, about the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Which we Americans love to cite. Even though our "bible verse" citations are often citations of old cultural chestnuts about hard work and rising early that are not anywhere in the biblical text.
A prediction for 2015: though many media commentators assure us that the political influence of the religious right is waning in the American public sphere, I think we're actually going to see more Republican organizing around the religious right in the coming year. Watch (Catholic) Louisana governor Bobby Jindal, a rising GOP star in the minds of those who think that parading a dark Republican face in front of the country proves that the GOP is colorblind: look at how he's positioning himself now to start his run for the presidency in 2015 and 2016 by attending a right-wing prayer rally.
An anti-gay faux "religious freedom" prayer rally organized by the American Family Association. A hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center — a hate group that has long done (and continues to do) everything in its power to convince the American public that gay men are pedophiles and that there's a "homosexual agenda" to tear down the nation.
Religious extremism is, in some ways, all that the Republican party has left, as it tries to hang onto its aging white evangelical and Southern voting bloc as the nation browns. Religious extremism coupled with hysteria about immigrants, disease, and black crime, as well as with homophobic reaction that is now being fueled in a new way due to the national success of the movement for marriage equality.
I predict that we Americans who aren't a part of the religious right, the Republican party, or the soft "center" that remains always willing to enable this extremism to serve its own economic self-interest, are in for a wild ride in 2015. Buckle up, friends.