Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Would Jesus Go Braless?: A Review of the 2005 Bibles

[A Dave Update classic, just rediscovered and reprinted here for people who were never on my old mailing list:]

In the world of evangelical Christianity, the most reliable source of hilarity is finding what they're doing to reach the kids. In my day, the misfires included Steven Wiley's alleged rap song, "Bible Break," and a scripture-memorization role-playing game called Dragon Raid. (Unlike Steven Wiley, Dragon Raid is still around, failing to thrill a whole new generation of morally anxious nerds.)

Well, I've just discovered this generation's evangelical boondoggle, and baby, it's a gold mine.

My intentions were relatively pure. I'd heard about the new translation of the best-selling New International Version of the Bible called the TNIV ("Today's NIV"), and I decided to check it out. But I couldn't find it at my local Christian bookstore in Tallahassee because the TNIV had committed the terrible sin of blunting some of the Bible's sexism, by occasionally translating "men"as "people," and using the non-gendered "they" instead of "he or she." (Grammar nazis, back off; you criticize this elegant usage and you're criticizing Jane Austen, who used it quite frequently.)

"We can order it for you,"said the lady behind the desk at LifeWay, "but we don't stock it. We're associated with the Baptist church, and theBaptist church hasn't authorized it."

Who knew that the Baptist church hands out imprimaturs like the HolySee? And why would they dis the TNIV, but they evidently authorize the Living Bible, which is such a broad paraphrase that the Good Samaritanpays the innkeeper, and I quote, "two twenty-dollar bills"? But I digress.

I played dumb, Holy Fool style. "Why haven't they authorized it?"

"Well, it's a controversial Bible. Maybe you've heard."

I nodded. "Non-sexist . . .politically correct . . ."

"Exactly," she said. "Some people don't like it."

"But it's still a basically accurate translation, right? I mean, it still says 'wives, obey your husbands' in Ephesians 5, doesn't it?Doesn't it still say that women can't talk in church and they can'tpreach or have authority over a man?"

She nodded.

"Well, as long as the basic system is still in place, what are people getting so . . ."'

She shrugged. "If you'd like to order it, like I said, I can do that for you. But actually, I don't think you'll find it in any Christian bookstore in town."

That piqued my interest. An actual Baptist conspiracy to keep this Bible out of my hands! This could be the coolest Bible since 1957,when—according to a tract I found at my old church—Satan inspired theRevised Standard Version. (The RSV's sin was that it correctlytranslated Isaiah 7:14 for the first time in Christian history; it's a long story.)

I had to know. So I went to Borders and found it. And, in the tradition of Christian anticlimax, all this apoplectic dudgeon turns out to be over stuff you'd have to be an asshole to find objectionable. (Exhibit A: Harry Potter.) It really is just a slightly tweaked NIV, and if you weren't looking for stuff to be horrified by, you'd never notice.

But I can't complain, because while I was searching for the TNIV, I came across two tall brightly colored magazine-looking things called REVOLVE and REFUEL. I'd read about them. Essentially, it's a way of packaging the New Testament so that it looks like a teen magazine. REVOLVE, for girls, has pastel colors, flower-shaped cutouts, and two smiling teen girls on the cover surrounded by titles like "What Kind of Friend Are You? And Other Relationship Advice", "Beauty Secrets From the Inside Out", and "Guys Speak Out On Faith, Love, and Much More!" REFUEL, for the guys, has a rock band on the cover, and said cover promises "Music Reviews!" "Today's Hottest Songs!" and "100 Practical Ways to LiveYour Faith". Both of them also, of course, contain "2 Thessalonians!" But you have to find the table of contents before that rates a mention.

And speaking of making sense, there's almost no thematic consistency to any of it. Sure, every so often you'll get a sidebar to, say, the Love Is chapter in 1 Corinthians. These are called "Live It!" and they include exercises like "talk to someone unpopular today." But most of this Bible is interspersed with facts at random, with a weird mix of entertainment value and preachiness. Example:

"Want to give your family a manly gift that screams 'I CARE!'? Buy anextinguisher with a label that says ABC for each floor of your home." (REFUEL p. 126)

Dude, whatever. I was just trying to find Colossians. Or how about this little non sequitur: One page has a list called "RandomPhobias Worth Having," including—as all such lists do—reasonable phobias like arachnophobia (spiders) and silly ones like the fictional arachybutraphobia (fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth). I normally wouldn't have mentioned something this stupid, but I was offended by number eight:

"Random Phobias Worth Having: 8. hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia—fear of long words."

I hate to pull rank, but I'm a word guy, and that's not a word in any dictionary anyone actually uses. But even if it were a word (and/or a plausible fear), it would be the shorter "sesquipedaliaphobia." (From "sesqui," one and a half, and "ped," foot.) Which means their version, in addition to offending linguistic sense, is also misspelled.

Some of these tidbits are just not worth mentioning:

"FUN FACT: 51% of the population is composed of women."

Surprised? (And if so, perhaps you were home schooled.) But then there are other facts you have to wonder why they mentioned at all:

"FUN FACT: 43% of all adults said that reading a magazine with nudity or explicit sexual pictures was morally acceptable."

That really IS a fun fact! And I learned it from the Bible! Or check this one out:

"DIDYAKNOW: Teens who pledge to remain abstinent delay their first sexual encounter by an average of 18 months and, after becoming sexuallyactive, have fewer sexual partners." (Revolve, p. 20)

I assume they're trying to say that since sex is bad, abstinence pledges are a good thing because it cuts down on sex. But—oops!—this statistic, right here in this Bible, practically comes right out and says,"abstinence pledges don't stop sexual behavior, and in fact merely delay the inevitable." Hell, since you're going to sin anyway, you may as well give up right now and beat your fellow youth group members by a year and a half. Thanks, Dr. Science!

But the best part of these Bibles is the little sidebars of moral Q andAs where the editors offer advice. (In Revolve, they're called "Blab.") Here you get alleged real questions from allegedly real teenagers, answered in accordance with some allegedly literal reading of the Bible. The weirdest question I ran across was this:

Q: I want to wear a ring to remind me to remain pure. Does it have to be a certain kind?

But most of them are standard cautionary exchanges. "Q: Can I see anR-rated movie? A: Sometimes, but examine your motives and don't enjoy it for the wrong reasons." "Q: Is it okay to play kissing games? A: You're making Baby Jesus cry." Here's a typical example:

Q. How much beer can I drink before it's a sin?
A: There's no easy answer . . . [but] . . .if you never start, you never have to stop.

See? "When in doubt, run away." Of course, depressingly, most of the advice centers on sex, and suffers from the standard evangelical Christian paradox: "God made sex a beautiful, powerful experience for youto share with your opposite-sex partner. Until then, don't you dare enjoy any part of it, which is what we'll suspect you're doing if you askabout it too much."

Naturally, women get most of the stern talking-tos. Men merely need to control their thought life. Women, on the other hand, need to control themselves AND men's thought lives that they might affect by accident.(Women, by contrast, don't seem to have thought lives worth worryingabout.) I've included three exchanges as an example. WARNING: May cause headaches.

"Q: I like tube tops and low-rise jeans. My parents say I dress immodestly. I only wear what's in style. Are they right?"

Frankly, I think it was unfair of the editors to sneak in a question from 1976. The answer, of course, is "Don't wear tube tops. Tube tops arenever in style, and even when they were, they shouldn't have been. Wear halter tops instead. And as a Christian, you should only wear a halter top with an ugly ecru-colored bra that's a quarter inch thick."

"Q: Is it okay to go braless?
A: If your breasts are very small and the material of your shirt is thick enough that it is not noticeable, maybe. For everyone else, no way. First of all, not giving your breasts support will eventually contributeto their sagging. Second, your breasts are very attractive to guys. Without a bra, your nipples are much more noticeable and a distraction and temptation for men."

If sagging is such a sin, it's apparently against God's will to be a woman and forty. But that zany logic aside, I don't understand why they didn't add, "And by the way, we hate you for making us write the words 'breast' and 'nipples,' which are words that are also arousing to guys and cause them to sin. Just put those things away and let's never mention them again."

"Q: How far can you go sexually before you are no longer pure?
A: Let's put it this way: How much dog poop stirred into your cookie batter does it take to ruin the whole batter? . . ."

The fearmongering continues from there and this is where the mask comes off. Sex = bad! It's a good thing they didn't continue this argument, though, because it might sound something like this: "However, dog poop is a precious gift from the Lord, and once you're married, you can eat all the dog poop you want. And you know what? You'll appreciate it more."

But sometimes the question involves something the Bible isn't particularly clear on. What's a literalist to do then?:

"Q: I have a crush on one of my high school teachers. He's young, awesome, and so hot. What do I do?
A: It'll never happen, and it'd be illegal if it did. So shut up,masturbate, and enjoy the fantasy while it lasts."

Just kidding. The real, less practical answer that actually appears is this:

"A: Remember Song of Solomon 8:4, which warns young virgins not to awaken feelings of love too soon. Falling for someone in authority . . . is not unusual. But it can create a big mess. Ask God to redirect your thoughts . . .If God really wants you two to be together, it will be after you graduate."

Notice how the Bible kind of lets you down here? If you're so desperate for advice that you start reading Song of Solomon like it's Dear Abby, small wonder you'll eventually come to loopy conclusions like, "Well, if it's God's will, maybe you can marry your teacher when you turn 18. It's an okay idea if you can pull it off, Biblically speaking."

Of course, sometimes they don't even use the Bible at all.

"Q: There's a guy at school I really like. Is it okay to call him and ask him for a date?"

I deleted the wordy response but the upshot is, Yes and no. It's apparently okay for girls to call guys if they're friends, but you shouldn't call a guy you're crushing on because, and I quote, "Guys are created to be the pursuers." You might ask, "Where is any of this in theBible?" Apparently it's in the Book of Presumptions, along with such verses as "Taking God's name in vain includes the word 'fuck.'" and "Abraham Lincoln believed in the Rapture." P.S. Ignore the book of Ruth; she was a hussy.

Here, however, is my favorite question of all, and I'm glad the editors of Refuel saw fit to include it:

"Q: Did Jesus sport any tattoos?
A: In Leviticus 19:28 the Israelites are told not to get tattoos. . .Why do you want one? God built you an awesome body, and you need to think hard about a mark that will show when you get a sponge bath in the nursing home."

That nursing home thing is a crock. After all, didn't Jesus say, "Don't worry about tomorrow"? (A: Yes. Yes, he did.) But the most embarrassing problem is that they're wrong about Jesus. At least, if you're taking things literally. According to the very student translation that contained this advice, Revelation 19, verses 12 and 16 describe Jesus riding from heaven on a white horse, and here's what it says: "He has a name written on him, which no one but himself knows. . .on his robe and on his upper leg was written this name: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS."

Bitchin' tattoo, Jesus! You rock!

But the reason I love this question most of all is because it's so dangerous. After all, the next obvious question is, "Did Jesus have piercings?"

Yes. Yes he did.

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8 Comments:

Blogger that atheist guy said...

Awesome post! So funny.

So do I really have permission to use "they" instead of "he or she"? If anyone complains, I'm sending them to you.

Have you seen the Bible translation, "The Message"? I hear Bono loves it.

It seems like the new favorite for conservative Christians is the ESV version.

11/07/2007 11:38 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

alright, one of my favorite posts so far. thank you.

11/07/2007 11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should check out GodTube *yes, GodTube, on the interwebs and search for the music video "baby got book" a spoof of sir mixalot's rap hit from the 90s. good lord. hope you're well. all my best - SW

11/07/2007 5:48 PM  
Blogger Daisy said...

Have you checked out The Bible Experience? There's an audio version of TNIV. I think it's interesting what you found out about Lifeway. I had a roommate that worked there. I did not know that... Do they carry the Message at Lifeway?

11/08/2007 10:33 AM  
Blogger hollholl said...

Absolutely hilarious. Thanks for reposting this!

11/08/2007 1:41 PM  
Blogger Momma played Bass.... said...

ha ha ha - so funny. I can't believe that Refuel Bible actually exists...but I'm going to be looking for it on my next trip to Borders.

11/08/2007 5:51 PM  
Blogger actonbell said...

(I don't even get to be the first teapot here, or the first atheist, or the first atheist's teapot.)
Hilariously intelligent! I loved it, and will tell several people to read it. And I never noticed that about Jane Austen--interesting.

... "you need to think hard about a mark that will show when you get a sponge bath in the nursing home." This may enter The Lexicon.

11/11/2007 9:45 AM  
Blogger Charlene said...

please please please start a "dear David" advice column using your own interpretations of the bible to lead evangelical (and other) hapless teenagers over to the real world of intelligent thought.

11/15/2007 5:16 PM  

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