by Eliza Wood |
It is an old saying and we all know what it means: “If not now, when?” It is supposed to make someone stop putting something off and take action. At least, that’s when I pull it out and dust if off and use it on someone or direct it at myself. This particular question is reserved for the big things, like getting that diet started or registering for a degree program. Small things simply deserve a gentler nudge such as: “What better time than the present?” So, next time a person “If not now, when’s” you, you can prepare to take a deep breath, do some thinking, and get ready to make a commitment.
Big action. Sacrifice. Patience. Marshaling resources. Committing time and possibly funds. Achieving milestones. Lofty goals, clear objectives, action items, task lists, and possibly even project-management software. Endurance. Delayed gratification. All that.
When we think about something like making revisions to the Bible, as I did, for The Pacific Bible, it sounds so big, so impossible. The Bible, many of us were taught, just is. We were taught to respect it. Leave it alone. Never question it. Many are taught it is the literal word of God. Many are taught everything in it is right and good and that all we need to know is found within its pages. We’ve been threatened. We’ve been guilted. We’ve been shushed.
And it has worked pretty well. Here in the twenty-first century we’re still walking around with an earthly behavior guidebook, followed by one-third of the world’s population, that promotes violence, slavery, genocide, racism, rape, human and animal sacrifice, and subjugation of women.
How on earth did that happen? Not so much “shame on us all,” but some shame on some of us.
Since the developed world is literate (in the U.S. we are now 99% literate) and laws have been enacted state by state since the late 1800s requiring kids to attend school, we can assume a lot of people can and do read, and some even read the Bible. Even the early settlers in the U.S. taught their own children to read two things: the Bible and some patriotic essays.
So why has it taken until 2012 for us to revise the Bible? It has been done 19 times and many versions are in print, but not one has taken out the destructive and harmful verses and provided us with a better working copy. Sure, some have pretty pictures. Some soften the language for children. Some have maps and others offer commentary, meditations, and inspiring stories. The covers are every imaginable color and combination: in leather, paper, and electronic versions; big print or fine print; for the young, old, addicted, diseased, busy, or people in the middle.
One answer may be that until relatively recently, heretics (those of us who question the Bible) were killed, plenty of them to be sure.
“From the birth of Popery in 606 to the present time, it is estimated by careful and credible historians, that more than fifty millions of the human family, have been slaughtered for the crime of heresy by popish persecutors, an average of more than forty thousand religious murders for every year of the existence of popery.”
—History of Romanism, pp. 541, 542. New York: 1871.*
Timing is most certainly of the essence. If a window opens when religion stops killing its people for questioning its tenets, people need to act and fast, before the window closes again.
Even if the average Christian or Jew doesn’t read the Bible, even if they never even open it to find a nice verse to quote for an occasion, there are ranks of religious, educated, and elite graduating from the top divinity schools in the world every year. Tens of thousands of graduates each year, added to the ones who have already graduated. Surely they have read the Bible. Surely they could have suggested some progress, perhaps a few revisions, perhaps a few deletions. Perhaps archive that which doesn’t serve a useful purpose?
Alas, progress was stunted by fear and confusion.
For those of you who read Timothy Beal’s The Rise and Fall of the Bible, you know that he talks about a certain moment we are in right now. He doesn’t say the word “revolution,” meaning fast change, as opposed to “evolution” meaning slow change, but we have to wonder if that is what he suspects: that we are in a revolution of sorts. Maybe he has a unique pulse on religion.
You might be surprised to learn just how old that question is: “If not now, when?”
“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, then what am I?
And if not now, when?”
—Hillel (ca. 60 BC‒10 AD)
If we could reply to Hillel, the great elder, we would say: “If not when, now.”
*From Estimates of the Number Killed by the Papacy in the Middle Ages and Later by David A. Plaisted, 2006.