Heaven Help Us: Stars Expound On Scripture | thebereancall.org

TBC Staff

Heaven Help Us: Stars Expound On Scripture [Excerpts]

In a culture awash in celebrity endorsements, it was only a matter of time before a clever publisher realized the value of branding the Bible. A few years ago, Canongate issued the "Pocket Canons" -- individual books of the Bible reprinted with introductions by various cultural luminaries. As Canongate's publisher, Jamie Byng, said: "The Bible's daunting length only added to its inaccessibility." Still, he fretted about his decision. "However we jazzed the Good Book up, would anyone actually buy such editions?"

They did -- in droves. According to Canongate, the Pocket Canons sold more than 900,000 copies. They were followed up, in 2005, by "Revelations: Personal Responses to the Books of the Bible," a collection of the introductions written for the Pocket Canons. In his own introduction to the collection, Richard Holloway (the maverick former Bishop of Edinburgh) notes that some Christians were appalled by the less-than-orthodox sensibility of the Pocket Canons; a few even found them blasphemous.

But he assures readers that "the best way to get to the layers of meaning in a great text is not to ask propagandists or special pleaders to explain it, but to get writers to bring their own passion and insight to the task." The Bible, he tells us, is "above all, a work of literature." Ardent Christians, in other words, might not have as sophisticated an understanding of Scripture as novelists do -- given that believers actually embrace the Bible as the inspired word of God.

The contributors to "Revelations," who are described as "scholars, writers, religious figures" and -- without irony -- "highly influential people," are a diverse group. Readers are treated to the rock star Bono's spiritual musings on the book of Psalms, in which he claims that David performing music for King Saul is similar in spirit to the Spice Girls performing for Prince Charles. "David was a star," Bono assures us, "the Elvis of the bible." Writer Kathleen Norris informs us that the book of Revelation is "best understood as prison literature" and that it must be reclaimed from ill-informed "fundamentalists."

Not all of the essays in "Revelations" are glib or silly. A.S. Byatt, Fay Weldon and P.D. James, for instance, offer a few interesting observations. The Dalai Lama, reading the New Testament book of James, compares Buddhist and Christian teachings about charity. And Peter Ackroyd calls Isaiah "the highest poetry." But the overarching sensibility of "Revelations" -- the assumption that the imagination of novelists and the charisma of pop stars entitle them to act as amateur theologians -- is questionable at best.

Nor does the reader of "Revelations" learn much about the contributors' own faiths. By contrast, Antonio Monda's "Do You Believe?: Conversations on God and Religion" -- which came out in November 2007 -- tackles the question of belief directly. A co-founder of the literary festival Le Conversazioni on the Italian island of Capri and a popular host of literary salons in his home in New York, Mr. Monda describes his book as "constructed around a simple but fundamental question: I asked the people I interviewed to tell me honestly if they think that God exists, and how their answer to this question has affected their choices in life."

Yet Mr. Monda's choice of interview subjects -- 18 literary and cultural celebrities, including Jane Fonda, Richard Ford, Spike Lee, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Martin Scorsese -- is telling. Here we discover the motivation behind Ms. Fonda's decision to convert to Christianity: "Christ was the first feminist," she tells Mr. Monda, "and because of that I've learned from his teaching to call myself a Christian feminist." Ms. Fonda informs us that the early Christians were "seekers rather than believers" and that her faith is "not a matter of traditions and dogmas but, rather, a spiritual experience."

(Wall Street Journal, February 1, 2008; Page W11)