By TARIN PARADISE, guest columnist
Each year, the American Library Association compiles a list of the year’s 10 most frequently banned and challenged books.
This year’s additions will join the ranks of classics like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Ironically, the most challenged book of all time, the Bible, won’t even make the list. Despised by its detractors and inspiring fierce loyalty in its adherents, the Bible remains the most controversial book in history.
According to the Open Doors Annual Watch List, access to the Bible is restricted in some form in over 50 countries worldwide, and while it isn’t the only religious text barred by many foreign governments, it maintains a particularly odious status.
Perhaps the greatest controversy surrounding the Bible on the global stage is its association with Western — and in particular, American — values.
The freedoms Americans enjoy distinguish us from all other nations on Earth, and no freedom defines us as a people more than our right to religious freedom.
In an October 2015 address introducing the annual Report on International Religious Freedom, Secretary of State John Kerry described our religious liberty this way: “It is deeply connected to our DNA as Americans — to everything we are and everything that we came from.”
Indeed, promoting that religious liberty around the world is an ongoing role in our nation’s foreign policy. Secretary Kerry affirmed the primary goal of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom “is to help governments everywhere recognize that their societies will do better with religious liberty than without it.”
America’s belief that religious freedom is a basic human right belonging to all people poses considerable threat to governments restricting the public and private rights of their citizens.
Moreover, the Bible’s association with faith in America, its claim to an authority higher than any man or system of government, and its open pursuit of converts makes it a subversive text which jeopardizes the control of oppressive regimes.
Closer to home, controversy surrounding the Bible becomes more defined. There can be no discussion about Biblical controversy in the U.S. without the mention of the creation/evolution debate. The issue first gained traction in a Tennessee courtroom in 1925 when traditional, Biblical values came face to face with science and modernity in the trial of John Thomas Scopes.
Passed in the spring of 1925, Tennessee’s newly enacted Butler Law made it unlawful “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” Scopes, whose defense was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, was prosecuted for violating this law when he read passages on Darwin’s theory of natural selection in his biology classroom.
Scopes was found guilty and the law in Tennessee stood until the late 1960s.
The controversy, however, has been resurfacing periodically ever since — most recently in the round of exchanges between Bill Nye and creationist Ken Hamm’s much publicized debate in 2014.
Challenges to the historicity of the Bible emerge with equal fervor and frequency. In one of the most scathing critiques of the Bible to appear in the mainstream media, Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek magazine piece titled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” touched on several points of Biblical contention, but hovered primarily on the idea that the Bible lacks authenticity due to the corruption of manuscripts, countless contradictions and false narratives.
Eichenwald alleged among other things that no one has really read the Bible, “At best, we’ve all read a bad translation — a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies … and on and on, hundreds of times.”
Biblical scholars all over the country sounded off en masse countering Eichenwald’s claims and firing back with charges of yellow journalism, misrepresentation of historical facts, and inaccuracies so profound they prompted New Testament scholar, Daniel Wallace, to state, “This is rhetorical flair run amok so badly that it gives hyperbole a bad name.”
Ultimately, at the heart of every debate and challenge surrounding the Bible is the notion that it’s a book that makes audacious claims.
It claims an authority that transcends any earthly power.
It claims one God who created everything.
It claims that man stands guilty before God and that his only hope for pardon was provided by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
And as Americans, there are few things more precious than our freedom to believe it — or not.
Tarin Paradise is a former teacher who splits her time between Brown County and Africa where she works on behalf of women and orphaned children. She can be reached through the newspaper at firstname.lastname@example.org.