Towards the end of Awana camp the summer before seventh grade, one of my cabinmates, a short, talkative girl, asked me a question: “Do you write letters?” I didn’t, really, but I said yes anyway — and so it was I magically transformed into A Pen Pal.
Over the next few years, that cabinmate and I wrote hundreds of letters, and I also sent kaleidoscopic gel-penned missives to many other camp and homeschool friends. Inevitably, as we were teenagers coming of age in the time of Myspace questionnaires, we quizzed each other on all of our favorites: bands, movies, Bible verses, Adventures in Odyssey characters, ice cream flavors, pastimes. And, of course, books.
Always, always, the #1 entry for favorite books was The Bible (or, depending on how elaborately holy we were feeling, The Word of God, The Holy Scriptures, or some other fanciful name, sometimes with a nod to the verses in which it was referenced as such). It was unthinkable that we would put anything else there. Obviously the Bible would come before Little House on the Prairie or Diary of a Teenage Girl!
Listing the Bible — and listing it first — seemed mandatory to our faith; after all, it is important, as an adolescent evangelical, both to not appear ashamed of the gospel and to not appear influenced by worldly interests, including Nancy Drew and Moby Dick. But I felt weird including the Bible, even in the top berth, among a bunch of children’s books and Great American Novels.
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The Bible is not my favorite book. Even at my most fervent of on-fire years when I was very serious about prolonged daily Quiet Time, even in the deepest depression when the Psalms and prophets gave great comfort, even during my most academic of university revelations on how scripture functions as myth: even when I have loved reading it most, the Bible has never been my favorite book.
If I believe the Bible — and at least most of the time, I do — is something more than a bunch of stories some ancient bros scribbled on faded scrolls, is something divine, then it doesn’t belong with a bunch of manmade fictions, even if those stories are powerful, good, and transformative. Right?
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There’s a meme going around Facebook right now about 10 books that have impacted you. Some people have listed only fiction; others, only nonfiction; and many more, some of both. (I only listed novels on mine, simply because narrowing down all the novels in the world to a list of ten seemed a bit more manageable than narrowing down all books.)
Harkening back to my adolescent letter-writing, many people on my feed have included the Bible in their lists. On the one hand, I understand it’s a list of books that have impacted/influenced/stuck with you, so a religious text makes sense. On the other hand, there’s that same creeping dissonance I experienced as a teenager; it just feels off to call a sacred text your favorite book, like a preschooler might call The Cat in The Hat his favorite book.
What’s weirdest to me is that it seems like the more theological conservative people are, the more likely they are to include the Bible in their list. Which seems counterintuitive, because if the Bible is the mystically inerrant, 100% literal and accurate and complete word of an omniscient God, isn’t it more than just an influential book? Pretty much all of theological (and therefore political and sociological) conservatism is based on biblical inerrancy. So why are you listing it beside Eat Pray Love or, like, 50 Shades of Gray? (No, I have not anyone do that yet, but be real, you would love to see that Venn diagram.)
Maybe I’ve just gone Dewey Decimal, needlessly compartmentalizing everything. Maybe I’ve internalized the fundamentalist distrust of fiction/anything “worldly.” I really don’t want to give the impression that I think novels are frivolous pastimes unworthy of being named beside serious or sacred works, or that I think you are wrong or stupid for including the Bible on your Facebook post. I also am not assuming you are trying to fake uncommon devotion by doing so, like my friends and I sometimes were in our junior high letters.
This is not a critique, really, but an attempt to understand why you don’t feel dissonance about this while I do. So tell me: Is the Bible (or another sacred text, if you aren’t Christian) your favorite book? If so, why would you classify it that way?