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THE FORBIDDEN BIBLE

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The prophets were men of unequalled freedom of mind. Poets of genius, they loved God and their people until it would hurt. Relentless enemies of all that aimed at transforming God into an idol and the people into slaves, they were the great socio-religious critics of their time. They waged a ruthless battle against any injustice, especially the one that cloaked itself with religion and with peace to better conceal its crimes.

I was told that not many years ago, Catholic priests had to secure a special authorization from their superiors to have permission to read the Old Testament, so as to protect, it seems, their chastity. I suspect however that what was more alarming for the superiors was not so much the biblical eroticism as the voice of the prophets, because that voice represented a real threat to the ruling class and, above all, to the "princes" of the Church.

I would go so far as to believe that it is for a similar reason that the Church, with the passing of time, began to interpret the Bible in a more and more abstract, symbolic and mystic way, retaining from the prophets only their war against the pagan cults and their transcendental experiences. Their message of fire against injustice, that monumental message which perhaps constitutes the most important contribution of history to the formation of the conscience as regards "social justice", then found itself buried under mountains of less down-to-earth questions and supposedly more spiritual...

It is undeniable that we have used and misused the Bible to legitimize and even deem as sacred the system in which the ruling class, counting itself superior and chosen of God, allotted itself rights which placed them above the common run of people. This élite of the chosen ones, who often had even caused her trouble, still remained the cherished child of the Church; in her eyes, it formed the backbone of the sacred "order" that God, from time immemorial, would have established for the greater good of humanity and for peace in the whole world.

Even though this system caused innumerable injustices, no one could ever question it; at most could one try to improve it, but one had above all to accept it and to assume it as Christ had accepted and assumed his cross. In other words, the injustice of the powerful was easily justified and their oppression practically sanctified as a path towards salvation...The only thing that the faith brought to the Christian was the hope that his prayer could give him the strength to endure his fate and have the generosity to imitate the Cyrenian by helping the neighbor carry his cross.

Yet, with an honest reading of the bible, far from any power, any prejudice and censorship, we rapidly discover that the prophets of the living God denounce this unjust system by attacking without pity the kings, the priests, the false prophets and all the profiteers of society. This system, source of so many injustices, is according to them the negation even of the living God in whom however its upholders claim to believe. It constitutes in itself a real idolatry, which is the supreme sin.

The Bible appears then, not anymore as the book which sanctifies the authority of the powerful, but as the book of the poor for whom the prophets are the voice and whose message is summarized as follows: if your heart is on the side of justice and of the poor and if you walk with the oppressed towards freedom, your steps are following those of the living God. If not, your god is only an idol.

When, in the seventies, after the Vatican II Council - and not by determination of Lenin, Mao, Castro or the Che - this message of the prophets is discovered by the Catholics of Latin America, the dictatorships of the time, - Catholics also, it goes without saying – have their backs against the wall. They do not take long to judge the Bible as a dangerous book and even a "subversive" one. In some countries, they will go so far as to burn the bible.

For similar reasons, within the Church even, the powerful Curia of the Vatican hastens to ban any theology or program which gives itself the mission of spreading a biblical message updated and made accessible to an oppressed people, and which has the misfortune to give to the prophets the important place that befalls them...

For every power, religious or atheistic, political or economic, the prophets are rebels who stir up the spirits and give rise to subversion. In fact, this is really what the prophets were: rebels; and that is why most of them were murdered. The most famous case was that of Jesus.

But power does not always attack openly the prophets. At times, it can display sympathy towards those who are already dead, while retaining from their message only what suits itself. That is how are achieved these words which Matthew the evangelist puts in the mouth of Jesus:

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say: "If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets' blood." Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out! You Serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna? Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that there may come upon you all the righteous blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. (Matthew 23, 29-35).

Christianity that was the carrier of a truly revolutionary society project is in the process of aborting in many places, simply because the Christian conscience has become entangled in thousand things allegedly «holy», hygienically expurgated from any influence of the prophets. These ones were cynically replaced by policemen and inquisitors, believing without batting an eyelid that it was just the same thing...

It's no wonder therefore that wherever Christians are trying with more or less good luck to recover their vocation to be free, we observe that the temples of worship are becoming empty shells.

Is this an overstatement? Maybe, but let us be honest! How many Christians know that « eternal life is to know the only true God and the one whom he has sent, Jesus Christ » (John 17:3), and that « to know God is to practice justice » (Jeremiah 9:23. 22:16)? All that God is asking is it not « to do justice, love goodness and walk humbly» with him? (Micah 6:8)

Let us make a little test. Let us ask the following question to a cross-section of Christians chosen at random: « Between a political party that promises to fill up your pockets with a lot of money and another party that commits itself to create a secular and really democratic State with a more just, egalitarian and greener society, which of these two would you vote for? »...

We can easily figure out the outcome: the party closer to the mind of the rebellious prophets and their "subversive" God would surely bite the dust while the party of money promises would win hands down. And very few bishops, priests, religious men, nuns and loyal lay people would complain about that...

Anyway, reading the Bible is not forbidden and the message of the prophets is not blacklisted by the Index anymore. This great message of justice is to be rediscovered, to be revalued and be spread everywhere and at all times. It has to be taught, proclaimed, celebrated and sung uninhibitedly in all churches and not, for sure, in the manner of the fundamentalist scribes and fanatical Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), but in the spirit and manner of Jesus of Nazareth. Because the message of fire of the prophets is still what the Church has the best to offer to today's society and to the one of tomorrow.

It is also the most beautiful gift that the Church can make to herself; if not, the Word that she preaches will become more and more tasteless, her love will stagnate instead of growing, and her faithful, in spite of all their charity, their solidarity and their voluntary work, will mummify alive.

 

Eloy Roy

Translated from the French by Jacques Bourdages

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