Does God Sound Like Captain America?

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A poll can be totally accurate and utterly meaningless.

Case in point: You may have seen news reports last week about poor Bible-ignorant ‘Murkens thinking that a quote from the NT had actually been said by the comic book character Captain America. Or maybe by Martin Luther King Jr., or President George W. Bush.

Here's how the news release from the American Bible Society framed the poll it its headline: "CAPTAIN AMERICA OR GOD: WHO SAID IT? Survey Shows More Americans Attribute Bible Verse to Comic Book Hero Than to the Good Book."

To which I reply: So what? If we're supposed to decide that this poll proves that we need to study our Bibles better, this survey is a few super-villains short of a plotline. Oh, I don't doubt that the Harris folks took a perfectly reasonable national sample for their poll. But let's look at the question.

People were asked to identify the source of this line:

"We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don't know what to do, we never give up."

It's a conversational translation of 2 Corinthians 4:8, from the Contemporary English Version. But unless they were familiar with that particular translation, how likely is it that the people polled would identify it? I'd say pretty close to zero.

The KJV might have picked up more votes: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair"

Heck, even the NIV carries a more traditionally Biblical cadence than the CEV: "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair."

So what's going on here? The survey is a marketing gimmick to sell something called the Freedom Bible. Here's another quote from that news release:
"The Bible -- not politicians, comic book heroes or civil rights activists -- was the first to speak out about dealing with trauma and gaining freedom," said Commissioner William Roberts, National Commander for The Salvation Army, a collaborator on The Freedom Bible project.

Well, no. The Bible was not the first to do that. The Hindu sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita, also addresses those topics. So does the Lao Tzu, the central text of Taoism. So does the Epic of Gilgamesh, a story that predates the New Testament by more than a thousand years. Here's a quote from that ancient story:

"Though it be in deep sadness and pain, in cold or heat ... gasping after breath ... I will go on!"

Which sounds a bit more like Thor than Captain America, but a more conversational translation could make it sound like pretty much any hero you'd like. And a lot like what could have followed the passage from 2 Corinthians 4:8.

There is, in fact, nothing singularly Biblical or uniquely Christian in the sentiment of 2 Corinthians 4:8 in any translation. It's a perfectly noble sentiment. But there's nothing about God or the soul or eternity or morality. Nothing about Jesus.

Why would anybody who isn't pretty deep into Bible study be able to pick it out? If the poll had only included the very next verse, even using the CEV, I bet more people would have identified it as from the Bible: "In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again."

I do not doubt that there is plenty in the Bible that many people don't realize is there. But a bogus poll using a contrived test is not a particularly good way to make that point. There's nothing wrong or even unexpected if people put those words into the context of a civil rights leader or a comic book hero. The American Bible Society should know better. Sure, the marketing ploy worked. It got tons of free publicity. But that should not be considered justification.

After all, with great power there must also come -- great responsibility. Or to put that another way:

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."



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