wiiat became the United States were the hymns composedrnb Moravian musicians for their religious communities.rnBut tlic most powerful tool of Christian indoctrination,rnfrom the verv beginning, has been the collection of texts wernstill call, in English, the Bible. One of the earliest Christianrnconersion stories is the account of the Ethiopian eunuch whornhad gone to Jerusalem to worship. On his wa back, thernEtiiiopian, reading the prophecies of Isaiah, was overheard bvrnthe apostle Philip, who explained that “He was led as a sheeprnto the slaughter” was a reference to Jesus.rnI’hc Christian character is formed by reading, hearing, andrninterpreting stories. Jesus himself couched his messages inrnthe form of scriptural quotations and striking parables. SomernChristians, from the verv beginning, have wanted to purifvrntheir faith of the taint of Jewish history, traditions, and “superstition,”rnand one of the nrost important earlv heretics, Marcion,rnbased his sect exclusively on Luke and Paul. A Christianitvrnpurified of Jewish stories and superstitions was therndesire of Thomas Jefferson and many other Enlightenmentrnphilosophes, who regarded the moral teachings of Jesus asrnstatements of universal benevolence and justice.rnThe Christian ideal, divorced from Jewish tribalism, wasrnLocke and Kant in the form of beatitudes and parables, andrnthat is, more or less, the Christianity of the mainline churchesrnin Europe and the United States. “Great God I’d rather be arnpagan suckled on a creed outworn.” Half of the worst damagerndone to the peoples of the world in recent centuries has beenrninflicted under the banner of a Christian sentimentalismrnthat rips Christ’s provocative and paradoxical pronouncementsrnout of context and treats them like a guidebook for evcrvdavrnlife.rnIt is nccessar’, alwavs, to keep in mind that Jesus was addressingrnhimself to an ancient tribal people, as parochial, narrow-rnminded, and bigoted as a Greek polls or a Calabrian village.rnBut, quite apart from the context it provides, the Oldrnlestament gives us a portrait of a “primitive” societv, rooted inrnworship of God and organized according to principles of kinshiprnand elan.rnIt rcallv should not matter much to a Christian whetherrnthe portrait of social life contained in the eadv books of thernOld Icstament is historicallv accurate or a later idealized conception.rnBy accepting these stories as Holy Scripture and inrncommitting them to memory, we are slowly molded accordingrnto a patriarchal pattern of life that emphasizes familial integrity.rnThe “higher” irrorality of Christianity turns to poison whenrnit is ripped from its solid roots in kinship and nationalitv. “Hernthat loveth father or mother better than me is not worthy ofrnme ” makes sense onlv in a familv-ccntered culture. Repeatedrnout of context, it is an invitation to break the commandmentrn”honor thv father and thv mother.”rnThe Gospel’s injunctions on forgiveness and compassion,rnuprooted from the solid earth of Judaic law, become an ethic ofrnsuicidal defeatism. While it is possible to construct a pacifist/rnnonviolent ethic out of selected passages of the New Testament,rnthe Old Testament throws a bucket of cold water onrnsuch fantasies: Rabbi Jacob Neusncr observed last Decemberrnin Chronicles that in the Torah “justice overrides sentimentalitv”rnand added that this justice allows room for execution,rnwar, and self-defense.rnI’he real culture of Christendom is international, in preachingrn”tire unitv of faith and the bonds of love,” but also national,rntribal, and clannish in its stories of warring Jewish kindredsrnwho were only unified in their hatred of the Gentiles. ArnChristian who is not metaphorically a Jew is only a reciter ofrncreeds whose heart and mind have not been nourished on thernliing record of one nation’s love-hate relationship with itsrnGod.rnChristians, Jews, and Muslinrs alike, we are all people ofrnthe book, and not onlv because we trace our spiritual ancestryrnfrom the Old Testament. To a great extent, our culture is thernbooks we read, mere secular works of history, philosophv, andrnliterature as much as the sacred Scriptures we hear read onrnholy dins. Ultimatelv, the censorship controversies in Americarnform a skirmish line that marks the boundaries betweenrnwarring ethical visions. For Christians and Jews, it must be arnlosing battle, because it is always fought according to the enemy’srnrules: openness, majority rule, impartiality, notions thatrnarc poison to anv vital religious tradition claiming to representrnthe truth.rnUnfortunately—and this is cause for more dismal reflectionsrn—few Christians today are part of Christendom, thatrncivilization of knives and forks, Dante and Bach. At best, thevrnread C. S. Lewis or Francis Schaeffer. My son once won arngift certificate to a Logos bookstore, and try as we might, werncould not find one real book, apart from the Bible, in thernwhole place.rnIf Christians want to do something about the moral state ofrnthe nation, they might begin by setting their owir houses in order.rnIf the’ feel they rcallv must deal with public institutions,rnthen let them swamp the libraries with so many orders forrngood books that there will be no time or money for Madonna.rnBut on the whole, they ought to concentrate on setting uprntheir own libraries and filling them with the classics of Christendom.rnThev might proceed to straighten out their wretchedrnseminaries, which, at best, are turning out well-intentionedrnilliterates. Instead of throwing their nione awa’ on expensivernvideo scries for teenagers (who uniformlv make fun of them),rnlet them establish solid Bible studv classes in which the learningrnof scriptural languages (Hebrew and Greek) is encouraged.rnUltimately, as the existentialists used to insist, each humanrnbeing, by behaving as he does, is setting an exanrple to thernworid. If decent and moral human beings care about the culturernof the United States, they had better start spending theirrnmoney on the good books that are being written by living authorsrnwho arc forced to spend most of their time teaching,rninstead of writing, in order to feed and clothe their families.rnBrighten the Corner Where You Are is the title of a recentrnbook by Fred Chappell. It is good advice, and the best thingrnmy readers could do is to go out and buv ole Fred’s books, asrnwell as the books of fiction, verse, history, and philosophyrnwritten by our other contributors. I am often told by Chronicles’rnreaders that they have read my book in the librarv.rnThanks for nothing. A man spends five years on a projectrnand sells less than a thousand copies, because his friends andrnwell-wishers go to the library. If a serious novel sells 5,000rncopies, it is a triumph, and a book of verse is a sensation if itrnsells more than 500. The crazies not only control most of therngrant mone’ in America, the also buy most of the seriousrnbooks. So long as “conservatives” who profess their faith in thernfree market are content to get their culture from MasterpiecernTheatre and public libraries, the future will not belong to us.rnAPRIL 1993/15rnrnrn