An official in Baton Rogue asked for them. A publisher in Nashville sent them. Sounds commendable enough at a time when aid is pouring into the part of the country torn apart by Katrina. Seems even reasonable that such aid would consist of items local officials were asking for. What's the problem, you may well ask? The items themselves seem to be causing all the controversy. The donors sent the refugees Bibles.
Critics of the Christian publishing house that sent the Bibles (and matched their employees' monetary contributions up to $50,000) say that they would be offended if they received a Bible in such a time as this. (There was no comment on whether they would have been offended by the monetary contribution as well. I assume they would not.) These critics do not seem to realize that, in a crisis, many people draw more comfort from their faith than their full stomachs. If an individual does not want a Bible for whatever reason, no one is forcing him to take one. Why should such an individual compel the donor to stop giving to those that want to receive? Local officials specifically asked for this aid. It would be wrong to deny spiritual comfort by imposing a purely naturalistic world-view on those refugees who believe that life is more than food and the body more than clothes. And is this belief, which at least 83% of Americans hold, really so unbelievably controversial? Most of us have gotten over our insecure belief that we are no more than unfeeling brutes.
The incident brings me back to feelings I had in the wake of September 11. I was at music school, and felt that I was wasting my time there. I could have been studying something that would have been more useful to people in need. A dear friend - a non-musician - stopped me and told me a story of a NY violinist. This violinist had walked around all day and night and played his instrument for the people that were sitting in the streets, walking in the debris, and looking for their loved ones. He wept as he played. People later said that his music meant more to them than the food and water they received from the Red Cross, or the practical physical aid they received from doctors. And why? He was feeding their souls. He was reminding them what it meant to be human. He was reminding them that our bodies house something special and unique. Each man gives what he can: the violinist, the song; the Christian publisher, the Bibles. Why has it become trendy to let our souls starve?
How would I feel if the tables were turned? One might argue the reason the Bible donation sits so lightly on my mind is that I am a Christian. What would I do if a publisher of another faith handed me a Torah, or a Koran along with some money for food? Would I be offended that he was trying to comfort me with a belief I don't share? Not in the least. I would be thankful and grateful to any human being that tried to meet a hunger that, for most people, runs deeper than physical hunger. And I would understand that such a longing is part of our shared humanity.
Religion and music can sustain people in ways that food never can. And woe to the critics that have forgotten this truth. Maybe they should sit in a room filled with Bach sonatas and read a Psalm.