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The Triumph of Nice

Imagine reading an interview with the founder of a new Christian church.  As the interviewer points out, new denominations are scarcely a surprising story, so what makes yours so different and noteworthy?  Well, explains the prophet, we have a totally different attitude toward the Bible.  Our focus groups tell us that many modern people do not like or do not understand large portions of the Bible, about half of the book in fact, and we want to serve their needs.  The God we preach is, above all, Nice, and the scriptures must focus on that paramount reality.  So our church has produced a new version of the Bible, carefully selected for Niceness, and edited to remove the half of the material that modern readers find difficult, unpleasant, or thorny.  That is our belief—or, as we call it, our Nice Creed.

In reality, such a statement could hardly exist outside the realm of satire.  But the basic idea—the mass purging of difficult material from the Bible—is exactly what has happened in recent decades, and not only among my imaginary Niceists.  Not just in the United States but across the English-speaking world, the great majority of Christian believers, Catholic as well as Protestant, select their service-time Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, which first emerged in 1969 as the Lectionary for Mass, was published as the Common Lectionary in 1983, and reached its final revised form in...

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