For some reason, when I first started telling people about this show, I was surprised when they took offense at its name.
“Isn’t that a little disrespectful?” they usually ask, referring to my use of an f-bomb in such close proximity to “Bible.” “Don’t you think you’ll offend people with that?”
If I’m feeling flippant, I’ll tell them that if they’re offended by the name, OMGWTFBIBLE is not for them. The “fuck” in the title is a built-in mechanism for weeding out those who might not be so into this show.
Usually, that’s enough for people, and I’ll go find someone else on the subway car to give a sticker. And, while that reason is true, there’s a deeper thought behind this show’s name that deserves longer elucidation here.
I chose it because “fuck” doesn’t mean anything. And neither does the Bible.
Obviously, “fuck” means a lot of things to a lot of people. It can be used as a vulgarity, a euphemism for sex, or to express a rainbow of otherwise inexpressible emotions in this brilliant scene from HBO’s “The Wire:”
But on its own, without our brains transforming it into something that matters to us, “fuck” is just a sound. Bite you lower lip, push some air through your teeth, let your lip go, and vocalize the back of your tongue against your palate. There you have it. You made a “fuck.”
As anyone who’s read their Saussure knows, this is how language works. Words are merely collections of sounds and symbols that have absolutely no meaning on their own beyond what we assign to them. And the meanings we assign to them can, and has, shift over time.
Which brings us to the Bible. For most people, the text of the Hebrew Bible really is nothing more than symbols on a page. If they’re reading it at all, they’re reading a translation—literally someone else telling them what those symbols mean. On top of that, another layer of meaning is added. Once they understand the words, people imbue them with all sorts of additional import. They said the words were written by God, or were divinely inspired, or direct us in how we live our lives, or are literal descriptions of the world, or all sorts of other stuff.
This is where we get into trouble. Adding interpretation and weight to the text is fine. I can’t criticize that. We do it to everything we read. It’s impossible to read anything—a novel, an e-mail, a billboard—without reflexively contextualizing and reacting to it in some way. The problems start, especially with the Bible, when we naturalize this process—when we forget we’re doing it. On the one hand, this means the Bible can mean whatever we want it to mean. It can be an ultimate guide to life, a rich cultural inheritance, or a book of silly fairy tales. What is means is entirely up to us.
But on the other hand (and fundamentalist folk really need to take this to heart), it’s important to remember that whatever we see in the Bible—any meaning we add to it—is our creation and is in no way inherent to the text.
And if other people don’t see it our way?
Well, who gives a fuck?