It was handled as an oddball newspaper wire story to be played as filler back behind the truss ads, as we used to say.
Yet its very treatment spoke volumes about the robotic mindlessness of modern media bigotry toward Christian faith and Holy Scripture.
It was a report out of Nashville where, this past weekend, an elite field of 300 pupils competed in the third annual National Bible Bee. Reduced from an original field of more than 5,600 entrants, the grade-school aged finalists tested their capacity to recite more than 2,000 Scriptural verses from memory for a panel of judges.
The winner, a nine-year-old from Salem, Oregon, took home $100,000 in prize money. It was the second year in a row that Olivia Davis has won the competition. According to her mother, quoted in the story, the youngster spends four hours a day in the summer on Scriptural memory work.
Naturally, almost boringly predictably, such an astonishing mental feat was given the full media sneer. The entire National Bible Bee was placed, programmatically, on the continuum of wacky Christian fanaticism and outright mind control of children.
We all know the formulation. Kids who spend four hours per summer day at hockey, soccer, football, gymnastic, or dance camp are disciplined, motivated, chasing their dreams. Nerds who race to the mall to buy the latest version of Call of Duty: Pointless Slaughter and spend hours getting lost in their hopeless little screens are leading carefree, normal childhoods. But those Christians? Whoa! Forcing their kids to memorize . . . the Bible? Kin yew spell 'child abuse', dude?
In fairness, the reporter did insert a paragraph or so of "balance" where he magnanimously allowed parents and organizers to insist—ha-ha-ha—that the National Bible Bee is about developing Scriptural understanding and raising a generation of good Christian ambassadors, not just a venue for pre-pubescent parlour tricks.
Even that sells the event, the contestants, and the outcome terribly short. Erase the knee-jerk anti-Christian derision, and the story opens up in a myriad of positive and deeply provoking directions.
To take but two, there is the angle that while the contestants are engaged on the surface in memorizing Bible verses, they are also effortlessly immersed in what that giant of literary criticism, Harold Bloom, calls one of the two masterworks of the whole English language. In his new book, The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the Bible, Bloom asserts without caveat that the King James Version, with its "allusive web" connecting it to William Tyndale and the Geneva Bible, is rivaled only by the later works of Shakespeare for English literary genius.
"Aesthetically, Shakespeare and the English Bible divide the homage of the best readers of the language," Bloom writes.
No believer himself, Bloom points out that Shakespeare himself was touched and formed by the Geneva Bible. He argues that Biblical language so drenches English sensibility that it is virtually impossible for any writer of significance to write outside it.
And he admits this: "Desperately secular, I re-read the Bible in many of the ways I turn again to Shakespeare or Walt Whitman yet remain uneasily aware that Yahweh's numinosity disturbs me as Lear's and (Whitman's) do not."
Imagine the prospects for young minds forged with the power of such language, such poetry, such thought. Imagine having such a young mind imbued with the very structure of the culture, and $100,000 in the bank to pay for an undergraduate education at Harvard or Yale or Columbia or another top Ivy League school.
But there is more than literature and cultural acuity on offer. There is the art of memory itself, a last link to the lost art literally embodying the way human beings have always learned about the world.
I recently read Ingrid Rowland's biography of Giordano Bruno and cannot forget that in 1569, when Bruno was a skinny, unknown kid from a small village near Naples, he recited the lines of Psalm 86 from memory in front of the Pope forward and backward in Hebrew. While impressive even by the standards of his day, his achievement was emblematic of the understanding that memory is a defining quality of what it means to be human.
We live in an era more than mere forgetfulness. It is an age of programmatic assault on what it means to remember. That a group of dedicated parents, and their amazing children, would stand courageously against that assault should be front-page news worth of what we used to call Second Coming headline type.
Alas, anti-Christian media bigotry, which is itself part of the program of obliviousness, predictably relegates such wonder to oddball event filler space in the back pages.