Is the Bible in Jeopardy?

COMMENTARY: Christianity is not dead in America, nor is sacred Scripture, nor is prayer.

Is America in need of biblical reeducation?
Is America in need of biblical reeducation? (photo: Word on Fire Bible, Unsplash)

In a recent episode of the TV game show Jeopardy!, the three contestants were asked to fill in the blank to a $200 question. It read: “Matthew 6:9 says, ‘Our Father, which art in heaven,’ This ‘be thy name.’”

As thousands of Jeopardy! fans in America yelled the correct answer at their television sets in virtual unison, the three contestants blankly stared at the question monitor — none of them choosing to hazard a guess.

The Jeopardy! clip of the contestants’ failure to answer quickly went viral and led to a variety of responses on social media. Many viewers openly mocked the contestants. A considerable number of commenters lamented the state of America — a nation founded on Christian principles.

For instance, Franklin Graham tweeted, “We have lost so much Biblical literacy & basic awareness of the things of God’s Word. This moving away from Biblical values will equal double jeopardy for our nation.”

From the opposite end of the spectrum, some atheists chimed in, expressing their pleasure that a fundamental biblical passage had — at least for a brief, awkward moment on national television — been forgotten.

Perhaps my years on Wall Street turned me into a contrarian, but I think that Graham and the atheists are getting a bit ahead of themselves. Christianity is not dead in America, nor is sacred Scripture, nor is prayer.

I might begin that observation by asking a question of my own: Since when did three random Jeopardy! contestants become a reliable indicator of Americans’ overall knowledge of Christianity?

In my experience of watching the show, Jeopardy! contestants seem to know plenty about Justin Bieber albums, Broadway plays and Margaret Atwood novels — you know, the really important stuff. True, I’ve noticed that many of the contestants seem to have a broad knowledge of physics, history and geography. I’ve also noticed, however, that some contestants finish the second round with less than zero dollars and are therefore disinvited to “Final Jeopardy.”

And in defense of these three contestants, charity dictates the admission that their question was poorly phrased, beginning with the word “which” (Our Father, which art in Heaven …”) I understand that this is the King James version, but it’s confusing wording.

None of this is to suggest that we should be satisfied with the overall level of biblical literacy in America. We Catholics need to evangelize more and better. Period. But we should not conclude that five seconds of a game show somehow serves as a microcosm of the Bible’s place in the world.

For a more reliable barometer, we should instead look to a tremendously hopeful sign: Father Mike Schmitz’s The Bible in A Year reached the top of the Apple Podcast charts within two days of its release and remained there for quite a while. ChurchPop noted last year that the podcast had 200 million listeners. On Apple’s Podcast app, more than 50,000 listeners have reviewed it, the vast majority giving it a five-star ranking.

Father Schmitz’s podcast, which contains readings from the Bible along with his own commentary, continues to find a massive audience. Here are some recent listeners’ comments:

  • “Hearing the word of God proclaimed through Father Mike has been one of the most pivotal journeys of my life.”
  • “This podcast has helped me deepen my relationship with God and become a better Christian.”
  • “I have never looked forward to reading or listening to the Bible more than since I have found this podcast.”
  • “This is the way I start my day! I love this!”
  • “Hearing the word of God on a daily [basis] has rekindled my faith and brought me back into the Church.”
  • “Hearing the story of God’s love for us brings me great hope in the midst of all this suffering in the Church and the world right now.”
  • “Father Mike has done more in 107 days to expand my understanding of God’s revelation in the Old Testament than any individual effort I’ve put in over 60 years (including 2 years in minor seminary). I can’t thank you enough.”

Instead of focusing on three contestants failing to answer an awkwardly formed interrogative, maybe we ought to direct our attention to Father Schmitz’s hundreds of millions of listeners. Perhaps many are unaware of Father Schmitz’s podcast, but its success highlights the truth that the Holy Bible — the word of God — continues to be the most loved book in the world. That has been the case for many centuries, and that remains.

Hallowed be thy name, indeed!