States, at least the united kind, can have personalities. Some of us move after the diminishing herd of jobs and so end up in places we hadn’t really planned to live. In each state where I’ve made by domicile (six, as of the present), I’ve met people born and bred, down home and with no intention of ever leaving their native land. To such people, I imagine, state symbols may be important. I always felt unjustly proud of Pennsylvania’s Keystone status. I was born there, but neither of my parents and none of my grandparents were. I don’t live there any more myself. I was pleased and just a little surprised to learn that New Jersey has a state dinosaur (the hadrosaurus), discovered right here in the Garden State. This past week, according to an NPR story my wife sent me, Tennessee is trying to garner its own state dinosaur, in the form of the Bible as the State Book. I think it would be a great idea for each state to have an official book, but I would think that it might be a book written by someone from that state.
Senator Steve Southerland, according to the story, put forward the legislation due to the Bible’s importance in the Volunteer State. The problem is, of course, the Bible is a religious book and that by choosing a religious book you’re getting dangerously close to choosing a state religion. “There used to be a wall here,” you can almost hear the constitutionally minded saying. The Bible is important. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, no well-informed individual can deny that the United States has had a long and complicated love affair with the Good Book. As I try to show in many of my posts, the Bible still permeates our society in unexpected ways. Nobody’s trying to erase that history, but really, which state is going to select the Rigveda for its own book? Or the Qur’an? The Analects?
States are justly proud of their contributions to the whole. We have state flowers, mammals, trees, and birds. Tennessee’s is the Mockingbird. We have state slogans and mottos. But can any single state claim the Bible more than any other? I have to be just a little suspicious about claims that there’s no religious jingoism at play in suggesting it should be any state’s book. Yes, many Bibles are printed in Tennessee. Many writers have called the state home as well. Wouldn’t the more distinctive contribution come from a book that Tennessee actually had a hand in producing? Bibles, like it or not, can be claimed by all. I can see a tug-o-war coming with Texas, should this state symbol be canonized.