Deep theological question #3

I’ve been wondering how much grace you get if you pray with a stolen Bible.

Bear with me here: I’ve heard several stories about people whose Bibles got stolen (not lost: stolen) and bookstore owners who talk about stolen Bibles. I’ve also heard that at St. Francis Bookstore in Manhattan (34th street) they had to move their basket of plastic rosaries off the counter because too many of them were getting stolen.

The cost for a plastic rosary? At the time, the going rate was forty cents. I can’t imagine it’s shot up much further since then.

And really, from what I know of the folks who run that store, if someone had told them he was so hard on his luck that 40 cents was a hardship, they’d have given the rosary away. They’d even give a choice of colors!

(For that matter, you can read the Bible online for free if you want to. Many organizations give away free Bibles. I believe the Rosary Army gives away free rosaries. If they run out, then dude, you probably have ten fingers for ten hail-Mary’s.)

Now, you can argue that clearly someone who would steal a Bible or a rosary (when he could get them for free) must be in need of grace. Lots of it. But I have to wonder if the very act of illegally obtaining the object is going to be an impediment to the grace that’s necessary.

I’m just glad I’m not God and I don’t have to make these decisions. But in my more sarcastic moments, I like to imagine the following:

Person praying with stolen Bible: Heavenly Father, please help me get a better job.
God: Yeah, your employment situation is pretty bad, but first let’s work on a couple of other issues.

(Heaven knows God has had a similar conversation with me multiple times, though not about theft.)

On the other hand, a part of me wonders if the person won’t read the stolen Bible and come up to the part with “thou shalt not steal” and let out a gasp of wonderment because he never knew stealing was wrong before. (“I swear, no one ever told me I shouldn’t just take whatever I wanted!”)

Like I said, I’m glad I’m not God and don’t have to make these decisions.


  1. Ivy

    I know for a fact that St. Francis does give away free rosaries. When I went on a rosary jag a while ago, I brought them some and asked if they could find some use for them. The very nice lady behind the counter said she absolutely could, because people come in asking for rosaries all the time and can’t afford them. Last I checked, the cheap ones were up to fifty cents.

    However, the way they have them set up, and the cheap look of them, makes them look like “free, take one” items, like the mints at restaurants. I could understand if people were merely mistaken. Putting a little “40 Cent Rosaries” sign in the bucket might have solved the problem.

    Yep, the rosary army gives them away. And they’ll mail free kits to people who would like to make their own. It’s black plastic beads, but it should do the job.

    For a free bible, try or call 800-796-1441 will send a bible to the needy or the imprisoned and they will foot the shipping cost.

    Is the point just to keep count? Because if that’s all it is, an old knitter’s trick should work. Grab a pile of something–doesn’t matter what, I usually use game pieces–one for every row you will knit (or ten in this case, one for each Hail Mary) and put them on your right side. When you knit the row/say the Hail Mary move one piece to your left side. When they’ve all moved over, you’re done with the set. Would that be an acceptable way to do it?

  2. Ivy

    Oops. No, the Rosary Army doesn’t send kits. They give instructions for making cord rosaries. Free rosary kits can be had at

  3. philangelus

    Thanks, Ivy! BTW, there is something seriously *wrong* with the United States, that people can legitimately claim a fifty-cent expense is too much of a hardship. I think we as a nation are going to have to answer fo rthat.

    I don’t think there’s a problem with game pieces, counting on fingers, or turning a 10 sided die to the right number. I mean, no one’s arguing that a rosary is a set of magic beads that enact holiness in their general location any more than people are arguing that Bibles are magic books that create holiness just by having one nearby. 🙂

    Although maybe that’s the misconception that causes people to steal them? (Okay, now I have this mental image of some guy thinking, “I can’t imagine what’s wrong. I’ve stolen ten Bibles and I’m no better off than I was before!”)

  4. Cricket

    I don’t know if God exists; if He does, I really hope He doesn’t care what you use to help pray, or I’m sunk. (I’m not worried; He may think I’m ungrateful or stubborn, but won’t object to anything else in my life.)

    I think He would object to stealing something to pray with, but if the stolen Bible opens the door, He’d deal with it in the bigger picture rather than say, “Nope, the Bible’s stolen. I ain’t listening.”

    I can see paying for the Bible, with interest, or paying for it with service, or giving it to someone who needs it more, being part of it.

    The belief that stealing is the best way to get what you need, that it’s a form of earning it, the fear of asking for and accepting help, or believing that you can’t pray without it, is more important to deal with than having stolen one more thing.

    So, although I’m not sure what you mean by Grace, if you are stealing it because you believe it will help, and use it, He will answer in His usual subtle way.

    Ivy, I think the physical feel of the beads running through your fingers helps, similar to the movements in tai chi, or the feel and sound of a musical instrument, or the feel of the yarn and stitches in knitting. It’s a form of mantra. The physical ritual gets you into the right frame of mind and helps hold you there. The more channels that get involved, the more effective. (I measure effective by effect on your brain chemicals and mood and future behaviour. If God exists, then He’s helping create these effects; if He doesn’t exist, then you’re doing it yourself. Either way, it works.)

    If you do the extra touches because God appreciates them, then even if He doesn’t really care what colour the beads are, He appreciates that you took the time to choose something He’d like, even if it’s not what He’d have chosen for himself.

  5. philangelus

    I hope God wouldn’t slam the door in someone’s face because the object focusing the prayer or directing the prayer was obtained by shady means. and I hadn’t thought about a reluctance to ask for help as the genesis of that kind of behavior. It’s a very good point. Someone in terrible straits might have a tough time setting aside his/her pride if that’s the only thing that’s helping to keep it together. Kind of like, “Well, I can do this much on my own, at least.”

    Agreed about the feel of the beads; I think involving multiple senses is at the basis of all prayer-bead usage.


  6. Cricket

    Not asking for help is more than just pride.

    They might have had no luck, or worse than no luck in the past.

    They might be afraid they’ll be taken from the world they know; it might not be great, but change is scary. Also, they have commitments in the world they’re in, to family or surrogate family or friends. Keeping commitments is important.

    They might be afraid they will be drugged up on antidepressants. (Not saying antidepressants are bad — the pros, cons and myths are another topic — just some fear them.)

    They might be afraid that the help won’t work. Then, they’ll be worse off than before: they’ll have lost their existing community, and their hope.

    The more you need the help, especially about psychological and social issues, the harder it is to ask.

  7. rosaryarmy

    Rosary Army doesn’t give away free kits, but we DO give away one free Rosary to anyone who asks for one (and we give instructional material for both praying and making all-twine knotted Rosaries, as well).

  8. Georges

    Perhaps the rational employed by such thieves is not unlike the rational which displayed by the Church at large when they’ve abused the grace given by G-d, in the name of their own agendas, cravings, arrogance, self-promotion, doctrinal perversity, self delusion or self-importance.

    It is an attitude with sinful manifestations which have hurt many finding outlets in every generation, denomination, religious affiliation, through lay and clerics, zealots and bigots, Catholics and Protestants

  9. Katie

    Er, um…

    My bible “was placed by the Gideons” I think it says..

    We also have a big “Family Bible” but I always seem to use the “stolen one”…

    Maybe not stolen, as much as donated? I believe mine was meant to be taken by the children who needed it. I remember they were always replaced with a smile.

  10. philangelus

    Gideon Bibles are meant to be taken, is my understanding. So that’s another source of free Bibles. (Taking a Bible that’s being given away isn’t stealing any more than taking a free sample at BJs is stealing. When I started this post, I was thinking about someone who walked into a religious articles shop and pocketed things that looked good and brought them home, or ordered a Bible online with a stolen credit card, or lifted someone’s Bible out of their handbag when the person was distracted. Things that would be considered outright theft no matter what was taken.) 🙂

    I can completely understand not wanting to use the “Family Bible” because those are always impossible to read. They’re big, they’re frequently printed on onionskin paper, and they’re frankly intimidating. Who wants to dogear their Family Bible which cost $57?

    (You should see the horrible things I’ve done to my “readable” Bible. The nice one I got as a child? It’s still nice and I store it in a box. You can hear the pages turning. That’s not usage-friendly.)

  11. philangelus

    Georges, it sounds like you have a lot of deep-seated anger toward organized religion. Am I right?

    For the record, Jesus only yelled at people who were going to be representing God and doing it badly. Priests or pre-priests and others who were trying to be God’s mouthpiece and instead voicing self-promotion and unGodly things. Compared to that, people caught in sin or performing sinful jobs (like fleecing people in their position as tax collectors) were gently urged to abandon sin and repent. I wouldn’t compare stealing a Bible to leading someone to abandon God. I think it’d be better to have that stolen Bible in your hand at the judgment seat than to have a history of lying while using the name of God.

    HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean organized religion in general is bad, only that there are bad seeds, and I would bet that even when you find some of these bad seeds, many of them think they’re doing the right thing. Cricket has pointed out several good reasons why someone might not ask for a free handout when in need of one and fully deserving one.

    I’m glad you point out that there are sinful manifestations in every religion. To quote writer Kathleen Popa, the problem with religion is that we can’t find anyone to put in our religions other than human beings, and human beings are sinful and flawed. But in my (admittedly brief) lifetime of participating in organized religion, the good hearts, gentle souls and truly holy individuals I’ve met have far outweighed the number of God’s-word-twisters and self-promoters. And I think that’s a good thing. 🙂

  12. Ggoose

    Heh, I know someone who actually got a black market copy of the Passion of the Christ when it was out in the theaters. We were at my parents and my mom and I were talking about it and the perpetrator said “You didn’t have to pay for it. I have a copy at my house. Y’all should have just come on over.”


    Yes, I am from the south … the y’alls are normal.