Is Pepsi Cola deleting God?
Did Dr Pepper take the fizz out of faith?
These well-carbonated questions emerge from cyberspace, that endless ocean of information and misinformation about religion and everything else.
Chains of e-mails are reporting that Pepsi will produce cola cans that quote the "Pledge of Allegiance" but delete "under God," the words a federal district court barred from schoolrooms in a hugely unpopular ruling last June.
Not true, Pepsi declared some weeks ago. It's the victim of mistaken identity; the "Pledge" bender was its beverage rival, Dr Pepper.
Months before the court ruling, Dr Pepper had responded to Sept. 11 by distributing 41 million cans with the wording "One Nation ... Indivisible," in fact removing "under God" from the Pledge's wording.
Not the swiftest marketing decision in a nation where more than 90 percent of people tell pollsters they believe in God. And the company is based in Texas, no less. Religious conservatives protested, though the Freedom From Religion Foundation commended the cans.
Last July, Dr Pepper explained that its cans merely conveyed "a resoundingly patriotic message that we are a united nation," but promised that the defunct design won't reappear. The company neglected to mention it had omitted "under God."
The merry hobbyists at the www.urbanlegends.com Web site (why "urban"?) track such rumors and "fractured factoids" being spread by e-mails and the Internet.
Among them is the claim that Shakespeare's name was encoded in the King James Version of the Bible. This yarn begins from a bit of Bible trivia discovered by someone with too much time on his hands.
In the King James version of the beloved Psalm 46 ("God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. ..."), the 46th word from the beginning is "shake" and the 46th word from the end is "spear."
Check it out.
Then rumor kicks in. Supposedly 46-46-46 was a hidden 46th birthday tribute to Shakespeare from his pals. In another version, the Bard worked on the Bible himself and slipped in his name.
Chronologically that's possible, since Shakespeare was alive when the King James appeared in 1611. Actually he turned 46 in 1610 but perhaps that's when they translated Psalm 46.
Problem is, Urban Legends observes, it is ludicrous to suppose the translators had anything to do with Shakespeare or that he had anything to do with the translation. In those times the nobility regarded the London theater as disreputable and Bibles were handled by scholarly priests, not playwrights.
There is the kernel of a connection. The King James Version and Shakespeare's plays emerged simultaneously as the two artistic pillars of modern English.
The all-time classic hoax listed by Urban Legends is religious, and it has inspired multiplied millions of protests to the Federal Communications Commission during the past quarter-century.
The story goes that atheist agitator Madalyn Murray O'Hair wants the FCC to ban all religious broadcasting. The rumor survived O'Hair herself. She disappeared in 1995, and last year the atheists' office manager, before going to prison, led police to her dismembered remains.
O'Hair wasn't involved, but it's true that two fellows filed a petition asking the FCC to investigate religious-station licenses. However, the commission quickly killed the bid -- in 1975.
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