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Gimme Some of That New-Time Religion

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he corner of Broadway and 61st street is as good a place as any to catch a glimpse of how much the world has changed in 30 years. Back in 1966, the American Bible Society, an organization that strives to “provide the Holy Scriptures to every man, woman, and child,” built itself a headquarters so utilitarian that it might be described as Puritan. Now the plain-as-dough concrete box by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill has sprouted a glittering two-story glass appendage, a high-tech entry pavilion designed by Fox & Fowle.

Beyond the layers of glass, which are supported by a dramatic steel armature, is a new shop specializing in the Good Book, plus a gallery. The main attraction, however, is a bank of 36 televisions aimed streetward: God gone multimedia. Soon the screens will be lit with a holy version of MTV: music videos of biblical parables. In “A Father and Two Sons,” the video-ified Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), images of sultry vocalist Rory Block singing “He was lost and now he’s found” alternate with moody black-and-white footage of men on horseback. The New Testament never looked so much like an ad for aftershave.

The glass itself, in true Information Age fashion, is decorated with words: IN THE BEGINNING translated into 67 languages, including ancient Armenian, Tagalog, and Icelandic. Want to know how Genesis kicks off in Esperanto? Go to Broadway and 61st and look it up: EN LA KOMENCO.


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