So your Bible's signatures are sewn together instead of glued, and the cover is calfskin or even goat, and not some unspecified mystery leather or pleather. Is that something to feel guilty about? You paid twice the going rate, even three times. Or four. Would it have been more pious to go for the cheapest edition and donated the extra cash to a good cause? Is there sometimes a little voice in your head saying something like this: "Instead of focusing on the outside so much, maybe you should trying reading what's inside." 

Since I started writing about the physical form of the Good Book several years ago, one of the most intriguing and baffling phenomena I've observed is the guilty pleasure syndrome. People who act on their frustration with corner-cutting, throwaway Bibles by doing some research and spending some extra dollars to get the kind of quality that used to come standard, only to feel guilty about it afterward. Made to feel guilty, many times.

Scroll through the archive of comments and you'll find a few in this vein. I make a point of not deleting them, because they serve as an object lesson. I get e-mails along the same lines, too. Sometimes an outraged citizen of the blogosphere will point out how impious it is to even think about stitches and grain when there are sheaves to be brought in. Sometimes a sympathetic reader will confess to feeling guilty for enjoying his nice Bible, since he spent so much more on it than his friends at church would ever dream of shelling out. (The ones who don't know their $20 gluejobs will fall apart if ever they read them, because, well ... they haven't.)

I don't pay much attention, because it's not something that's ever bothered me much. I don't feel guilty for having a quality Bible, or for helping other people find their own. Quite the opposite. I think I'm doing something good, something valuable.

Look, I love evangelicals. I am one, strictly speaking. But if there's one thing I've learned from hard experience, it's that whenever we see people enjoying themselves "too much," we sense an opportunity to pounce. There's something wrong about everything, the key is to find out what. And to be the first one to throw a flag on the play. That joy of denunciation can be so intense, so addictive that it drives out all sense of perspective. If you're wondering, that's the object lesson I was referring to before. Not all zeal is good zeal.

But if you're struggling with this, I'd like to offer a few points to consider.

1. Quality is now a luxury -- i.e., it isn't cheap. I've written about this before, but it bears repeating. There's a difference between spending $150 or $200 on a premium Bible and spending $5,000 on a designer handbag. You're not making a statement with those dollars, you're making an investment. The thing that motivated me to learn more about the design and manufacture of Bibles was frustration: I hated how badly the average late twentieth century Bible was made, its vestigial decorative touches about as authentic as the timber on a suburban Tudor facade. I spent a lot of money on bad Bibles before I spent a dime on good ones. If you manage to spend $150 on a Bible you'll use for five, ten, twenty years, you're doing all right. It's like shoes, remember? You can buy cheap ones, but you'll have to buy more and more. Unless you don't wear them, which is how some folks keep their Bibles intact.

2. You're supporting a dying art. That rationale applies to the reader who, in search of a lifetime Bible, finds this site and makes an informed purchase. But what about the person who makes ten or twenty of those informed purchases? Isn't that a Bad Thing? Not if you ask me. People are pretty indifferent to the Bible, generally speaking, which means publishing quality editions is a niche market inside a niche market. The reason I don't have a problem with Bible "collecting" is that people in that line help keep the options alive. It's frustrating to find the Bible you've been looking for all those years, then discover it's out of print. Why is it out of print? Because nobody was buying. So if you ask me, the question really isn't how much you've spent. It's what did you spend it on. If you spent $20 to support the problem, I'm sorry, that doesn't impress me as much as the guy who spent ten times that to support the solution.

3. A gadfly in the ointment. Then there's Matthew 26. If you recall, while Jesus was in the home of Simon the leper, a woman anointed him with expensive perfume. Christ called what she'd done "a beautiful thing," but beauty has always seemed a costly frivolity to the more practical minded. "Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor." Sounds good, right? But in John's gospel we learn that the prime mover behind this objection was Judas, and his motives had more to do with the fact that he held the money bag than any abstract affection he might have for the less fortunate. While I don't want to belittle anyone's Oskar Schindler moment, a realization that a luxury or two forgone could have saved another life, there's something slightly facile about imposing such sanctions on others -- especially typing them out on your laptop then sending them via your high speed Internet connection. Sometimes the better path involves more delighting in beauty and less consternation about the sacrifices others ought to be making.

Why am I spending so much time belaboring the point? Because I don't want to spend another moment on it again. My attitude in a nutshell is this. Don't feel guilty for insisting on quality. Don't beat yourself up for supporting the folks who make quality editions. And don't submit to the judgment of people who, whether they realize it or not, seek to bind your conscience to salve their own. 

Instead, delight in the printed Word. Do what you can to introduce others to quality-bound Bibles. And when critics come around, as they inevitably will, remember to be kind.