Biblical Illiteracy is a Sign of Ignorance of Religion, History, Literature, and Art

Biblical Illiteracy is a Sign of Ignorance of Religion, History, Literature, and Art January 27, 2014

The renowned American New Testament scholar Richard Hays was  in Australia last year attending a conference in Perth. While on a train, he got talking to someone who asked him what he was doing in Australia. He replied that he was attending the Society of New Testament Studies conference. Sensing the person’s confusion he clarified that he was a New Testament scholar from Duke University. The person on the train responded with a question, “Is that associated with any particular religion?” Welcome to the state of secularism in Australia! Sometimes its a kind of apathetic secularism, a kind of “meh” or “nah, not for me.” Other times it is a very aggressive secularism that that is fearful that teenagers will walk around the streets singing, “I went to church and I liked it.” But most of all, the secularism we have in Australia is one based on utter ignorance, ignorance of the book that has so profoundly shaped and influenced our language, ethics, politics, art, literature, and movies more than any other. 

For case in point, a few months ago I was watching the ABC Show, Spicks and Specks, a music quiz show  featuring musicians, comedians, and cultural icons, and on this particular episode they were played some music and were asked to name the piece, its composer, and what book of the Bible it was based on. The answer of course was Handel, The Messiah, and Isaiah. The two hip, cool, young people had absolutely no idea. One girl said that the only book of the Bible she had ever heard of was “Job.” Fortunately, there was an older guy on the show who guessed all three!  Doesn’t strike a lot of confidence in me that left leaning critics of the Bible even know what they are talking about. 

It is in this context that Greg Clarke (CEO of the Aussie Bible Society) has written The Great Bible Swindle … And What Can Be Done About it. There’s a good piece about the book from The Bible Society itself. Clarke shows that without knowing at least something of the Bible you’ll never be able to understand Shakespeare, the art of Leonardo Da Vinci, the lyrics to U2 songs, or even The Simpsons.  Clarke contends:

The scandal is this: millions of people have been denied a basic knowledge of the key text that has shaped their culture. The heritage that should be ours has been taken away from us. We are being ‘protected’ from an understanding of our roots – why we think the way we do, why our novels are about love and suffering, why we value education, why science has made so much progress, why forgiveness matters, how we came to value hospitals, why we think that all people are equal” (13).

Clarke shows that we all need to understand the Bible in order to understand words and phrases in our own language; in order to grasp stories, poems and plays; in order to appreciate music; in order to know what is going on in architecture; in order to enjoy movies; in order to appreciate TV shows.

He thereafter provides a brief summary of the role of the Bible in Australian history since colonization. He gives great summarizes as to how the Bible has shaped our universities, political leaders, government, national icons, and charities. My favourite is that former Labour PM Ben Chifley’s famous “Light on a Hill” speech, which is the name of an annual address given by a Labour leader, is in fact based on Jesus’ sermon on the mount.

Then, Clarke gives an overview of what the Bible is and how it came into being with a great 500 word summary of the entire Bible itself! He then suggests a way of getting bits of the Bible someone’s life and describes what kind of impact it might have.

This is a great book, light yet informative, very readable, succinct while also entertaining and engaging, and is guaranteed to make you feel like you are an ignoramus when you need not be. I cannot think of a better manifesto for telling people why, for the sheer love of knowledge, that they need to know the Bible.

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