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Bring up the importance of the Bible and two reactions are common: unquestioning zeal for God’s literal word, and anger. Both reactions stem from defensive points of view: defense of the faith; and defense of the self from those eager to impose belief.
I would like to offer an alternative that has nothing to do with arguments about faith or truth.
The Bible is important because its proverbs, its stories and its mythologies underpin art and literature in Western Civilization.
This makes the Bible a primary source, a key to understanding the culture, the world around us and ourselves.
If a person - believer or not - is not familiar with the basic stories of the Bible - Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus turning water into wine, the widow’s mite, the good Samaritan, the woman taken in adultery, and the crucifixion, to name a few - s/he is handicapped in understanding art, newspapers, film and literature produced in the West from classical, Middle Ages, Renaissance and modern times.
The motifs of free will, good triumphing over evil, questioning appearances, hope, sacrifice and redemption permeate Western Civilization. Ignorance of Bible stories would mean that when reading Heller’s Catch 22 and Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby and Other Side of Paradise one would not draw upon the story of the Garden of Eden and the consequences of making an impossible choice along with the subsequent theme of searching for redemption. Where would one be when reading Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea without first having read the Gospels, especially the passages that focus on Jesus‘ actions prior to death and the crucifixion? Where would one be when looking at the Madonna and child - one of the most enduring and human Western artistic themes - without having first read the story of the unwed, pregnant, teenager Mary who gave birth to the God of millions?
Where would one be without biblical knowledge? At a disadvantage.
Biblical literacy is the foundation for perceiving the ongoing conflicts of our culture and comprehending the stories found today in popular literature, television, movies and art. Ignorance of the beginnings of Western Civilization found in the Bible impoverishes the very ability to understand our culture - and ultimately and perhaps more importantly - to understand one’s interaction with surrounding society and its impact on one’s self.
It’s OK to admit that you haven’t read the Bible cover to cover. Don’t be intimidated by people who say they have read it. Most often, they exaggerate.
Many people who say they’ve read the Bible believe they have done so by default. After attending Sunday School and church and memorizing all of those verses for so many years, people reason that they must have read the whole thing. Typically, they haven’t.
The few favorites psalms, the proof verses memorized to challenge the unbeliever, the theological catch phrases, and the brief perusal of the gospels in church make up but a tiny fraction of the Bible. In other words, people habitually mistake reading the entire Bible for having read and participated in an indoctrinating, defensive catechism in highly abbreviated and edited form.
Yes, they’ve followed the sermon, the lesson, the verse or two read in worship, the Sunday School version. And yet, they are surprised to find out that Noah got drunk while building the ark, that after David slew Goliath he cut off his head, and that after Lot offered up his children for gang rape and left the sinful cities and his wife behind, he fathered children with the very daughters he offered the mob; that sons of Jacob tricked the rapist of their sister into getting circumcised and then waited until he along with all of his royal court was incapacitated by pain before wreaking fatal vengeance in an uncomfortable phallic massacre.
Talk about fodder for news headlines, soap operas, gossip columnists, shock jocks and horror movies. Indeed, if the Bible were faithfully depicted in a movie it would be rated NC17 at least: no children under 17 years old would be allowed to see it. And if the movie literally portrayed all of the violence and sexual content found throughout its pages, the Bible would surely receive an X rating: no one under 18 years old admitted.
So why would such a book (or books, the word bible comes from the Greek biblia, meaning books) be held sacred by so many who have never read it in its entirety? Perhaps because the Bible is a record of people at their most base and most divine, imperfect people wishing, hoping and working for something better, and sometimes triumphing. Perhaps people relate to the Bible’s content because it is so very human, and they wish for a life different, less violently egocentric and more affirming.
Have you read a lot of the Bible? Did you skip the begats? Did you read only the portion that was taught on Sunday? Perhaps, you haven’t read much more than the 10 Commandments in the Old Testament and the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mt. Would you like to have read more of it? All of it? If so, you are not alone.
Difficulty in readability, not earnest effort, is the main reason that most folks I talk to who want to read the Bible haven’t read all of it yet.
Whether you want to become more spiritually strong, find answers to personal conflicts, be able to more fully participate in ongoing societal debates about family or family values, overcome obstacles, improve yourself or expand your literacy and understanding of the world around you, it‘s important to find a rendition of the Bible to which you can relate.
And by reading the Bible, you will be more able to utilize a key for understanding literature, entertainment, news media and ongoing philosophical debates in Western Culture.
You may contact Warren Parkin at email@example.com