Sunday, September 25, 2005

Cultural Literacy and the Bible

Adam Nicholson addresses the topic at the OpinionJournal (hat tip: Professor Bainbridge).

From a purely critical point of view, it's hard to disagree with his point. If the author of a work clearly intended that part of its meaning be derived from the Bible, clearly one has no choice but to examine the Bible to recover that meaning. On the other hand, Nicholson's reference to a newly published textbook intended to "provide a way for students to read the Bible in public schools without trampling on the rights of religious or secular families" gives the game away for the politically-minded.

The really interesting problem that is prompted by the article is determining why this divide between biblical literacy and cultural literacy has occured. One possible cause is that biblical literacy simply is no longer required by Western societies. Simply put, nobody is getting burnt at the stake or tortured for being unable to regurgitate enough biblical knowledge to the ecclesiastical authorities. Another possible cause is equally simple. Since Western societies no longer consider literature that is explicitly non-Christian to be diabolical, the importance of the Bible as a source work will naturally decline over time as the body of literature that does not reference the Bible expands over time.

Another possible cause for the contemporary decline in biblical literacy is that the Bible, taken as a work of literature, suffers from its own "intelligent design" problem. One way of interpreting the Bible is that it is the end product of some 2,000 years of religious, political, literary, linguistic, and bureaucratic evolution, and thus an amazingly complex guide for understanding the history of southwest Asia. Another way of interpreting the Bible is that it is God's infallible, divinely inspired Word, and that any idosyncracies, contradictions, or mysteries in the text are simply included on purpose as part of God's inspired design. This first form of biblical interpretation, which is presumably what Mr. Nicholson is seeking to promote in his article, is itself an objectional form of thought to proponents of this second form of interpreting the Bible. Do these proponents really want public school children reading biblical passages without a religous authority present to make sure that the right conclusions are being reached?

1 Comments:

Blogger William said...

Earth to Joe...

Come in Please Joe....

5:01 PM  

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