How important is biblical literacy? If we don't understand the origin or inspiration of great cultural works, will it still be possible to appreciate them? If not, have we lost something of value?
Like many others who've posted here, I was raised Christian. I want my kids to have some knowledge of world religions and particularly biblical literacy because of its importance in our culture. I rarely open a Bible now; it really only comes up in a cultural context when my kids as what something means, or who Lazarus was.
I agree with you. It is impossible to understand literature without a knowledge of the beliefs that people have had through the centuries. I would like to see the Bible 'reassessed' as a literary/historical compilation, of huge cultural significance. But this won't happen while some people insist it is the 'word of God'.
Paraglider -- part of me is in agreement with you, a large part. The Bible has been and is being constantly "reassessed" as literature or from a literary standpoint -- determining the various modes and ways in which it is to be interpreted through the study of hermeneutics.
Theology, philology, philosophy of religion -- all of these have studied scripture in precisely the way you mention for a couple of cenuries, at least. There is a large body of literature and scholarly work in this area.
Nothing human, ultimately, can be studied apart from the motives and assumptions of the people who produce it -- whether we are talking about a set of scriptual writings or whether we are talking about a science and its theories. All have a cultural setting from which they emerge -- religion and science, both, are equally influenced by a culture, and both are embedded in and transcend it to varying degrees with a variety of consequences.
You're right, of course. Context is key to understanding. The question really is, how much time does the non-believing family spend on this artifact?
I'd say as much as any laymen ought to spend on studying cultural other artifacts essential to understanding one's own time and place.
As much as they ought to spend syudying the classics and Greek and Roman philosophy, for example.
The answer "none" is the answer most people, believers and non-believers both would give to this question -- most people choose to devote none of their time to understanding where their ideas come from or what historical forces went into creating the civilization their very way of life depends upon.
Televised entertainments and the internet seem to soak up much time that could be used for this.
I think that's what people actually do (choose not to worry with their cultural inheritance) -- but it's a far cry from what people **ought** to do with their time.
Totally agree on the importance of cultural heritage. Reading is the antidote to the mindless entertainment trap.
I make daily reading a priority - I read aloud with my 10-year-old, read and discuss with my 17-year-old, and read classics daily to set an example. But it's hard to fit it all in.
That I absolutely understand. It took me years of study (and I am not a television person, by and large -- I've done without it for 3 and 5 year stretches at a time in order to read). And I consider I've barely scratched the surface.
The nice things about the classics (influential and beautiful religious documents included in the definition) is they are inexhaustible. One reading will not do, nor will a thousand. As often as one goes back to these sources, one discovers more and one finds relationships between the ideas in the texts one would not have guessed in the beginning. It's a life-long project -- I suppose the important thing is to do exactly what you've done and start your children on the road.
I'd have paid a great sum to have had such a parent!
I am a philosopher by training and inclination, a classicist and a phenomenological-existentialist of sorts. One of the things that unfolded for me in the last 20 years is a link between the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Jewish scriptures, the Greek and Roman Stoics, such as Epictetus, and the philosophical work in ethics of the existentialist Jose Ortega y Gasset.
The ethical ideas in these works are very similar -- if not the same; certainly, they can be reconciled. But this realization for me took familiarity with a holy book, Greek classical philosophy, and modern existentialism; and I am sure, because of the necessary limitations of my knowledge, there are other links in the history of ideas I am not privvy to.
But to even arrive at that much took a long and haphazard journey through learning to discipline my mind and spend time on study -- self-motivated study, just to learn, just to be open to truth wherever I might happen across it, regardless of the source.
You are doing a great thing for your children even asking questions such as this. I tried to do the same thing for my own son who is now a voracious reader and questioner -- and he will find whatever answers he does for himself, over a lifetime. Books are good companions that way, religious or not in nature.
Probably, if had to confess, I am **pretty** close to idolatry when it comes to the printed word. In all genuine and creative expressions of human thought and seeking I, for myself, see something of God, or at least the highest human beings are capable of desiring.
that sounds like us - none. it's just come up recently as i've been reading classics with my son.
For a non-believing family, studying the Jewish Tanakh and the Christian scriptures can be done wholly historically -- not as in studying the words as if they are a literal history -- but as a way to study their influence on history and to study the historical contexts witin which they were written.
One need not believe in either religion to study the influence for good and ill both had on the development of humankind -- both have much to say on the subject: "What does it mean to be human"? and all of what is said is not derogatory, by any stretch of the imagination.
The Tanakh and the Christian scriptures, along with Greek learning, are the roots of humanism -- the idea human beings have inherent value and meaning and are not to be treated as things in a world of things -- nor are we motes of dust at the entirely at the whim and mercy of myriad little gods (or even one "big" one).
One cannot understant the history of the Western world without a passing familiarity with these books -- the past 2000 years has largely been an argument about what the meaning of these books and classical Greek and Roman learning are when in tension with each other. Whether one takes them as religious scriptures or as the record of a pre-philosphical mode of thought and expression, they are important to know for anyone studying Western civilization.
I think everyone should at least read and study the Bible a little bit because of its historical impact and how it has shaped societies of today. I would say that a person has missed something of importance... a connection with others that hold the Bible of high importance.
Though I also believe the same of the Lao Tzu, Upanishads, Koran, and other religious writings.
The Bible is an important book historically, and socially. even if you are not involved in a faith that uses it, there can be no harm in reading it or studying it. It could lead to a better understanding of people's motivations for what they do. However while it is a historical reference for a group of people and their beliefs I think people confuse this with substance. This book is not the substance of belief in Christianity or Judaism. Take away the book and the belief will remain, or should. I think people put to much emphasis on the words themselves and not on what they say. It is one thing to be able to recite and quote scripture at will, but to be able to internalize what you read and actually apply it in your life is another and once accomplished goes on without a book to prop it up or support it.
There are libraries of companion information about the time frame covered in the Bible and I think it wise for people to gain a little background info on what was going on in these people's lives at the time before we launch into why they did or said what they did. Most competent teachers do exactly this and is also the reason for the popularity of Bible Colleges. You need to be able to understand and appreciate the author before you can really grasp what he is saying.I read the Bible constantly, I use it as a reference along with encyclopedias the internet and other sources. But I do not use it as a history book. It's more a biography of a group of people and what they believed and went through. Finally I use it as a guideline for moral behavior as I appreciate its lessons but I also recognize that it is in all effects two thousand years old and while some things are timeless other things change. It falls on you to make up your own mind and choose what you want to take away from it. Critics on both sides like to use the bible for a scapegoat for immaturity and irresponsible actions.
The Bible plays an important part in our society, but I don't see how because it has been changed so much each time it has been translated. The real books are read by very few people for the government changed it to sound more religious and "scriptural" so they get more money out of it through Bible sales, churches, youth groups, etc. That's why I have so much skepticism about the Christian religion, for it is not the way it was meant to be when started. Besides the people that started to religion were said to be Paganism and witchcraft anyways that is why many christian symbols are so similar to Pagan symbols.
P.S. I don't claim to be religious in any way I have my views based on logic, knowledge, and my own personal understanding of things. But I no doubt was a Christian growing up and read most of the Bible and also attended church regularly. I was a skeptic then and I will always be one until I find the origins of whatever I am opening my mind to.
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