Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Everyone should read the Bible

Guardian Education is running an interview today with the poet Andrew Motion, in which he argues for Bible stories to be more central to education. I did a bit of background for it (it is almost impossible to summarise Bible stories in less than 200 words, btw - unless you do it in Lego).

I think Motion's point is a valid one; being an atheist should not mean denying the educational value of morality tales like those in the 'good book', or the writing quality. I keep meaning to read the Bible properly; the Old Testament in particular is packed with juicy stories.

The article quotes the director of the National Secular Society: "Children already get 45 minutes of religious education a week for 10 years. Isn't that enough?" But RE looks at religions as a whole, not at the historical or literary impact of religious storytelling.

Diana Athill addresses that very point in her biography Somewhere Towards the End, which coincidentally is my current read. She too was a committed atheist, but was raised on Bible stories by her grandmother. She says enjoying familiar Bible chapters "does not mean that I kneel down and worship God [but] they still trail a whiff of that old special importance...it did certainly influence the way I was to see life; yet it failed to convince me of its central teaching."

It is possible to separate the doctrine from the story, and appreciate the intrinsic value of the writing without believing in the religion. It would be a shame, as we become increasingly atheist, if the beauty and creativity of so many of the Bible stories was lost.

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