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  1. #1
    Sniffles
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    Thumbs down 'The Bible is no longer considered part of the conversation'

    The university student made the long walk to his prof's office with one complaint rolling over in his mind.

    He couldn't understand why the professor seemed so obsessed with the Bible, constantly referring to it to illuminate the study of literature, said Dennis Cooley, who teaches English at the University of Manitoba.

    "He said to me, 'Why are you always talking about the Bible? One of my other English professors does this too, and I just can't see those things. I don't know the Bible.'

    "I said I sympathize with the way you must feel, but this book so informs the Western tradition that it's echoed in all kinds of books, including those written by people with no major religious belief."

    The student is far from alone, and his frustration marks an accelerating cultural shift.

    This Easter weekend, as Christians mark the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, more and more Canadians are in the dark when it comes to the major Biblical traditions that shape Western culture. Many of the expressions they use every day are drawn directly from the scriptures, though they don't know it, and the Western literary canon takes for granted that readers will know the Bible in detail.

    For hundreds of years the Bible was the cultural reference point that everyone held in common, the imaginative framework or mythological universe, as Northrop Frye put it, for all of Western literature. Up to the 1960s, nearly everyone who could read had read part of the Bible. Not any more.


    As weekly religious attendance has dropped in Canada from 60 per cent in 1945 to 21 per cent in 2005, the number of people who have ever read even a passage of the Bible is in steep decline. In Britain, the Guardian newspaper reported a Church of England survey found only 22 per cent of respondents knew that Easter celebrates Christ's resurrection.

    It's a change Prof. Cooley, a teacher for more than 30 years, sees every day in his classroom. When he started his career there were typically several students from religious families who could catch Biblical references in texts. Now it's typically advanced students of literature who are best acquainted with scripture.

    "That lack of knowledge means that when they read there are lots of things they don't see, that they can't see," Prof. Cooley said.


    Richard Leggett, associate dean and professor of liturgical studies at the Vancouver School of Theology, said part of the reason is that Christian scriptures are increasingly excluded from public discourse.

    "The Bible is no longer considered part of the conversation," Prof. Leggett said. "You can have someone graduate university today who has never even looked at the Bible."

    Prof. Leggett celebrates the opening of the literary canon to texts written by people other than the much criticized "dead white men," but he also laments what has been lost.

    "The Bible lies behind so many things. In English many of our common idioms are taken directly from scripture, and people don't know that."

    They include expressions such as "live by the sword, die by the sword," which refers to Christ's words to a disciple who took up arms to protect him, or "to wash one's hands" of a situation, which refers to Pontius Pilate's words to the mob baying for Christ's condemnation.


    More pragmatically, he said, if people don't understand the Bible, or the Koran, they won't understand many of the sources of conflict in the contemporary world.

    "It's no good to tee off on religion - and lots of people are reading the new God is dead movement - but for a significant portion of this world, religious ideas remain central to their understanding of themselves and their place in the world."
    globeandmail.com: 'The Bible is no longer considered part of the conversation'

  2. #2
    Sniffles
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    Prof. Leggett celebrates the opening of the literary canon to texts written by people other than the much criticized "dead white men," but he also laments what has been lost.
    Yes indeed: art and culture have never been more vibrant, or amazingly creative in the history of mankind.

    The two most important miilestones in the English language are Shakespeare and the King James Bible, and yet we have "graduates" who've never glanced through either. But who gives a shit, as long as you've got a piece of paper officially certifying you as "educated".

  3. #3
    Feline Member kelric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peguy View Post
    For hundreds of years the Bible was the cultural reference point that everyone held in common, the imaginative framework or mythological universe, as Northrop Frye put it, for all of Western literature. Up to the 1960s, nearly everyone who could read had read part of the Bible. Not any more.
    This certainly may be true - but what makes you think that we have any obligation to ensure that it's true in the future (or, as you say, the present?). Unless you're speculating that knowledge of the Bible is prerequisite to the *ability* to create great works of art (which I would disagree with), seems to me that great art will still be made - it just won't be from the same base as much great art in the past was. I don't consider that necessarily a bad thing.

    Clutching to institutions of the past simply because they were mainstays of culture in prior years seems counterproductive and restrictive to me. Not that things that are important to people should be jettisoned because they're not "new", but seeing moving away from such things doesn't seem inherently bad, either.

    For the record... I'm one of the people you describe... I've never read the Bible - and have never had any desire to read it, either. I'm not religious, and my interests simply lie in other directions - so take that how you will . At the same time, I'm sure that there are books that I've read and liked that took inspiration (or simply paraphrased) parts of the Bible - but in that case, it's the components of the story that I liked - not the fact that they were Biblically inspired (and I'd suspect that most of the elements of stories in the Bible were taken from earlier traditions anyway).
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

  4. #4
    Minister of Propagandhi ajblaise's Avatar
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    Well... it had a good run.

    These days, we have other popular ways of learning about the world.


  5. #5
    Sniffles
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    Quote Originally Posted by kelric View Post
    This certainly may be true - but what makes you think that we have any obligation to ensure that it's true in the future (or, as you say, the present?). Unless you're speculating that knowledge of the Bible is prerequisite to the *ability* to create great works of art (which I would disagree with), seems to me that great art will still be made - it just won't be from the same base as much great art in the past was. I don't consider that necessarily a bad thing.
    Even when speaking outside of a Biblical context, a strong religious and spiritual base was at the heart of cultural achievement. Culture after all derives from "cult". And the Christian religion in particular was able to draw upon the richness of the heritages of other cultures into itself, ie inculturation.

    Clutching to institutions of the past simply because they were mainstays of culture in prior years seems counterproductive and restrictive to me.
    In order to actually have a geniune cultural heritage, you need to have some sense of contunity with the past heritage; even when you disregard certain elements of it as you move along down through history.

  6. #6
    DoubleplusUngoodNonperson
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    The Bible informs the Western world so well only because Christianity adopted Greek ideals, which became status quo for the West :P

  7. #7
    Sniffles
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    Quote Originally Posted by nozflubber View Post
    The Bible informs the Western world so well only because Christianity adopted Greek ideals, which became status quo for the West :P
    Christianity engaged with Greek philosophy, it didn't just whole-heartedly accepts its precepts without question. Not all Christians took as far as Tertullian for example("What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem"), but you find this in St. Augustine.

    Scholars have even noted how St. Thomas Aquinas' synthesis of Christianity and Aristotelianism produced a rather original philosophical approach in itself.

    Yes Greek ideals are a major foundation for Western culture, but that doesn't negate the Christian influence. In fact it was Christianity that took Greek ideals to new heights.

  8. #8
    DoubleplusUngoodNonperson
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    well I'm saying they're functions that have mirrored in each in time as influences on the West.... 2 require reads for the longest time were Aristotle and the bible, and that's for good reason!

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by nozflubber View Post
    well I'm saying they're functions that have mirrored in each in time as influences on the West.... 2 require reads for the longest time were Aristotle and the bible, and that's for good reason!
    Of course. The lack of a proper Classical/Liberal Arts education is a real sad state of affairs now. Although luckily, one can just go to the local bookstore and obtain copies of these books for themselves.

  10. #10
    Freshman Member simulatedworld's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peguy View Post
    Even when speaking outside of a Biblical context, a strong religious and spiritual base was at the heart of cultural achievement. Culture after all derives from "cult". And the Christian religion in particular was able to draw upon the richness of the heritages of other cultures into itself, ie inculturation.



    In order to actually have a geniune cultural heritage, you need to have some sense of contunity with the past heritage; even when you disregard certain elements of it as you move along down through history.
    I'd agree with you that the Bible has been extraordinarily influential in literature and art, and so it's definitely useful to study it from a literary standpoint.

    However, I don't really understand your statement that "a strong religious base is at the heart of cultural development." Are you saying that a strong religious base is necessary for any art or culture of value to develop in any context, or merely that it has been a crucial part of Western cultural development?
    If you could be anything you want, I bet you'd be disappointed--am I right?

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